eFutures - maximizing the impact of electronics research in the UK

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering


The eFutures network seeks to maximise the impact of UK electronics research. It currently has 320 members from 55 institutions. It seeks to grow this membership by a further 200-300 in the coming years. It offers a necessary link between industry and the academic community at a time when the UK electronics systems community is seeking to consolidate, for example through the ESCO initiative (electronic systems challenges and opportunities) recently launched by a government minister and endorsed by leading UK industry. Industry and industry-facing organisations agree that the continuation of eFutures represents a valuable building block for the ongoing health and vitality of the electronic systems community. In 2012 the direct economic contribution of this community to the UK was £78Billion (5.4% of GDP).

There are opportunities for exciting new research at the boundaries between disciplines. The eFutures network will work to build bridges with other research communities where we can establish a dialogue in order to shed light on where working together will allow new challenges to be met.

Early career researchers are key to the future of a knowledge based economy wishing to innovate electronics systems. The eFutures network will support many of those new to research or early in their careers, to network with one another and to be connected with more experienced academics and industry experts.

Links to industry allow new ideas from university to translate into commercial products. It also allows industry to discuss their current challenges with academic experts and by working together new innovations will emerge. The combined academic and industry community is best placed to scan the horizon and create a shared vision for the best research agenda for UK electronics.

The academic electronics community has many facets and the eFutures network will help to bring these elements together. This activity will include linking to experts in Europe as well as building a better understanding between UK researchers in disciplines closely related to electronics such as power electronics and energy harvesting.

Planned Impact

The eFutures network is able to help create conditions for research outcomes having both economic and societal impact. It provides a clearly defined contact point to ensure that the UK electronics systems community is well linked to the academic research base. Benefits may come from the formation of new companies, attracting inward investment as well as maintaining the existing 30 000 businesses currently engaged in electronics in the UK.

The greater connectivity with the electronics research community brought by eFutures will impact through better knowledge transfer. It means that businesses can find experts in fields of direct relevance to them. It will give smaller companies in particular a better sight of the rapidly changing landscape in which they must operate and adapt to if they are to prosper in the 21st century. It will also facilitate the transition of newly trained engineers from academia into industry.

By building bridges and working with new academic communities, novel ideas will develop leading to new research and IP generated for future exploitation in the UK. In some cases these will emerge from a need to meet a particular need, while elsewhere blue-skies thinking will challenge accepted wisdom yielding a paradigm shift.

The action for early career researchers will improve the people pipeline, which has a major economic impact in the UK. At present, many more engineers are retiring from the profession than are graduating from university. The field of electronics is also growing, in particular as it embraces challenges in sectors such as healthcare and automotive. High quality people are essential to our future success in these areas and it is imperative that we invest in early career researchers to meet this need

University research yields a lot of IP which is not at present being exploited. The network action on working with industry will give rise to a higher level of IP exploitation, in the form of more spin-outs and academic/industry joint ventures, which will be of great benefit to the UK economy.

The web presence keeps everyone informed about the latest news in electronics research in the UK. This impacts (i) young people who will be encouraged to embark upon a fulfilling career in electronics, (ii) industry who can gain access to experts, often local to them, through the member directory and (iii) the public at large who can be informed about how electronics will influence their lives in the future.


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Description Since 2014, 4 years of EPSRC funding (EP/L025450/1) has seen eFutures grow to a network of over 450 members from both academia and industry. During this time 3 "Building Bridges" events were held, aimed at reaching out to new communities to stimulate cross-disciplinary research. The topic areas were "sensors to systems" (aimed largely at the healthcare technology sector), neuroinformatics, and terahertz technologies. The events had 50-100 attendees. Each year the Annual Community Event (ACE) took place in a variety of locations around the UK and had specific themes that cut across the electronics research landscape: Engagement across the electronics community (2015); THz and photonics (2016); Cross-Disciplinarity and Co-Creation and Future Intelligent Technologies (2017); Electronics in Infrastructure (2018). Four events were held with the specific purpose of building closer links to industry, co-sponsored either by NMI or the electronics KTN. The topics included designing with uncertainty, an R&D workshop, embedded AI and a brokerage event. A series of events took place to support early career researchers (ECRs), which were particularly successful. The first of these events was organised by the PI, while other events were increasingly organised by an ECR steering group for the ECR attendees, as had been the intention. The target of 50 attendees was exceeded and in 2018 registration was closed with 85 attendees for the event in Cambridge. These "crucible" events include inspirational presentations from experts in the field as well as skills training (e.g. writing research proposals) and presentations by ORBIT (a service funded by EPSRC to support ICT researchers in putting Responsible Research and Innovation into practice). Follow-on Sandpit funding events have taken place a few months after crucible events, but only open to those attending the crucible event, with approximately £20k per sandpit on offer.
In 2017 EPSRC set up a Focus Group to evaluate eFutures and to recommend future directions. eFutures was commended for the work done in building the electronics community. On-line survey feedback suggested that eFutures had had a important impact on the research of respondents. It was felt that eFutures had contributed significantly to supporting early career researchers. The group felt that the annual community event was well attended and has helped to strengthen the electronics community. The Building Bridges events had been well received with positive feedback from an on-line survey. However, building links with industry had proven to be a more difficult challenge to address and they recommended an intelligent brokering approach. They also recommended a more diverse steering group to champion and be more representative of diversity in the UK electronics community.
Exploitation Route We have applied for follow on funding to build on strengths and experiences from this funding
Sectors Electronics

Description eFuturesXD - crossing the boundaries
Amount £578,602 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/I038357/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2011 
End 05/2015