How the public sector is pushing forward innovation in tech



The UK government has declared their intention to become a ‘global science and technology superpower’. As a result, there has been plenty of investment into research and development in recent years and a number of exciting new projects in everything from education to military technology. Here is a quick overview of some of the technology that government departments are using and some projects that have been carried out so far.

The Internet of Things (IoT)

The NHS and Department of Health recently invested £10 million in two IoT-led projects. One of which referred to as Technology Integrated Health Management, involves a network of sensors, monitors, wearables and other devices. The technology is used to help those with dementia and other cognitive impairments to live safely and independently within their own homes. The IoT network monitors the user’s health and alerts health professionals to step in when required. A further project, the Diabetes Digital Coach, uses glucose monitoring devices to guide users through an e-learning process to manage their condition better.

These projects have tangible benefits for those taking part and could potentially reduce costs for healthcare services. However, they also advance IoT by providing an opportunity for a large-scale study in an applied environment. The data collected will provide valuable insight into how IoT devices are used in the real world and help further develop such platforms.


Blockchain is a digital ledger that makes altering or hacking records nearly impossible. It is already proving its worth in the industry, particularly banking, where it can help keep transaction records safe. However, given the implications for tackling fraud, error and inefficiency, it also has huge possibilities for the government.

So far, the Food Standards Agency has trialled blockchain for livestock distribution, using the digital ledger to share information such as age and veterinary history. The Department for Work and Pensions have also tried blockchain to see whether a bespoke cryptocurrency, Govcoin, could make payments to benefit claimants easier and more secure.


The Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Home Office have been funding research into autonomous robotics with the goal of creating a machine that can investigate chemical and biological hazards. The Merlin Robot is the first prototype of this research, developed by industry partner HORIBA-MIRA. In January 2021, the Merlin Robot successfully conducted chemical reconnaissance over 10,000 square metres. The robot uses artificial intelligence (AI) for object recognition and is equipped with autonomous search and mapping tools. It is a hugely exciting result, given the potentially life-saving capabilities of this technology.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

The government has taken a special interest in AI, recently listing it as a critical element in driving economic growth and innovation in the UK. The government’s data science unit has previously used AI to analyse results and attendance records to see whether a school is at risk of ‘failing’ and requires special attention. The recent launch of the ‘National AI centre’ aims to take AI in education further. Although new, the initiative has been inspired by projects such as Bolton College’s digital assistant, Ada, which provides administrative support to students, freeing up staff to focus on teaching.

User experience

The HM Courts and Tribunals Service is undergoing a £1 billion transformation to modernise its services. One important part of this is using design and research. During COVID-19, many aspects of the legal system were kept going with remote hearings. A new digital platform is being rolled out to deal with approximately 1.5 million criminal cases annually. User experience is a key aspect of this modernisation, ensuring that services are easy to navigate and that all aspects of virtual hearings are considered for those involved.

It is clear there is no shortage of ambitious government projects. This is great news for those across the technology industry, as successful projects can help stimulate demand for key digital skills. Finally, when government involvement is done well, it can increase public trust in emerging technologies.

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