Oxford University generates £2.3billion for the Oxfordshire economy every year, new economic analysis reveals.
The first-ever study of Oxford’s economic impact shows that the University’s innovative and entrepreneurial approach supports more than 33,000 jobs across the region.
Leading economic analysts Biggar Economics were commissioned to assess the impact of the University’s internationally outstanding research, teaching and enterprise. They calculated the effect of all University activity, including its direct spending, its highly successful spin-out companies and the productivity of its highly-skilled graduates.
Overall, the analysts found that in 2014/15, Oxford had a worldwide gross value added (GVA) of £7.1 billion, with £5.8 billion of that flowing to the UK and £2.3billion to Oxfordshire. For every pound of income earned, Oxford returns £3.30 to the wider national economy.
The findings underline the crucial importance of local universities to Oxfordshire’s knowledge-based economy.
Oxford University’s commercialisation and enterprise activities are a particular source of strength, pumping £1.2 billion into the world economy every year. Oxford has generated 136 new spin-out companies, boasting a combined global turnover of £600 million. Oxfordshire is home to 80 of these innovative companies, employing 1,886 people and contributing £132 million annually to the local economy. Many are based at the Oxford and Begbroke Science Parks, which add £155 million a year to the local economy and support 2,700 jobs.
The study also found Oxford to be one of the country’s most successful organisations for commercialising research through technology licencing. Oxford accounts for £1 of every £10 of licencing income earned by UK higher education, generating £14.8 million for the Oxfordshire economy. The University’s vast range of expertise is worth a further £34.5 million a year to local business through contract research, consultancy, executive education and knowledge transfer partnerships.
The high-level skills and knowledge gained by University students allow them to contribute more to employers and produce more for the national economy. The analysts calculated Oxford’s class of 2015 will be worth an extra £90.6 million a year to Oxfordshire over their working lives. On top of that, the University has a knock-on benefit for the regional employment market, directly and indirectly supporting 33,700 jobs, many of them well-paid.
Students also inject £62.5 million into the Oxfordshire economy and support 1,600 jobs through their spending, work and volunteering. The 17,000 staff employed by the University spend a further £247 million in the region. The University is also a major player in the tourist economy, bringing £99 million a year for the city economy and supporting 3,450 local jobs.
ENDSEconomic Impact of the University of Oxford is a University-commissioned report by Biggar Economics Ltd. �
It’s been a torrid night at the elections. We look at some early views and opinions from business support organisations.
Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General, of the CBI said:
“This is a serious moment for the UK economy. The priority must be for politicians to get their house in order and form a functioning government, reassure the markets and protect our resilient economy.
“Politicians must act responsibly, putting the interests of the country first and showing the world that the UK remains a safe destination for business. It’s time to put the economy back to the top of the agenda.
“For the next Government, the need and opportunity to deliver an open, competitive and fair post-Brexit economy that works for everyone across all our nations and regions has never been more important.
“This can only be achieved if the next government doesn’t put the brakes on business, remains open to the world and sets out a pro-enterprise vision.
“Firms will support the UK develop our inclusive, innovative and open economy. More than ever, the new Government must work together with business to make the most of the opportunities ahead. Firms can provide the evidence, ideas and solutions from the shop, office and factory floor to secure our future prosperity.”
The Forum of Private Business
is calling more loudly than ever for the UK’s politicians to recognise
that the economic strength of the UK is reliant on the country’s five million
Chief Executive of the Forum, Ian Cass said: ‘The voice of small business has been completely ignored during the election campaign, with both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn both demonstrating that they have no real understanding of the critical role played by businesses to the importance to the UK, both in economic contribution and job creation,’
Facing a period of increased instability and uncertainty that a hung parliament will once again bring to the business community, Ian Cass is pushing for business to be put at the heart of government, with a Small Business Minister sitting at the Cabinet table and having teeth.
‘Businesses are tired of being paid lip service to. We have over five million business leaders in this country. Young and old, North and South, Remain and Leave, who have their feet firmly on the ground and need, once and for all, to be taken notice of, as the negotiations with Europe are progressed’
The Forum’s ‘Get Britain Trading’ campaign welcomes Members of Parliament into Forum member businesses so that they can truly understand what is needed to make the British high street great again.
‘With such a divisive split in the UK political scene, it is time for business to take control of the Country’s future,’ adds Ian Cass, ‘Not just big business with their sights purely on shareholder value, but small businesses who live and breath common sense survival in a changing world. In pushing for a proper, long term, Small Business Cabinet Minister, the Forum stands ready to support the government and its members in creating a strong and stable future UK. This will not come from politicians throwing verbal stones at each other and trotting out sound bites. It will come from a sensible and calm business approach,’ emphasises Ian Cass, a business owner in his own right.
‘The politicians have a choice. Listen and take note of the business voice, or continue sounding the ‘mayday’ siren,’ concludes Ian Cass.
Sophia Haywood, Policy Manager at Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce: “These results place even more uncertainty on our local business community, who have already persevered through recent years of political and economic turbulence. Businesses are already grappling with currency fluctuations, rising costs, and the potential impacts of Brexit. It is vital there is a swift formation of a functioning government to build business confidence and our wider economic prospects ahead of the EU negotiations. Just as businesses come together in difficult times, so should our politicians.”
By Ian Mean, director for Gloucestershire, Business West
With a hung Parliament today - no overall majority for the Conservatives - business will be very concerned about more and more uncertainty and delays in the Brexit process.
When you think that Theresa May had committed us to start the initial Brexit talks in just over a week’s time, the political earthquake that has now erupted puts a big question mark over the whole Brexit negotiation.
Will the opening Brexit talks actually go ahead on Theresa May’s timetable?
Will she even be prime minister by the end of today? Or even in a few days? There are already calls this morning for her to resign.
Our Business West members have told us in our recent survey how frustrated they are with the lack of information on the ongoing Brexit process.
They will be even more annoyed that our government’s standing will be at rock bottom with the EU now that Theresa May’s credibility has been shattered by the General Election result which she totally focussed on Brexit.
Calling a snap election with just eight weeks to give herself a stronger hand in the EU talks was a big gamble which the British people rejected.
Never underestimate the electorate is an old adage used by experienced politicians and today they have confounded expectations.
For many months now, companies I have talked to in Gloucestershire have been doing their best to ignore the “noise” generated by politics in order to focus on their own operations and ensure they retain good relationships with their export customers.
So, what will happen now?
More frustration for these businesses who now face the prospect of those initial Brexit talks being further delayed, because we might now have a Tory Party leadership election on our hands.
If Teresa May does resign, that delay in the talks could be as much as three months, and on top of that she will not be in charge of the Brexit process.
How can she retain any credibility with the EU, having had her wish for a stronger mandate for Brexit well and truly torpedoed?
For many companies in Gloucestershire where the strength of the pound is a big issue to make them more competitive, the lack of urgency created by a hung parliament could well affect their profitability for quite a period.
The key word here for companies is: confidence.
From day one when David Cameron committed us to an ‘in or out’ referendum, confidence has been the key issue for business.
In my experience in Gloucestershire, few companies have had any confidence in the government’s secretive Brexit process and during the Prime Minister’s election campaign, it became no clearer at all.
And at the heart of the government’s poor showing in the election was that the British public rejected the Prime Minister’s hard-line focus on getting the best deal for Britain.
She failed with a lacklustre election campaign where she almost hid from real voters - as opposed to party activists. This was the case particularly when she made a whistle stop tour to Cheltenham this week.
Most voters did not understand her Brexit argument in my view. They were more interested in domestic matters like the so-called ‘dementia tax’ and the NHS.
By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn ran an old-fashioned people-focused election campaign meeting everyone he could possibly meet.
Despite his obvious political shortcomings and a vicious right-wing press campaign against him, his anti-austerity ticket resonated with the public - particularly young people.
Business has been largely ignored in the election campaign.
That has to change and quickly.
Whoever now leads the country has to understand that the whole Brexit process will not be successful unless companies are regarded as important passengers on the journey - they must not be left standing on the platform
The long-term initiative from MEPC aims to reduce car journeys to improve the environment for all
MEPC, the manager and developer of Milton Park, is excited to announce a forward-thinking travel campaign and range of initiatives to encourage companies and their employees to undertake greener travel.
Vectos, a transport planning and active travel specialist consultancy, has been brought in to work with the Park’s community to encourage as many people out of their cars as possible. A range of initiatives are being introduced to raise awareness of the need to consider more sustainable and active modes of travel.
The campaign aims to inspire, motivate and reward people who make travel changes and forms part of MEPC’s long-term commitment to responsible property investment at the leading Science and Business Park in Oxfordshire. By reducing the number of single occupancy vehicles on the Park and surrounding roads, the measures will improve congestion and air quality for Milton Park’s occupiers and nearby residents.
A new ‘Liftshare’ platform will be central to this by actively encouraging employees at the Park to register on the platform to find someone to share their journeys to and from work and has already seen 450 people register. By signing up to ‘Liftshare’, employees can enter their details to either offer or receive a lift and therefore reduce the number of cars on the road and emissions produced. MEPC offers a ‘guaranteed lift home’ to active “Lift Sharers” registered on the platform having teamed up with local taxi firm Go Green to ensure everyone has a lift home.
One employee at Milton Park who is behind the scheme is Kaspar Storrs, commented: “It is amazing what a difference less cars on the road could make to the quality of life for all those working on the Park as well as those nearby. ‘Liftshare’ is a fantastic part of the green travel campaign. I travel from Oxford and knowing there is someone who I can give a lift to makes me feel like I’m doing my bit for the community. I look forward to seeing what else MEPC does to make Milton Park a ‘greener’ place to work.”
The action follows results of a travel survey conducted at Milton Park at the end of last year, which showed significant potential and appetite for change. The survey identified 1,300 people across the park who said they would be happy to consider alternatives to driving on their own.
An active Milton Park Travel Forum has been set up to communicate more effectively with occupiers and to support them to encourage sustainable travel to and from the Park. Made up of representatives from over 250 companies on the Park, the forum looks at tailored solutions so that everyone can ‘enjoy their commute’. A personalised travel planning service is also available to support individuals in exploring other options for their journey and to help them sign up to ‘Liftshare’ and bike to work schemes that offer tax breaks as well as a rewards and incentives scheme.
Other planned changes include improved cycleways and facilities for cyclists, who can take advantage of Milton Park’s on site Bike Doctor as well as free breakfasts. A new bike loan scheme for Milton Park occupiers has also launched. With over 100 members so far, it is proving very popular with occupiers to get around the Park and to and from the station.
The campaign supplements existing measures such as Milton Park’s electric hybrid Shuttle Buses which already save up to 888 car journeys each day. The service costs £20 a year to use and is bespoke to Milton Park. Members of the surrounding villages can also use the buses at public rates.
MEPC has designed the campaign initiatives around the needs of its resident businesses and their employees, recognising the clear appetite on the Park for a greener environment and improved parking.
James Dipple, CEO, MEPC said: “A responsible approach to property investment is the cornerstone of MEPC’s business. We are therefore committed to working with our occupiers to improve the environment for those on the Park and living nearby. Encouraging greener travel is a way of not only improving traffic flows but also people’s health and wellbeing – it is about long-term changes as opposed to a one-off campaign.”
Veronica Reynolds at Vectos, added: “MEPC’s commitment to improving the environment at Milton Park through this travel campaign is clear to see and it has the potential to significantly reduce traffic congestion in the area.
“Our approach is to focus on encouraging as many people as possible to make small changes, where they are able to, in the way they travel. Our experience tells us that collectively these small changes will have a big impact. We are delighted with the interest we have already seen from those on the Park and would welcome any other individuals or businesses to come forward to discuss how they can make small changes for a big difference.”
To find out more and to be a part of it please visit www.miltonpark.liftshare.com
The latest Oxford Cyber Security Cluster-supported event looking at how SMEs across Oxfordshire approach cyber security took place on Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire with talks from Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, Detective Sergeant (DS) Sally Russell from Thames Valley Police, Sue Staunton of James Cowper Kreston, Neil Britten from Vistage and Stewart Benger on behalf of the Cluster.
Attended by over thirty people from across the county, our speakers examined the challenge for SMEs in making sure that cyber security is and remains firmly on the board agenda. DS Sally Russell first reminded the audience that this is a crime that affects businesses large and small by showing a series of videos of local business owners who have themselves been victims of cyber-crime.
Neil Britten from Vistage, gave a summary of views from their members, much of which backs up earlier survey findings. Typical comments were “I don’t have time to”, “It’ll never happen to me” and “I’ll deal with it if it happens”. During Neil’s insightful talk, he also reminded us that we should be mindful that buying decisions are often based upon emotion and not fact, as we’d like to believe.
Nicola Blackwood, outlined the UK Government’s perspective on the crucial part cyber security plays within our modern economy. She talked about the UK Government’s recent National Cyber Security Strategy, GCHQ’s new National Cyber Security Centre, the Cyber Essentials scheme, guidance such Ten Steps to Cyber Security and addressing the skills gap. She also spoke about her personal experience as a Minister in the Department of Health.
Sue Staunton from James Cowper Kreston spoke of her experiences of working with her SME clients and efforts to encourage them to ensure they have appropriate measures in place to reduce their vulnerability to cyber-crime.
Stewart Benger, Oxford & Thames Valley Cyber Security Cluster Manager, went on to provide some views from the cluster. One of the highlights of the event for the speakers, though, was an impromptu opportunity for a photo shoot with Commander Tim Peake (or more correctly a life-size cardboard cut-out!), the UK’s last astronaut to spend time on the International Space Station.
For more information on the Oxford Cyber Security Cluster please visit www.oxcyber.uk .
The site also includes details of future events being run across the county, along with other useful information on the topic of cyber security.
Eighteen finalists battled it out across eight categories during the three-hour event run by the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP). The Awards celebrate the achievements of local employers, training providers, schools and apprentices.
The College and its apprentices came away from the evening with a superb haul of three trophies. This included the prize for best Training Provider, overcoming stiff competition in the form of Wallingford-based Jewel Training and construction specialists ACE Training.
There was further success in the Intermediate Apprentice of the Year category, with horticulture apprentice Sasha Fraser being recognised for her work at Oxford City Council.
Gemma Tuckey won the Special Recognition Award, for an apprentice who has overcome significant challenges to learning or work. Her Level 2 and 3 apprenticeships in business administration at Oxfordshire County Council has now led to a permanent role.
The two runners-up for that award were also College apprentices, Alex Free and Ian Rigsby, who both work in the Yellow Submarine café in Witney. The charity has a long-standing relationship with the College and its apprenticeship programme, and the Yellow Submarine catering team were responsible for putting on a delicious spread for those attending the awards ceremony.
Finally, Lorraine Ball was ‘Highly Commended’ in the Higher Apprentice of the Year category, for her role as Operations Manager at Home Instead Senior Care.
Di Batchelor, Principal at Abingdon & Witney College, was full of praise for staff and apprentices alike:
“It was a very good night for the College, and I felt very proud to be its Principal. Congratulations to all of those involved with our apprenticeship delivery, and to the fabulous apprentices, in winning these prestigious awards.
The fact that we are regarded as the top training provider in the county, and that so many of our apprentices were nominated for awards, is a testament to everyone’s hard work and determination to achieve success.
As it says in the event guide, “nothing says ‘excellence’ like an industry award.”For more information about the college: www.abingdon-witney.ac.uk
The new Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI) will bring together UK expertise to develop new technologies that will transform our understanding of disease and speed up the development of new treatments. It will have a hub based at Harwell Campus, a world leading site dedicated to the advancement of science, technology and innovation.
The announcement forms part of the government’s Industrial Strategy to maintain the UK’s global leadership in science, innovation and research.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “The UK has always been a pioneer in the world of science, technology and medical research. It’s this excellence we want to continue to build on and why we made science and research a central part of our Industrial Strategy - strengthening links between research and industry, ensuring more home-grown innovation continues to benefit millions around the world.
“Named after one of the UK’s leading chemists, the new Rosalind Franklin Institute will inspire and house scientists who could be responsible for the next great discovery that will maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of global science for years to come.”
The new Rosalind Franklin Institute (RFI) – named in honour of the pioneering British scientist whose use of X-rays to study biological structures played a crucial role in the discovery of DNA’s ‘double helix’ structure by Francis Crick and James Watson – will bring together UK strengths in the physical sciences, engineering and life sciences to create a national centre of excellence in technology development and innovation. It will be delivered and managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The central hub at Harwell will link to partner sites at the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester and Oxford, Imperial College, King’s College London, and University College London. Industry partners will be on board from the outset, and the Institute will grow over time, as more universities and researchers participate.
The Harwell Campus is a public private partnership between Harwell Oxford Partners, U+I Group PLC, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the UK Atomic Energy Agency (UKAEA). As one of the world’s most important science and innovation locations it is seeing rapid growth in the Life Sciences and HealthTec sector with over 1,000 people working in this field alone at Harwell.
Dr Tim Bestwick, STFC’s Executive Director, Business and Innovation said: “We welcome this large investment from the Government and are delighted that the Harwell campus will be the main hub for this prestigious institute. With its interdisciplinary nature and focus on industry from the outset, Harwell, which brings together industry, academia and world leading facilities to help speed up the process of innovation, is well set up to support the institute. We look forward to the opportunities for collaboration with our partners and a whole network of scientists that this will provide.”
One of the facilities on the Harwell Campus is Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron. The science undertaken at the RFI will have strong thematic links to Diamond.
Professor Andrew Harrison, CEO at Diamond comments: “The RFI will develop new technologies designed to tackle major challenges in health and life sciences, and will have a strong synergy with Diamond’s interdisciplinary research programmes. It is named after the pioneering scientist who helped discover DNA using the same technique which underpins much of today’s experiments at the Diamond synchrotron.”
“A key element to this success will be the close proximity to, and collaborations with Diamond, the Central Laser Facility and Research Complex at Harwell which all have tremendous synergy with each other. Diamond’s two electron imaging centres (ePSIC and eBIC) will soon be the largest microscopy centre for biology and physical sciences globally, and together with the RFI, will form a key driver of life science research over the next decades.”
The announcement today was marked by RFI partners, including funders and academic representatives, who gathered at Diamond joined by Lord Prior of Brampton, Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at BEIS.
The RFI will bring together academic and industry researchers from across the UK to develop disruptive new technologies designed to tackle major challenges in health and life sciences, accelerate the discovery of new treatments for chronic diseases affecting millions of people around the world (such as dementia), and deliver new jobs and long-term growth to the local and UK economies.
Chair of the Research Councils and EPSRC Chief Executive, Professor Philip Nelson said: “The UK is currently in a world leading position when it comes to developing new medical treatments and technologies in the life sciences. However, other countries are alive to the potential and are already investing heavily. The Rosalind Franklin Institute will help secure the country as one of the best places in the world to research, discover, and innovate.”
The development of the RFI has been led by Professor Ian Walmsley, FRS, from the University of Oxford.
Dame Carol Robinson, FRS, who is leading the RFI’s biological mass spectrometry theme, and received the 2004 Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award that recognises outstanding scientific contributions and supports the promotion of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said: “It is fitting that this new Institute bears Rosalind Franklin’s name. She achieved so much in a relatively short life and without her work many of the advances that have taken place since would not have come about. Work in the Institute will include development of the next-generation of physical tools including mass spectrometry, instruments for X-ray science and for advanced microscopy – fields directly descended from her research interests.”
The Williams Martini Racing Formula 1 team has been home to some of the world’s fastest racing drivers since 1977: Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve are among the most exciting drivers of their generations. However, it’s the Williams name itself which stands out as the mark of automotive excellence.
As Williams launched its FW40 car for the 2017 season, Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams talked about working in the business started by her father Frank. She admits it hasn’t always been an easy ride.
Did you always want to work for the family firm?
I never really grew up aiming to forge a career in Formula One because my father told us he didn’t want us working at Williams. He rightly wanted us to make our own way in the world and didn’t want to be accused of nepotism. Nevertheless, I had a passion for the sport as I was exposed to it from an early age. My first job after graduating from university (Claire studied politics) was as a press officer at the Silverstone Circuit. I loved my time there, and after two happy years, Williams’ then head of marketing, Jim Wright, approached me about joining the communications team. My father had no idea, as Jim knew he would be against it, but the role interested me. Jim lobbied Frank hard to hire me, and eventually, in 2002, he relented.
What was it like when you began working for Williams?
My first feeling was of pride. I was finally being paid to work at the team I love. I suppose I was also a little bit awestruck that I’d been given the opportunity. But most importantly I felt I had to quickly get on and prove myself. I was a girl in a man’s world and the boss’s daughter. I needed to show everyone I could do the job and that I deserved the job.”
Did you ever consider becoming a racing driver yourself?
My passion for Formula One never extended to wanting to become a racing driver. I’m extremely competitive but I didn’t have the talent to win so left it to the professionals
What are your best memories of growing up in the industry?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one memory. My happiest is probably of Nigel Mansell winning the 1992 Championship in Hungary. It was one of the first races Dad took me to by myself, rather than going to the British Grand Prix as a family.
I still picture Nigel at the end of the race with journalists and fans swarming around him. I remember the music being played in the garage at the end of the race: ‘The Final Countdown’.
It felt a privilege to be part of it.
What were your biggest issues as Deputy Team Principal in 2013?
2013 was a challenging season to say the least, finishing ninth in the Constructors’ Championship. Turning the team around seemed an almost impossible task. So finishing third in the 2014 Championship was phenomenal. It was the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people who wanted Williams back on track. We left no stone unturned, we analysed our weaknesses and put a plan in place to rectify areas of concern. If you want to change something you have to roll your sleeves up, take a deep breath and get stuck in. It was a real exoneration for me personally, but also for the team and everything it means to our family.
What do you most enjoy about being at Williams?
Everything. But if I had to pick one thing it would be the sound of engines firing up after a long winter filled with withdrawal symptoms. I love the sounds and smells of the cars. To me, and my Dad, the cars aren’t inanimate objects; they are almost part of the family.
What are you most looking forward to in 2017?
The 2017 season marks our 40th anniversary - a phenomenal achievement. So that’s definitely something to look forward to. I’m also hoping it can be a successful year, but it’s going to be difficult. With the new regulations there’s an opportunity, but we’re a team that always pushes and always fights.
What keeps you awake at night?
The biggest focus every year is ensuring we have the budget to compete. This is a priority and something that I work really hard to oversee. I’m lucky to work with some of the best people in the business at Williams, which makes my extremely varied job a little easier.
Talk us through the innovation going on at Williams’ Grove HQ
We first dipped our toe in the commercial world by creating a business called Williams Hybrid Power to take the flywheel technology developed for our F1 car into other industries such as public transport.
Motorsport can bridge the gap between research and production, acting as an enabler for technologies that may have struggled or at best been delayed for years. Williams Advanced Engineering assists industry with this.
The focus is on transferring technology from the pinnacle of motor racing, Formula One, to applications in the automotive, motorsport, defence and life sciences sectors, including green tech, a key growth area globally.
We harness know-how and expertise learnt in Formula One, such as aerodynamics, advanced lightweight materials, electrification, simulation and training, and apply them to applications outside motorsport to support and promote UK innovation.
How is Williams celebrating its 40th anniversary?
We have a series of exciting events and special Williams 40 content planned for our fans, partners, media and our many friends in the paddock. We kicked off our Williams 40 celebrations at this year’s Autosport International show in Birmingham, with an immersive experience allowing fans to look back on our 40 years of history in Formula One, and we have a lot more exciting events coming up, which we’re looking forward to sharing with our fans.”
Head Office: Grove, Oxon
Group Revenue: £80 million
Williams Grand Prix Holdings Ltd comprises a Formula One racing team and an advanced engineering business. It is based at Grove, Oxfordshire on a 33-hectare site which is a hub for the Group’s research, design, manufacturing and commercial activity.
The racing team has secured nine FIA Formula One Constructors’ Championship titles and seven Drivers’ Championship titles, making it the third most successful team in the sport’s history
Williams Advanced Engineering provides world class technical innovation, engineering, testing and manufacturing services to customers across the automotive, aerospace, defence and energy sectors
4 Facts on Claire Williams
1. Her favourite car is her Audi RS6. “It’s a monster”
2. If she wasn’t in motorsport, she’d pick a career in politics
3. Paws for thought: Time out from F1 is time walking her two labradors
4. While men are in the majority in motorsport, she considers gender irrelevant in F1. “There isn’t scope to carry someone who isn’t performing simply because of their gender. The sport is a meritocracy.”
Oxbotica is developing the next generation of autonomous vehicles, creating the software that makes them go.
The company was founded and is led by Paul Newman FREng, FIEEE. He is the BP Professor of Information Engineering at the University of Oxford and an EPSRC Leadership Fellow.
Paul heads the Oxford Robotics Institute within the Department of Engineering Science which enjoys a world leading reputation in mobile autonomy – developing machines, robots and cars which map, navigate through and understand their environments. His focus lies on pushing the boundaries of navigation and autonomy techniques in terms of both endurance and scale. The Mobile Robotics Group has developed a keen focus on intelligent transport for example the RobotCar and enjoys collaborations with many industrial partners which provide exploitation opportunities to drive the research.
Paul talks about his career.
“I’ve always been about robots, I was always going to be making machines that move. So it’s no surprise at all that I’ve ended up here!
“I was fortunate enough to get an undergraduate degree here at Oxford and that was wildly formative. What’s stayed with me was the mix of subjects that I got to work with – not just maths and software, but economics, politics, geography – I really valued that time and the way it changed my thinking.
“A couple years later I went out to Australia to do my PhD. There was a moment when I was walking across the road, in my early days out in Sydney, and I turned to a PhD student who was finishing, and asked him what he was working on. He told me about a problem called “SLAM” – simultaneous localisation and mapping. It turned out to be a foundational element of modern robotics. By the time I’d crossed the road, I felt that that was the addiction – that was the problem:
“Following my PhD, I took up a postdoc position at MIT where I did a lot of work on subsea vehicles . I started to think more deeply about the structure of the SLAM problem, and my addiction for making it work on a real platform was growing. It’s quite a thing when you get an opportunity to write new software, stick it in a not-cheap vehicle, and press ‘dive’ – and know that it might not come back. That just fanned the flames!
“I returned to a faculty position at Oxford as a departmental lecturer, there was no room, no desk, no phone, no chair, nothing. But, I got the sense that there was also nothing in the way.
“I left the subsea stuff – it was pretty clear that was going to be hard in Oxford, far from any ocean, and started building the Mobile Robotics Group. I learned how I could work with industry. Two key things for me were that whatever we made, it needed to be useful and solve a problem. We started researching on duration, robustness, all the time trying to put this software onto more and more ambitious pieces of hardware.
“A big break was 2009 – 2010 where we won some big awards and started working with Nissan and BAE. We built a new lab, hired professional engineers, and started focusing on cars. I wasn’t interested in building an archipelago of ideas, I wanted a big mainland. But my colleague (and Oxbotica co-founder) Ingmar and I realised, we needed to go bigger, that we could really fix transport – and that’s why we started Oxbotica.”
How do Oxbotica and ORI fit together?
“The Oxford Robotics Institute is the place where we can afford to take long bets, and think about the problems that could be solvable in six or seven years’ time. For example, the stuff I was thinking about seven years ago is now running on the streets of London, in the GATEway project.
“Oxbotica spun out from the university 2.5 years ago. We had real substantial intellectual property payload, and the opportunity to invent on top of that – to take it beyond the stratosphere and out into orbit. Although we are now completely independent, just like any offspring, we still have a really close relationship with the university today.”
Selenium is Oxbotica’s autonomous control system, a vehicle agnostic operating system that can work on anything from forklifts, to cargo pods, to vehicles. The software uses the knowledge of where it is in the world, together with local information about the environment around the vehicle, to determine a safe path and velocity to move the vehicle towards its goal.
“There are many things I like about Selenium,” says Paul. “It’s not one monolithic solution – it’s a tapestry – lots of dovetailing competencies that come together to provide flexibility, with a technical roadmap to where we’re going next. It’s something that means our customers can pick and choose from what they need most.
“The fact that we didn’t take investment on day one means that our code has to be mean and lean because it’s got to be tradable. That means you can’t have a super computer in the boot – it’s got to work on a small computer. It can’t need a nuclear cooling system.”
You’ve done a lot of public work in pedestrian environments – what about the roads?
“There’s been a lot of public things – but there’s a load of stuff that’s going on inside Oxbotica with clients on the road-going tech, and that will be coming out very soon. But roads versus pedestrian environments? It doesn’t make that much difference in the raw technology – you still need to answer the three fundamental questions of where am I, what’s around me, and where do I go next.
“Sure – there are different things you need to do on roads, than if you’re going through a crowded pedestrian area. It comes back to the architectural question – and how we layer on to a system, for different applications. I’m sorry we can’t tell you everything about our various road-going applications, but stand by!
Do you need big computers to run Selenium?
“No! In fact, two weeks ago, we just reduced the cost of the computers that we’re ordering because we need less computing power. You really don’t want to open the boot, and us have to shout because of the roar of the cooling system! In short – Selenium runs on a single processing chip.
“One of the things I really like is the culture we have here across the company – this delight in the leanness of what we write. We have established practices across the team to keep it that way, and part of our value proposition is the conversations we’re not having. There’s hundreds of years of thinking behind this – and a similar amount of rabbit holes we know not to go down.”
What has been your most enjoyable moment in Oxbotica? What has been most challenging?
The drive is always about the next thing that doesn’t work – why does it not give into my will! One of the best moments is when you see the crew, having worked on things, sit in a car, and it drives itself. Those are real high moments.
Of course, there was the first cheque we got in. And since then, every single person that we hire gives me a buzz. You’ve made a job, because of some thinking that you and your colleagues have done. And the most extraordinary thing is that every time we do that, we get closer to more parents keeping their kids and more kids keeping their parents, because we can fix transport. So there’s a really nice, virtuous circle. It’s just great to be making stuff that has a moral imperative, as well as an economic one.
I genuinely believe currently, we move stuff in a stupid way, and that machines can help and they can do it better. ”
How does Oxbotica fit with the future world?
I’m not in a mood to hang around – I’m really not! So I really care about what the UK is doing to fix transport and moving stuff globally. I see us growing explosively soon – we’re moving into our new ‘Galactic Headquarters’ as I call it, where we have more space to keep growing. You go into the office and you really have a team who trust, like each other and really enjoy what they’re doing.There’s hard work ahead for us, but bring it on!