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New global index ranks UK first in Europe for advanced digital technology

Posted 20 Sep 2021

The UK is better placed than any country in Europe to take advantage of the technologies impacting global businesses over the next decade, according to a new index launched by Digital Catapult, the UK authority on advanced digital technologies.

The inaugural Digital Future Global Index ranks countries’ capabilities across technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, 5G and the Internet of Things.
Weighting this against their relative size and population, the data-driven ranking provides insights into the economic health and potential for innovation and growth of countries across the world.

Published as part of the Digital Catapult’s Digital Futures Index 2021, the index puts the UK behind only the USA and China globally.

This follows its assessment of more than 125 dataset variables analysing each country’s talent, infrastructure, research, development, innovation and commercial ventures.

The report also found more than £10.4bn of funding had been invested in more than 4,000 British companies in the last 12 months.

And, among significant strengths in the global digital ecosystem, the index ranks the UK second in the world for the number of companies involved in blockchain and distributed ledger technology, immersive technology and artificial intelligence.

Despite performing well in a number of areas, the UK currently sits in 16th position for digital infrastructure and underpinning capabilities, referring to current availability of supercomputers, 5G network and average internet speeds.

Dr Jeremy Silver, Chief Executive of Digital Catapult, said:

“The UK’s ranking this year, suggests that the country is in an excellent position as the global economy recovers and anticipates a strong set of new capabilities in exciting new areas such as the metaverse, digital twins, robotics and autonomous systems.

“But while the potential is clear, much still needs to be done – in particular to improve the UK’s digital infrastructure to allow these innovative companies to capitalise on their capabilities. And, we also need to find a better balance of distribution in terms of sector focus, geography and size.
“To tackle these challenges, both the private and the public sectors now need to come together to set out a more specific UK vision for the future application of these technologies.”

The report’s author and director of policy, research and strategic engagement at Digital Catapult, Philip Young, said:

“The UK is not just a specialist in one area. As our index shows, strengths are across multiple technologies and their applications.

“That said, our global position in immersive technologies, spatial computing and cyber physical systems relies on our ability to leverage the strengths of the UK’s wealth of innovative startup companies.

“This means we must do all we can to continue to help them scale and support them in applying their solutions in the areas of greatest economic need for the UK.”

Three deep tech trends for the future

The Digital Future 2021 report also predicts three key deep tech trends set to impact the world in the near future, which are based on over 50 interviews with startups and industry giants including IBM, the CBI and Mott MacDonald:

1. Digital Twins will reduce the impact of supply chain shocks

As UK supply chains reel from the twin shocks of Brexit and Covid, digital twins are set to play a bigger role in helping companies, countries, global supply chains and sectors build better resiliency by modelling supply risks.

A digital twin is a real time digital representation of a physical asset or process. It means new supply chains can be built, tested and simulated on a digital version before they are implemented.

This reduces reliance on historic data, which as recent events have demonstrated, does not always predict future risks.

But digital twins can be applied far beyond supply chain management. In industrial fields like manufacturing for example, we are starting to see how these capabilities can help companies with things like remote monitoring of systems and machines on the factory floor.

They can also help to create new business models and revenue streams, or assist with training without having to physically visit a location.

2. Spatial Computing, the Metaverse and AR Cloud will dominate the next decade

The successors to the mobile internet as we know it, Digital Catapult’s report predicts that these technologies will become the biggest trend of the next decade – creating a new ‘cyber physical’ internet.

Rather than just fingers on screens, people will interact with data, information and content as it is layered over the physical world, making it digitally interactive and immersive.
This may be visual through headsets or mobile devices, but could also be built around spatial audio, with many large technology companies exploring and developing business capabilities in this space.

This trend is also being played out through new advanced digital technology enabled content and media, such as combining LED screens, games engines and other deep technologies to create new approaches in entertainment through virtual production.

3. Remote & autonomous machines will require better accuracy, reliability and security

Advanced networks, machine learning and new human machine interfaces such as haptic technologies are directly impacting the growing value of robotics and autonomous machines.
While the most well-known example of this would be autonomous vehicles, the pandemic has led to an increasing interest in advanced digital technology enabled autonomous machines for other parts of the economy, such as warehouses (e.g. Ocado), construction, manufacturing and logistics.

With this increased demand, comes a need for better accuracy, reliability and security for these machines – particularly if they are operated remotely.