Distributed high density networks of sensors have been identified as offering a potential paradigm shift in the way that we observe and study the environment. However, there has been a generic disconnect between basic development of devices in the lab and their pull through into a demonstration or operational environment. A recent £5M initiative by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) created a number of sensor network projects at leading UK research institutions in collaboration with industry. They pushed the envelope by developing new technological approaches to the deployment of sensors, some of which were in remote and/or hostile environments.
The Knowledge Exchange module of activities developed by Qi3 for this programme was a first for NERC and, therefore, experimental. The programme involved 6 projects developing sensor network concepts from scratch, and the challenges for the KE module were twofold:
- to engage the outside world (commercial and academic) with the programme even when the projects were at lower Technology Readiness Levels
- to engage the teams with each other throughout the programme.
As a result the KE programme was constantly learning and evolving as it progressed. The metrics were revised after year 1 to reflect the needs and capabilities of the project teams and to ensure that the final outcomes maximised the commercial and technical impact of the programme.
The Core of the module involved an interlinked set of activities:
- Close contact with the project teams to understand progress and identify real achievements
- Publicity for the programme to establish awareness in the commercial sector
- Preparation of articles (for publication in magazines such as Planet Earth, Instrumentation, Envirotech, STFC Innovations magazine, and a range of websites) to create evidence of the leading edge nature of the developments by the teams
- Annual Technology Showcases to engage potential commercial partners for further exploitation of the networks of sensors.
Commercial interest continued to grow throughout the programme, as evidenced by the increase in attendance at the Annual Technology Workshops. Indeed, the final workshop was sold out and had a significant waiting list. Each of the project teams reported a growing number of contacts, discussions, and relationships with industry throughout the programme. All the metrics for the programme were achieved or exceeded.