Researchers in artificial intelligence at Cranfield University are contributing to a new, next generation computing hub dedicated to the cloud computing of tomorrow.

The initiative, known as the Communications Hub for Empowering Distributed Cloud Computing Applications and Research (CHEDDAR) – which has been awarded £2m funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – will bring researchers together to drive innovations in cloud computing systems with the wider academic, business and international communities.

The funding comes as part of a £6m investment by the EPSRC – part of UK Research and Innovation – into the technologies of tomorrow.

Creating secure connections

Cranfield will be focused on creating synergy case studies designed to showcase how individual pockets of research excellence in autonomy can be connected. This will include looking at how new technologies such as quantum encryption (a method of encryption that uses properties of quantum mechanics to secure and transmit data), secure federated learning (a way of training AI models with wider data across different locations, whilst keeping data secure) and molecular networking can transform the connected computing landscape.

The work will be of value to industry organisations with autonomous systems that need to exploit a diverse range of data and machine learning algorithms connected via a complex and secure network.

Weisi Guo, Professor of Human Machine Intelligence in the Centre for Autonomous and Cyber-Physical Systems, who will lead Cranfield’s research supported by Professor Antonios Tsourdos and Dr Ivan Petrunin, said: “As human society becomes increasingly interconnected our digital infrastructure will play an ever greater role in providing reliable communications and connected algorithms to support the development of our economy. The autonomous research platform delivered by Cranfield will bring together cutting-edge research from around the UK focused on how synchronous timing and location affects distributed computer learning.

“We are excited to engage with researchers across the rest of the academic community over the next three years and will be recruiting a dedicated fellow to assist in developing and engaging with breakthrough ideas as well as case studies.”

New era of connectivity must be secure and sustainable

The team behind CHEDDAR, led by Imperial College London’s Professor Julie McCann, believes it is imperative that new communications systems are built to be safe, secure, trustworthy, and sustainable, from the tiniest device to large cloud farms. Other partners in the project include the Universities of York, Leeds, Durham and Glasgow (Scotland 5G).

Professor McCann, Vice-Dean (Research) for Imperial’s Faculty of Engineering, said: “During the recent pandemic we came to appreciate the great work of the medical sciences, while our communications technologies were quietly supporting our work and providing social lifelines.

“Looking forward, we have new ways of working using AI as well as neuromorphic computing, where we model computer systems after the brain, and quantum computing. These different technologies have varying demands on communication networks, and indeed networking is changing with the various technologies that make up new initiatives such as 6G.”

The goals of CHEDDAR are to:

  • Develop innovative collaboration methods to engage pockets of excellence around the UK and build a cohesive research ecosystem that nurtures early career researchers and new ideas.
  • Inform the design of new communication surfaces that cater to emerging computing capabilities (such as neuromorphic, quantum, molecular), key infrastructures (such as energy grids and transport), and emerging end-user applications (such as autonomy) to answer problems that we cannot solve today.
  • Create integrated design of hierarchical connected human-machine systems that promote secure learning and knowledge distribution, resilience, sustainable operations, trust between human and machine reasoning, and accessibility in terms of diversity and inclusion.
  • Co-develop regional case studies that reflect the diverse challenges faced by different industries and societies across the UK.

Jane Nicholson, EPSRC’s Director for Research Base, said: “Digital communications infrastructure underpins the UK’s economy of today and tomorrow and these projects will help support the jobs and industry of the future. Everybody relies on secure and swift networking and EPSRC is committed to backing the research which will advance these technologies.”