Data set to improve engineering through new 10m programme

15 February 2017
Data set to improve engineering through new 10m programme

A new programme investigating how data can make vital infrastructures safer will be led by Imperial mathematician Professor Mark Girolami.

The Alan Turing Institute-Lloyd’s Register Foundation data-centric engineering programme will focus on fundamental research and real-world problems, from improving airplane safety to stabilising bridges.

It will be led by Professor Girolami, who holds the Chair of Statistics at the Department of Mathematics at Imperial. The programme will be run from the Turing Institute, with 3 million of the funds allocated to a collaboration with Imperial that will involve hiring new researchers.

Professor Girolami is already partnering with Professor Lord Robert Mair at the University of Cambridge on a project using data from sensors placed on bridges and viaducts, starting with London Bridge. The project will develop statistical methods to identify trends and changes in the structures’ integrity.

Professor Girolami has identified three grand challenges that the new programme will tackle. The first looks at ensuring infrastructure, from transport and water supply to buildings themselves, remain resilient and robust.

The main vision is for engineering to enhance the safety of people and of property.

– Professor Mark Girolami

The second concerns monitoring complex systems for safety purposes. For example, this could be monitoring a system for a very rare event that would have severe consequences – such as an airplane’s gas turbine stopping 30,000 feet in the air.

Finally, the program will look at how data can be exploited in the engineering design process.

Professor Girolami said: “The hope is that we will be able to come up with new methods and new algorithms that will be implemented in software and be deployed and used by organisations from the likes of Network Rail to improve safety of life and property in all of their operations.

“I’m really ambitious to ensure that both ends of the spectrum are covered – really high quality research that Imperial is known worldwide for but also translating that through to products, software, services and standards that can improve engineering.”

Professor Girolami says that the programme also aims to establish a training programme to make sure the next generation is trained in statistical techniques that will allow them to make the best use of the wealth of data.

Imperial researchers will also be seconded to the Turing Institute, which is based at the British Library, and the programme will involve collaborations with industry, government and other academic institutions to make a real-world impact on engineering challenges.

The future value of big data will only be realised if there is organisational and cultural change, accompanied by appropriate analytical tools, skills and practices.

– Ruth Boumphrey

Director of Research at Lloyd’s Register Foundation

On his appointment, Professor Girolami said: “It is a great honour and a huge opportunity to establish a new discipline that rests on a collaboration between mathematics, statistics, computing and engineering. The main vision is for engineering to enhance the safety of people and of property.”

Ruth Boumphrey, Director of Research at Lloyd’s Register Foundation said: “Data-centric engineering will greatly enhance our ability to understand and improve the safety of engineered systems. Analytics will create value from a wide range of data, informing not only asset and machine performance but linking these to the physical, economic, social, and human environments in which they sit.

“The future value of big data will only be realised if there is organisational and cultural change, accompanied by appropriate analytical tools, skills and practices. Such change requires leadership, and we look forward to working with Mark Girolami and The Alan Turing Institute in developing the first generation of ‘data-centric engineers’.”

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