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Surrey Uni pulls in £1.1 million for blockchain research



University wins EPSRC money for three projects to explore potential for distributed ledger technology in e-voting, digital archives and healthcare

The University of Surrey has won £1.1 million in backing from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for three projects to investigate the potential of distributed ledger technology (DLT), better known as blockchain, in public services.

They will focus on how blockchain could be used to improve the effectiveness of e-voting, digital archives and the use of healthcare information.

DLT involves the use of distributed ledgers of unchangeable and digitally recorded data stored in packages called blocks. Its best known use is for bitcoin digital currency.

Atti Emecz, the University of Surrey’s acting vice provost research and innovation, said: “These exciting developments position Surrey as a UK leader, if not the UK leader, in blockchain technology.

“In addition, these projects will contribute to EPSRC’s Delivery Plan outcomes to support a more prosperous UK by working towards a more connected and healthy nation. The transformative uses of DLT offer huge potential and these awards allow us to work and develop on these.”

Personal healthcare

The first project, Co-operative Models for Evidence-based Healthcare Redistribution (CoMEHeRe), has received £420,000, is due to start on 26 June and run for 18 months. It will be aimed at improving an individual’s personal healthcare by using and managing biometric information created by wearable devices.

The project will combine data from wearable devices with DLT and machine learning to securely store and access data to share with healthcare providers. This could provide a basis for more targeted, personalised patterns of treatment.

It will be run by the Surrey Business School and the Centre for Vision Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP), led by Professor Alan Brown, head of the Department of Digital Economy and professor of entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Trusted and Transparent Voting Systems project has received just over £240,000 to explore applications of DLT in voting and collective decision-making. It is hoped the technology could support more effective and trustworthy electronic voting.

It is scheduled to begin on 1 June and to run for 24 months as a collaboration between the University of Surrey and King’s College London, and will be led by Professor Steve Schneider, director of Surrey Centre for Cyber Security (SCCS).

“This is an exciting new collaboration between political economists and computer scientists, focusing not only on the development of new technology, but also on exploring the positive impact and new opportunities,” he said.

Digital archives

The third project, Archangel - Trusted Archives of Digital Public Records, has already begun, backed by an award of more than £487,000.  It is bringing together the National Archives with the Open Data Institute to develop technology for the long term sustainability of digital archives, safeguarding their content by protecting them from degradation or tampering, and ensuring open access to digital public archives.

The project is focused on a socio-technical feasibility study and the evaluation of a prototype DLT service. It is being led by Dr John Collomosse, a senior lecturer in computer vision at CVSSP, and is set to run for 18 months.

Blockchain has won support for its potential in public services: last year the then Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock backed a positive report by the government chief scientific adviser and said it could be “enormously powerful” in government services

But there have been more cautious voices. The Verify team in the Government Digital Service has expressed scepticism over blockchain’s use in digital identities, and there has been some alarm over its use by the Department for Work and Pensions in pilots for the benefits system.

Image by Toni Lozano, CC BY 2.0 through flickr




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