UCL Engineering awarded £18 million for future information and communication technologies

7 March 2012

UCL Engineering building

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) today announced the award of £18million to three projects led by University College London (UCL) Engineering.

Each of the projects will have a major impact in the fields of information and communications technology to meet increasing demand for more automation and more data.

Professor Dave Delpy, Chief Executive of the EPSRC said: “The funded projects were all extremely strong bids for transformative and world-leading research programmes and supporting this level of quality and ambition is the core purpose of the EPSRC programme grant scheme. 

“These projects range from optical and wireless communication technologies through to software engineering and computer science and exemplify the breadth and diversity of the ICT research we support.”

The Dean of UCL Engineering, Professor Anthony Finkelstein, said: “UCL Engineering is excited by the scientific challenges inherent in these important programmes, and obviously pleased that the EPSRC recognises us as a key player delivering innovation to the UK and the global economy. Our unique capabilities spanning research and knowledge transfer, from optics through networks to software services, allow us to tackle some of the large scale technology challenges that face the digital economy, and meet our mission to ‘Change the World.’”

Within the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, the Optical Networks Group will receive a £4.75 million EPSRC programme grant to develop a new generation of high capacity optical communication systems and networks, breaking previously imposed data transmission limits. Simultaneously the Department’s Photonics group will work on wireless technology for the 21st century, developing ways to use the under-exploited terahertz (THz) frequency band, funded by a £6.6 million grant.

Our unique capabilities spanning research and knowledge transfer, from optics through networks to software services, allow us to tackle some of the large scale technology challenges that face the digital economy, and meet our mission to ‘Change the World’.

Professor Anthony Finkelstein

CREST, the Centre for Research on Evolution, Search and Testing within UCL Computer Science, will embark on a new way to design software, using adaptive techniques and automation where possible to speed software development, with the third programme grant, worth £6.80 million.

Unlocking data capacity for the next generation

Developments in optical fibre transmission have enabled vast improvements in telecommunications and the Internet, that now underpin almost every aspect of economy and society. Virtually all data (whether from phones, computers or mobile devices) are carried over optical fibres.  However, the current infrastructure faces strain from the demand for ever-higher bandwidth – it is predicted that by 2020 the rate of traffic growth will be ten times higher than growth of capacity to handle it.

The Optical Network Group within UCL Engineering, led by Prof Polina Bayvel, have been awarded this EPSRC programme grant UNLOC, to unlock more optical communications capacity, and enable growth to continue.

With their collaborators in Aston University, they will develop a new generation of optical communication systems and networks through the combination of advanced digital signal processing techniques, novel modulation formats, and coding, designed to work with the nonlinear properties of optical fibres. Some limits on data transmission were thought to be fundamental, but by combining theoretical and experimental approaches, the UCL-Aston team hopes that they can be broken. This will maximise optical fibre capacity for both the existing and any future fibre infrastructure, world-wide.

Gold at the end of the spectrum

The THz frequency region is the last unexploited part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Lying between radio and optical frequencies, the bandwidth available is around 30 times greater than the entire allocated radio spectrum. The main reason why this resource has been so little used is the complexity, bulk, high power consumption and lack of coherence of current THz technologies.

The programme will bring together the world-leading teams from the University of Cambridge, University of Leeds, UCL and the London Centre for Nanotechnology that have pioneered THz quantum cascade lasers, microwave photonics and THz quantum state control to open up the THz spectrum for widespread scientific and commercial application, through the use, for the first time, of photonics-enabled coherent techniques.

The programme aims to maintain this pre-eminence and exploit it to establish UK leadership in wireless communications, with a thousand-fold enhancement in bandwidth available to untethered devices; in quantum information processing with optically controlled gates in silicon; and in advanced imaging technology, especially for biomedicine.

Making software make software

Computer systems have automated many tasks, eliminating mindless repetition and vastly speeding up many processes. However, developing software itself remains slow and error-prone, wasting developers’ time and preventing rapid adjustment to changing needs. Funded by an EPSRC grant of £6.65 million, CREST, the Centre for Research on Evolution Search and Testing at UCL Engineering, led by Professor Mark Harman, will work to address this by developing a radical new technique of Dynamic Adaptive Automated Software Engineering (DAASE).

DAASE will develop theory, algorithms, methods, techniques and tools for adaptive software engineering, with the aim of producing systems that self-monitor and evolve to handle dynamically changing development processes and dynamically changing operating environments. It will draw on expertise from the universities of York, Birmingham and Stirling.

Software development is a problem with global scope. As well as personal frustrations with the glacial pace of software adaptation, the ubiquity of software in our daily lives means that its quality directly affects many crucial industries – touching finance, security, and supply management, to name a few. Rapid, flexible development techniques are crucial to respond to the changing world around us.

Programme grants are a flexible mechanism to provide funding to world-leading research groups to address significant major research challenges. They are intended to support a suite of related research activities focusing on one strategic research theme. Although it is expected that most proposals will be interdisciplinary and collaborative in nature, they can address key challenges in a single discipline. 

The UK’s ICT sector is the largest in Europe and expected to grow to over £29 billion by 2012. The combined creative industries and ICT sectors employ 3 million people.

Image: the UCL Engineering buildings


Links:

UCL Engineering
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)