Researchers vow to smash 'barriers to innovation'

Academics from Cambridge, MIT and UCL have come together to foster the development of technologies such as peer-to-peer networking and viral communications

Technical innovation is being hindered by a lack of coordination between government, academia and industry, according to a joint team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cambridge University.

The latest venture from the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMII) aims to plug this gap and foster greater communication between the various parties involved in the development of new technology.

Launched on Tuesday at an event in London's UCL, the Communications Innovation Institute (CII) will see representatives from Cambridge, UCL, and MIT working directly with industry partners such as BT to foster innovation in the communications industry.

The academics and technologists behind CII argue that communications research and the industry it serves have been separated into different "silos" and plagued by a lack of effective communication. "Classical academic research is portioned into different labs and departments, and separate from industrial technology labs, business schools, government departments, and so on. We felt we needed to change this and provide a new structure that ties these different disciplines together," said David Clark, senior MIT research scientist.

For innovation to succeed, it is no longer good enough to have a technically good idea; it has to fit into the business context, said Andy Lippman, a senior researcher at MIT's media lab. "The magic is not in the tech alone: it is in how it meshes with society. The measure of any invention is not how good it is but how quickly people pull that off you and run with it. SMS wasn't developed for schoolgirls in Japan to chat with each other, it was invented for telcos to send you advertising."

Another team member, Jon Crawford, Marconi professor of Networked Systems at Cambridge, said that the group is concerned with getting to the bottom of how economic, regulatory and technical organisations interact. "We can't consider each of these things in isolation any more. Some things are not solved by the market or by government, or by Microsoft, Intel and Cisco," he said.

The researchers claim CII will work to develop and implement some of the emerging technologies of the future including third generation peer-to-peer systems, wireless on optical technology and ways to tackle internet piracy.

Social and economic issues will also be explored, including a road map for wireless and spectrum usage and an examination of viral communications.

Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) was established in 1999 as a joint venture between the two leading universities. CMI is funded by the Department of Trade and Industry through a grant of £65.1m over five years from July 2000, and will raise £16m from the UK private sector.