Proof the UK is taking big data seriously

Big data projects in the UK have received a large boost as the government has pledged to support the big data revolution by making £73m available to help unlock the potential of datasets.

In total 55 projects split across four groups that including medical, arts and environmental sectors will be benefiting from the investments made by officials.

It is claimed that within the next three years that big data will help to boost the UK economy by £216bn, making it one of the largest growing trends in the country. The most recent funding was announced by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts and follows the promised £189m funding announcement for big data in 2012.

The government also claims that big data projects will create 58,000 new jobs by 2017, as well as helping to drive innovation.

The funding is a boost to those working with big data and also for those who support its use to help develop advancements for society.

Receiving the biggest proportion of the money is the Medical Research Council who will be investing £50m in bioinformatics, which uses areas of computer science, statistics, mathematics and engineering to process biological data.

The Economic and Social Research Council will be investing £14m in four research centres at Essex, Glasgow, UCL and Leeds Universities.

It is hoped the centres will make data from private sector organisations and local government accessible to researchers. Currently, the data is being collected by these organisations but is not being used for research purposes.

The Natural Environment Research Council will be funding some of 24 projects with £4.6m to help the UK research community take advantage of existing environmental data.

Receiving the least amount of the funding the Arts and Humanities Research Council will be funding 21 new open data projects with £4m. It will make large data sets that academics would normally have access to available to members of the public.

The announcement comes as one of the latest in the global big data movement that is seeing countries, governments, and private companies try to seize the potential behind masses of information.

In the US $200m has been put into a big data R&D initiative and Japan’s Growth Strategy has allocated almost £90m for their research.

Outlining the need for investment in the sector Willets said: “Big data is one of the eight great technologies of the future and a priority for government. It has the potential to transform public and private sector organisations, drive research and development, increase productivity and innovation, and enable market-changing products and services.

“This funding will help the UK grasp these opportunities and get ahead in the global race.”


Image courtesy of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.


Best Foot Forward: the Haptic Shoes that Tell You Where to Walk

The world’s first interactive footwear has been launched in India by Ducere Technologies. Known as Lechal, the footwear uses haptic feedback to provide what the company is calling “complete eyes-off and hands-off navigation”.

Available either as a shaped, rigid insole or a shoe that resembles a soft Ferrari, Lechal works with an iPhone or Android app to provide accurate guidance on where to walk, run or cycle. The user inputs their destination and the app works as a satnav, running in the background on their phone to feed instructions to the shoes.

When its time to turn a corner the shoes buzz to let the wearer know. The direction of the turn is indicated by which shoes buzzes – right shoe for a right turn and left shoe for a left turn.

These shoes could prove a brilliant way to explore new places – no more hastily checking maps or smartphones to figure out where you’re going. Instead, you’d be able to confidently stroll around enjoying the sights without the fear of getting lost or looking like a gullible tourist.

The accompanying app plays well into this; it has the option of saving and sharing routes, which could lead to a global database of great sightseeing, cycling or running paths that can be accessed by any Lechal owner. For any tourists the app can also serve as a personal tour guide, providing info about notable sights as you pass them.

The shoes also have some appealing extras for fitness fans, including a pedometer, calorie tracker and the option to create personalised goals and workouts. The app has been developed to recognise different activities’ calorie counts, and the obligatory sharing options are here so users can brag about their achievements.

One of the shoes’ coolest features is the ability to record gestures. A certain movement with your foot –  such as lifting your heel – could be set to mark a location, allowing you to record places of interest with little effort. Or you could even become Dorothy; tapping your heels together could set you on your way home.

Of course gestures like this need to be relatively subtle to become popular. If you need to do wildly exaggerated movements in order for it to register then few users will be prepared to make themselves look foolish to save a bit of time.

Unlike many wearable tech products that quickly become vapourware, Lechal is actually on its way to market, with the insole version pegged for launch on 7th March. Better yet, its actually going to be affordable, with a target price of less than $100. No word yet on when the shoe version will follow, but it is expected soon after.

The purchase of a shoe will also do some good. Lechal was originally designed for use by blind people and has a lot of benefits for the visually impaired, so Ducere plan to use some of the profits from each pair sold to subsidise a pair for someone in need.


Image courtesy of Lechal.