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How big data is changing engineering

Main Year of Engineering page

How big data is changing engineering

3 December 2018

We often take for granted that things like clean water, electricity, broadband networks, trains and roads will always be available to us. But these are essential services that make up the ‘National Infrastructure’ and we need to find the best ways to manage them. Engineers have a crucial role to play in delivering and designing the systems that underpin these essential services ensuring that they are resilient and overall support the UK’s National Infrastructure. So why is big data changing engineering? In this changing landscape, data is everywhere and making sense of this data will inevitably improve understanding and therefore pinpoint weaknesses in our current infrastructure. This will allow engineers to understand the problem and so ultimately lead to improvements which can only enhance the performance of our nation’s existing infrastructure systems.

DAFNI (Data & Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure), a new infrastructure research facility at STFC, will enable essential research into services such as energy; transport; digital communications; water supply; flood protection; wastewater and solid waste collection; treatment and disposal. It is being created by a team of software engineers who are working towards providing access to enhanced computational resources that will enable research into the infrastructure demand for services for every household in the UK. It will also offer cutting edge and unique software which will allow researchers to study complex infrastructure systems in cities and in the UK as a whole. It will provide massive secure data storage, awesome computer power and the next generation in systems visualisation, helping engineers to digest the data available, run simulations to test systems and help with the decision making.

There is an opportunity now with new sources of data becoming available (i.e. real-time data from sensing, digitisation of data, imaging technologies, data from social media) along with more powerful computing technologies to really analysis what is needed for the UK’s future demands. But how will all this big data change engineering? Through DAFNI, engineers will be able to:

  • apply advanced analytics to exploit the volume of data available and use artificial intelligence technologies to provide the ability to learn and adapt;
  • share data, analytics and models between sectors and better contribute to scenario planning;
  • share data that will enable systems-level planning, and help to ensure vulnerabilities in one sector do not compromise another.

The future of our economy, society and environment depends on the right decisions being made ensuring that any investments are wisely spent. Engineers have a critical role to play in designing and planning the UK’s infrastructure systems, providing safeguards and therefore preventing unexpected catastrophic events e.g. flooding or power outages, etc.   

It is true; big data is changing engineering, and DAFNI is helping.


DAFNI is funded as part of EPSRC’s investment in the UKCRIC. It is commissioned by Oxford University on behalf of UKCRIC and is being delivered by STFC’s Scientific Computing Department at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Harwell. The first version of DAFNI will be launched in June 2019 and is already working with a number of Public Sector and Academic organisations to become the focal point for infrastructure research.

The UK’s National Infrastructure Plan has set aside over £460 billion of investment for the next decade. However, it is not yet known what effect the investment will have on the quality and reliability of national infrastructure services, economic productivity, the resilience of society or its impacts upon the environment. Uncertainty exists as a result of the inherent complexity of infrastructure systems (energy, transport, digital communications, water etc.) and their interactions with people and the environment.    

Keep in contact with DAFNI through the website.

If you would like to discuss Partnership opportunities, contact DAFNI’s Partnership Manager.

Last updated: 20 December 2018


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