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Suppliers from Devon, Plymouth and Torbay can register for free at supplydevon.org, and when live the system will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to match suppliers to buyers’ requests.

New scheme to boost Devon’s recovery and cut carbon emissions

The University of Exeter will play a pivotal part in a new project, which will use Artificial Intelligence to boost Devon’s economic recovery and help the environment.

Announced by the Business Secretary today (November 4th), the collaboration between the University, Barnstaple-based Applegate, and software developer Ghyston will create an online system for Devon-based organisations to find local suppliers.

The £250, 000 project is being funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, enabling the service to be provided for free to buyers and suppliers alike.

Organisations such as councils, universities, charities and businesses are invariably keen to support their communities, not least by buying from local suppliers. Keeping the money spent in the area helps to create jobs and strengthen the economy – more important than ever with the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Where goods and services can be sourced from nearby firms, it also saves the carbon emissions caused by unnecessarily transporting products and people long distances.

It can be a challenge, though to find local suppliers: that’s the problem that Supply Devon aims to solve. Suppliers from Devon, Plymouth and Torbay can register for free at supplydevon.org, and when live the system will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to match suppliers to buyers’ requests. In a cutting-edge development, the AI is being taught to behave ethically, ensuring it doesn’t learn bad habits of racial or sex discrimination. This ‘ethical AI’ is an area of increasing focus around the globe, one in which Devon is taking a leading part.

At the University of Exeter both the Centre for Energy and the Environment and the Institute of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence are working on the project.

“I am delighted that the University will play such a key role in this crucial regional scheme,” said Vice Chancellor, Professor Lisa Roberts.

“Artificial Intelligence and Data Science offer new and innovative solutions to some of today’s most pressing problems.

“By working in partnership with Applegate and Ghyston, the University will play a key role in boosting the economy in the region, at a time when the COVID crisis has had such a detrimental impact on so many businesses, but also do so in a way that helps protect the environment”.

Stuart Brocklehurst, CEO of Applegate, urged Devon-based suppliers to register: “This is a great opportunity for Devon firms to win more business and help tackle climate change at the same time. For procurement teams, it’s an opportunity to buy better, to support the local community, tackle climate change and counter discrimination. It’s exciting that this next-generation technology is being developed here, and testament to the great assets we have in our universities and the strength of what can be achieved when business and academia collaborate.”

For Ghyston, Chief Executive Emily Hill added, “Supply Devon is a great example of how technology can help address the big challenges of our time. Developers are problem solvers by nature, it’s inspiring for our team to work on such a constructive project.”

The project forms part of a raft of measures announced by the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma. “The UK’s response to coronavirus has demonstrated the very best of British ingenuity, and it is this resourcefulness that will help us navigate our way through this pandemic,” he commented. “Today’s investment will ensure that our innovators and risk-takers can continue to scale up their ideas, helping the UK to build back better and ensure we meet our clear commitments on tackling climate change.”

“Our Sustainable Innovation Fund is designed to help the UK economy recover from COVID-19, whilst contributing to the additional huge challenge of climate change,” commented Ian Campbell, Executive Chair of Innovate UK.

“I’m delighted to see the Supply Devon project’s novel approach to meeting these goals, developing leading edge technology to achieve them. With the lead partner, Applegate, located in an Assisted Area in a coastal community, this also illustrates that businesses in any location can find success with Innovate UK.  I’d encourage more companies from the South West and across the country to explore what working with us can do for them.”

Date: 4 November 2020

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