August 1, 2017, by Rob Ounsworth

Introducing Smart Industrial Systems: towards smart production of smart products

Concluding a series introducing the University’s Beacons of Excellence, Professor Steve Benford, Director of Smart Industrial Systems, explains how smart products will redefine our relationship with technology.

The industrial economy was about manufacturing physical products while the digital economy is about delivering online services. These will collide in the future economy in the form of personalised experiences.

These experiences will be smart — drawing on our personal data to be meaningful and emotional as well as productive and sustainable.

And they will be made in smart ways — in agile factories that rapidly configure themselves.

Let me give you an example from our research:

  • At first sight a guitar appears to be a very traditional physical product.
  • But it’s actually also a digital service.
  • It carries its own life-story with it in the form of a digital footprint.
  • Scanning it with a mobile phone or strumming a few chords conjures up stories of how it was made, where it has been and who has played it.
  • These enhance its provenance, utility and personal meaning to a musician.
  • They can also feed into the design of future guitars.

Discover more about the Carolan guitar project.

I’m sure you can think of more mainstream examples:

  • What about cars that use driver data to enhance the experience of driving?
  • Or consumer goods that come gift wrapped in layers of digital stories?

An ethical as well as technical challenge

But this is not just a technical challenge. It is also an ethical one. If people are bothered about how today’s social media trade on their data, then how will they feel when every product they encounter records its interactions with them?

The University of Nottingham is in a unique position to unlock the opportunity and address the challenge.

We are currently constructing a £100m centre for advanced manufacturing to tackle the challenges of industry 4.0 — from digital design to robotic manufacturing to capturing data from thru-life service

We also host the Horizon national hub for Digital Economy Research that is pioneering online services for mobility, healthcare and creativity, including collaborating with ethicists and lawyers to ensure the fair and transparent use of personal data.

Cutting edge of interactive robotics

Our beacon will bring these together to establish a unique cross-disciplinary environment in which engineers, computer scientists and social scientists will collaborate to envisage future experiences and establish their enabling technologies.

We will invest in:

  • Researchers and facilities at the cutting edge of interactive robotics
  • A doctoral training centre for the next generation of researchers.
  • Facilities to establish our campus and region as a unique testbed.

I hope you will join us on this exciting journey into the new experience economy.

Professor Steve Benford is Director of Smart Industrial Systems

Discover more about the Smart Industrial Systems Beacon of Excellence

Posted in research