Domain: Research

Themes: Assistive & Accessible Technology

TIDAL N+ Transformative Innovation in the delivery of Assisted Living Products and Services

TIDAL stands for Transformative Innovation in the Delivery of Assisted Living products and services. TIDAL N+ is a collaboration between UCL, Strathclyde, Salford and Loughborough Universities, led by Prof Cathy Holloway from UCL and Global Disability Innovation Hub. The research team includes Prof Laurence Kenney (Salford University), Prof Richard Bibb (Loughborough University), Prof Mikko Koria (Loughborough University) and Dr Arjan Buis (Strathclyde University). We are funded from 1 September 2021 to 31st August 2024 by the EPSRC as a Healthcare Technologies New Challenges Network Plus (EP/W000717/1).


Our purpose is to improve the quality of Assistive Technologies (AT) and hence the lives of the people who use them. Our vision is for innovative, sustainable and equitable physical and digital AT.

To achieve this we're building a transdisciplinary network - including designers, ergonomists, engineers, physical scientists and AI specialists, alongside entrepreneurs, innovation experts and manufacturers, as well as AT users, clinical and social care practitioners and commissioners.

Through this network we will stimulate research that will lead to novel design, engineering and technological advances that will enable innovative AT solutions that empower disabled people, older people and carers.  


The need for more and better AT

The need for Assistive Technologies (AT) is massive, largely unmet and rising uncontrollably. It is estimated that by 2050 the number of people needing AT will have doubled from 1 billion to 2 billion. Only 10% of AT need is currently met and it is unclear how many individuals have AT that is well matched to their needs. Engineering and physical sciences research in AT has led to some major advances, but the cost of current devices remains too high and delivery of services frequently requires physical access to scarce, centralised, facilities, expert knowledge and skills.

"A problem of this scale cannot be solved by simply increasing the volume of current activity, rather it requires a coordinated focusing of research, user, clinician and industry efforts into transformative methods that can address the problems currently limiting the value of the AT to the user." (Cathy Holloway)

The opportunity

The UK plays an increasingly important role in AT globally. The EPSRC funded CDT in Prosthetics & Orthotics is a global first for the sector; the AT2030 programme ( led by GDI Hub has positioned the UK as a leader in the WHO Gate initiative, has mapped the technical and market challenges for AT globally and is trialling innovations. This growth is reflected in a growing EPSRC Healthcare Technologies portfolio in AT, Rehabilitation and Musculoskeletal Biomechanics (ATRMB), but represents only 0.73% of the overall EPSRC portfolio. There is an opportunity to expand further given the growing international AT market which the UK can continue to lead - this market is estimated to be worth £110bn in China, and in the UK, is expected to grow from £2.5 billion to £6 billion by 2025.

Despite the volume of AT research, serious challenges remain in getting the right AT to the right people and supporting the individual to continue to use these technologies over the long term, without interruption, thereby addressing the disconnect between the high-end research and the daily reality of many people in need of fit-for-purpose AT.

"Digitally enabled, processes, products and services alongside powerful data-driven solutions offer an opportunity to transform AT and services into empowering scalable solutions which can be used to transform the daily reality of AT users and open up access to AT to more of those who need it." (Cathy Holloway)

The solution: Transformative innovation in the Delivery of Assisted Living products and services'

TIDAL will develop an international Network with the UK at its centre, to bring together designers, ergonomists, engineers, physical scientists and AI specialists, alongside entrepreneurs, innovations and manufacturers, as well as AT users, clinical and social care practitioners and commissioners. We will drive problem understanding, identify new research challenges and co-create novel, innovative solutions.

"The focus will be on coordinating, inspiring and supporting underpinning research leading to the development of technologies and services that harness advances in design, digital manufacturing and data analysis techniques to create innovative, sustainable and equitable physical and digital AT." (Cathy Holloway)

Our plans

Our primary aims are:

  • Drive problem understanding
  • Identify new research challenges
  • Co-ordinate, inspire and support underpinning research leading to the development of technologies and services that harness advances in design, digital manufacturing and data analysis techniques
  • Co-create novel, innovative solutions

Our objectives are:

  • To map the innovation landscape, including analysis of barriers and drivers, case studies of success and EPSRC portfolio mapping.
  • To develop and sustain the TIDAL community, driving best practice in inclusive network design wherever possible
  • To initiate small research projects and industry exchanges in community-agreed focus areas, focusing in the first instance on responsible engineering, sensors and data science, and digital manufacturing.
  • To disseminate the results of the network activities and develop a sustainable plan for TIDAL beyond the end of the network.

What we will do:

Over the next 3 years, to achieve these objectives, we will:

  • Create a transdisciplinary network capable of generating novel design, engineering and technological advances that will empower disabled people, older people and carers through accessible and local solutions.
  • Support users in their communities, enabling a step change in the viability and affordability of inclusive and empowering assisted living that levels the playing field socially and economically for disabled people.
  • Will initiate advances in design, data science and manufacturing whilst continually strengthening the knowledge base on research translation and supporting to the next generation of interdisciplinary EPSRC researchers.

We will focus on:

  • TIDAL N+ Mapping: Guided by our consultations with partners we will carry out a series of short focused projects. The first two will focus on the regulatory landscape for AT post-Brexit and will review successful translation of EPSRC-funded research into AT products and services. Three further short projects, focused on key barriers and enablers will be developed by the Network.
  • TIDAL N+ community development: This workstream will establish the Network and maintain inclusive engagement. A major activity will be running an Annual Symposium and Doctoral Colloquium, with the first focussed on Responsible Engineering.
  • TIDAL N+ Research: Guided by initial consultations with partners we will begin the Network+ with three research themes:
  • Responsible Engineering: Sensors and Data Science for Communication Aids Design & Digital Manufacturing Systems (DMS) & Physical Devices.

An additional theme will be added as TIDAL N+ grows.

We will fund up to eight research projects (aiming for 2 per theme) up to £65k each for interdisciplinary teams who have an excellent research hypothesis for solving a clear unmet need. There will be three steps to developing and selecting the projects for funding:

  • an agenda setting workshop
  • targeted calls and a team building workshop (mini sandpit)
  • review and select proposals for funding

All research projects will have a business mentor and we will also support industry placements of up to 2 months for academics, and encourage industry-funded placements into academia.

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