The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) was championed by Dominic Cummings while in government, and is seen as a key initiative for the future of the UK economy. The new policy, which has seen an investment of £800m from the government, promises a new way of tackling global issues such as the energy crisis and improving cities and transport.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy added last February that ARIA would have “a much higher tolerance for failure than normal, recognizing that in research the freedom to fail is often also freedom to succeed”.
The new research funding agency was first mentioned during the Queen’s Speech in December 2019, as a plan to fund “high-risk, high-reward research in emerging areas of research and of technology”.
This was followed by the first investment announcement for the “blue sky” agency in the March 2020 budget. A year later, on February 19, 2021, the government announced its intention to table primary legislation to create the new agency.
It was formed earlier this year with the appointment of CEO Peter Highnam – a former executive at DARPA, the US equivalent of the research agency that is part of its inspiration.
According to the government, ARIA will bring together specialists and experts from diverse backgrounds in a team to develop new ways of dealing with crises, which can both help the UK and be traded in a global market.
Julian David, CEO of trade association TechUK, summed up the policy as follows: “It’s about exchanging ideas, rather than exchanging goods.”
He said efforts to ensure the successful deployment of the vaccine were exactly the type of targeted research projects that ARIA could undertake in the future.
He added that, rather than existing government departments managing large parts of the country, ARIA is flexible in its application and is able to focus its efforts entirely on developing new solutions.
Mr David told Express.co.uk that ARIA could bring benefits to all areas of the UK economy.
He said, “You name it, you can aim ARIA at it. How do you improve cities?
How do you improve transport? How to solve the energy crisis?
“There are many challenges that you could take on and say, okay, let’s treat this as a special project. It will actually take the things that really matter to our society and our economy. »
He added that this type of targeted research can lead to many “incidental” findings.
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For example, he said touch screens were first invented for use in military helicopters, and downsizing of computer chips was achieved through the US space program – both of which led to the existence of smartphones.
Mr David told Express.co.uk: “When you really focus on solving specific problems, there is great potential for new innovations that can be game-changing.”
Mr David said the approaching energy crisis was the perfect example of something the ARIA would give the UK an edge in tackling – for example, by developing innovative ways to store energy to better mitigate adverse effects of crises such as growing supply chain problems.
The new department will also, he said, help the UK make its mark on the world stage as we emerge from Brexit.
He said: “The only way for you to be a hugely successful economy now is for us to be a high-value, high-skill, research-based economy.
“That’s how we’re going to be successful. It is as much about exchanging ideas as it is about exchanging goods. It is an advanced weapon.
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Although ARIA is not something that is only possible as a result of Brexit, Mr David added that the motivation presented by Brexit challenges is exactly the kind of thing to galvanize the country to he takes new initiatives.
He said: “Strictly speaking, we could have done that in the European Union.
“But what you see now is the recognition that the UK must excel now at a global level.
“Brexit has focused industry thinking, and it’s focused academic thinking – everyone wondering how do you become the best in the world?
“It’s also a major chance to team up with American researchers and develop this business relationship. This will attract more people from the US research and development community. It is enormous.”