Significant funding will drive cutting-edge research into smart products and future skills



Chips on a circuit board

Heriot-Watt University has won more than £6.5 million in funding for three research projects with industry partners that will deliver economic and societal impact.

The Prosperity Partnership funding awards demonstrate how business and academia can come together to co-create and co-deliver research and innovation that address industry-driven challenges and make a difference to people’s lives.

Researchers from Heriot-Watt will lead on Smart Products Made Smarter, a £3.3m partnership with aerospace company Leonardo and the University of Edinburgh. The project will address the design and engineering challenges in the production of complex high-value, low-volume sensor systems.  The project will reform the way remote sensing systems are developed, utilising innovative computational technologies, to simplify the manufacturing process, increasing the output of highly-skilled personnel working in the sector.

Our projects meet a real need for our industry partners and could make a significant difference to the economy and the lives of people working in these industries.

Professor Steve McLaughlin, Deputy Principal of Research and Impact at Heriot-Watt University

The second funded project, UNderwater IntervenTion for offshore renewable Energies (UNITE), is being led by scientists at the National Robotarium, Heriot-Watt’s world-leading centre for Robotics and AI, in partnership with offshore energy giants Fugro. The facility, which opened in September 2022, brings together academic expertise, engineering know-how, and state-of-the-art labs and technology to solve industry challenges using robotics and artificial intelligence. The UNITE project has received £1.4m to develop autonomous robotic systems to drive efficiencies in the offshore energy sector, and improve safety and productivity for its workers. Principal Investigator for the project is Yvan Petillot, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Heriot-Watt University and co-academic lead of The National Robotarium.

Heriot-Watt is also a partner in the ENSIGN: Energy System Digital Twin, a four-year project being led by the University of Strathclyde with energy sector partners including UK Power Networks and Scottish Hydro Electric. Project lead at Heriot-Watt, Professor John Andresen, said: “We are proud to build on our extensive track record in decarbonisation, such as the Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre, to pave the way for Digital Twin in Net Zero.” The project will use artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a ‘digital twin’ of future energy networks that will provide real-time data on the best integrated model that will help drive forward the UK’s 2050 net zero emissions targets.

Dr Andrew Bourne, Director of Partnerships at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which has funded the partnerships, said: “These new projects showcase the breadth of research and innovation in the UK, covering a wider range of sectors, and support the UK’s ambitions to be a science superpower and an innovation nation.”

Professor Steve McLaughlin, Deputy Principal of Research and Impact at Heriot-Watt University and Principal Investigator on Smart Products Made Smarter, said: “Receiving this Prosperity Partnership funding is fantastic news. Our projects meet a real need for our industry partners and could make a significant difference to the economy and the lives of people working in these industries.

“Our long-standing Partnership comprises Leonardo, the highly successful UK defence and manufacturing company, together with world-leading university research in the Edinburgh Research Partnership in Engineering (ERPe) at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. Leonardo’s business, underpinned by ERPe research, has significantly impacted on the UK economy and society and I’m confident that, together, we can place innovative manufacture at the heart of smart product production.”

Dr Iain Scott, Vice President of Capability and Chief Technology Officer at Leonardo, said: “This new Prosperity Partnership strengthens our existing relationships with Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities, and will focus on how novel modelling and manufacturing techniques can influence the capabilities and manufacture of future high complexity electronic and photonic products. By moving researchers and engineers between industry and academia we will build a cohort of talented and experienced people who will drive innovation and prosperity in industry.”

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, said: “Congratulations to our researchers for their success in this year’s Prosperity Partnership Awards. This significant funding demonstrates the crucial relationship between academia and business to drive forward knowledge and innovations that have a positive impact on people’s lives and work, and the environment. This award is yet another example of how Heriot-Watt’s global research connects with business to address major global challenges.”

The 19 projects, which are worth a total of £149 million, are funded jointly by the EPSRC, part of UK Research and Innovation – the UK’s national funding agency for investing in science and research – and its partners. EPSRC’s funding of £57 million is boosted by £4 million from UKRI’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) – a national funding agency investing in bioscience research and training in the UK – and the Medical Research Council (MRC), which funds healthcare research. This public funding is being matched by a further £88 million from academia and business.

EPSRC Prosperity Partnerships fund business-led research that arises from an industrial need, with the work being co-delivered and co-created between the business and academic partners. Prosperity Partnerships support excellent, world leading fundamental research which has clear benefit to the businesses involved, resulting in accelerated impact arising from the new knowledge, innovations or technologies.


Louise Jack