Iain Stewart: DDI is helping Edinburgh become data powerhouse

Building the economic recovery, improving healthcare and harnessing space and satellite technology to save the planet are just some of the areas where Edinburgh is excelling. Many of our brightest and best are working in Scotland’s capital to contribute to a “data revolution” which is already changing the world.

The National Robotarium. Picture: submitted

Researchers are using data to create or save jobs, treat patients and meet some of the world’s most pressing challenges, whilst doing so in ways that are ethical and appropriate.

I am delighted that the £270 million the UK government is investing in Data Driven Innovation (DDI) hubs as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal is enabling such vital work.

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The funding is part of the £1.5 billion that the UK Government has invested in Scottish growth deals, which are both creating thousands of jobs across the country and also attracting many millions of pounds in follow-on investment.

Not so long ago, the notion of data analysis may have sounded like a rather dry and abstract pursuit. But that is far from the case when the application of high-powered data analytics can, for example, enable robots to help elderly people live in their own homes for longer, or boost the recovery of the tourism industry after Covid.

Cutting-edge research is being carried out at five DDI hubs at Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt universities, which will turn the Edinburgh City Region into the data capital of Europe.

People’s health will benefit from NHS Lothian’s health and social care data being linked by the Usher Institute’s DataLoch project, to use data analytics to improve diagnostics and care.

This safe and secure use of data enables evidence-based decisions to be made when it comes to returning normality to those, like the elderly, who have been most affected by the pandemic.

The UK Government has invested more than £30m in the DDI Bayes Centre Hub, enabling work on satellite technology to gather data about the Earth, including weather patterns, forest biomass and marine renewable energy. This has enormous implications for protecting our environment.

And there is much more to come. Next year will see the official opening of Heriot-Watt’s National Robotarium campus, thanks to more than £21m from the UK Government’s City Region Deal investment.

This facility will build on the university’s previous DDI work to create and harness robotics and artificial intelligence for the good of humankind.