Funding has been awarded to a number of technology innovators from around the UK to enable them to explore life changing assistive technologies resulting from two competitions managed by JISC Techdis.
Both competitions, sponsored by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Technology Strategy Board represent phase one of a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) programme, which encourages technology solutions to specific public sector needs by engaging a broad range of companies in competitions that result in development contracts.
The successful bids include some potentially ground-breaking developments. The first SBRI competition; 'Making Waves,' was designed to attract companies who could focus on enhancing communications, a basic human right and a learned skill, which is often a challenge for those individuals in society who have disabilities or other difficulties. Proposals received relate to gesture recognition and many will result in the development of software prototypes that have the potential to vastly improve educational and social communication by providing solutions which can be tailored to meet individual needs and enhance the skills of learners as they progress into further learning or employment.
The second SBRI competition; 'Plain Sailing,' focuses on enabling users to produce and navigate digital information independently, anytime, anywhere and in a user-friendly way. Companies who succeeded in attracting funding will champion the use of freely accessible, Open Source software packages which can run on the latest technology platforms. A number of the proposed developments feature the use of cloud, desktop and mobile applications, building (not duplicating) on many of the freely available Apps and tools on the market.
Business and Enterprise Minister Mark Prisk said:
"It is fantastic to see funding given to innovative small businesses that can now develop life-changing technologies. These organisations are absolutely vital to driving growth in our economy, and I warmly congratulate all the successful bids."
The competition attracted the attention of European and international organisations and all of the proposals received by JISC Techdis had to satisfy a number of criteria. A rigorous assessment process took place involving a panel of over 45 experts who work in the field of assistive technology, to help ensure that maximum benefit can be derived from the funding available.
David Whyley, Headteacher Consultant - Learning Technologies, and one of the competition judges said: "The standard of the entries showed an amazing depth of appreciation of the importance that accessing new technologies can play in the lives of everyone. The applicants really impressed me with their wide range of innovative, high quality solutions. The response to this competition has shown that there is a tremendous number of talented people out there who desire to have an impact on the living, learning and work of the targeted groups."
The companies involved (listed below) range from small private sector start-ups, to more established technology developers through to much larger consortia, as well as a university. Sal Cooke, JISC Techdis Director said: "We are delighted that we have been able to attract interest from such a broad range of organisations, with substantial expertise, who are clearly committed to providing innovative assistive technology solutions. The potential impact is huge, as all the proposals have one thing in common; they are designed to be of benefit to the end user by improving communication and access to information. All the projects will be working with end users to ensure the results of phase one clearly identify and address their needs."
BookScholar Project Ltd, Bradford
iansyst Ltd, Cambridge
Portset systems Ltd, Fareham
System Associates, Maidenhead
Technabling Ltd, Aberdeen
The University of Wales Institute, Cardiff
Head of SBRI at the Technology Strategy Board, Mark Glover said: "SBRI has enabled organisations that would not normally engage with the public sector to propose exciting new ideas and get the support necessary to move them towards commercial reality. These two competitions have created an excellent opportunity for businesses and academia, to develop technology which promises to make a significant difference to the learning, working and social environment for people with disabilities."
A total of £250,000 for each competition was made available and successful companies will be expected to complete their contracts by the end of October 2011. A decision will then be made with regard to a second phase of the project. This will clearly depend on the availability of funds and the successful outcomes from the phase one projects.