£1m boost for University of Bristol’s digital innovation hub

The gift from the Garfield Weston Foundation comes as the university prepares to open the first phase of its digital innovation hub, a ‘globally unique’ reality emulator

The University of Bristol’s digital innovation hub has been a significant boost ahead of its opening, in the form of a £1 million gift from charitable grant-making trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation.

A pair of 200-year-old former industrial buildings in the city’s St Phillips district are being converted to house the Bristol Digital Futures Institute (BDFI) project, a space for the co-creation, testing and refining of next gen sociotechnical and creative innovations.

The first phase, Retort House, slated to open this spring, will host the BDFI’s reality emulator. Claimed by the university to be a “globally unique facility,” it will allow partners and researchers to share multisensory and interactive digital experiences via the connection and harnessing of powerful computers, immersive technologies, data, digital testbeds, and research laboratories.

The space will also feature a so-called ‘neutral lab’, wherein interdisciplinary teams will be able to convene around specific BDFI projects, design their own working environment and develop new sociotechnical research methodologies.

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The larger Coal Shed is scheduled to be operational by spring 2023 and will house further BDFI and MyWorld specialist facilities, working and partnerships spaces. These will include an instrumented auditorium for audience evaluation, an experimental production studio with volumetric and motion capture capabilities, as well as 2D and 3D filming with green, blue, white, and black cycloramas.

Research England is backing the initiative in the form of a £29m award from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, while a further £30m comes from UK Research and Innovation Strength in Places funding.

The tech-centric venture will ultimately form part of the much wider Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus, a 15-acre development offering work and study space to 3,000 students and 800 university staff, business and community partners, as well as residential accommodation for more than 950 students.

Philippa Charles, director of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said that the trust was “very pleased” to be supporting the digital innovation hub.

“Not only were they impressed with the proposed facilities for socio-digital experimentation and learning,” he added, “but they really liked how the project would support an impressive regeneration plan for the area and, importantly, that the inclusion of the local community had been very carefully considered.”

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