Government launches Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA) to support ‘high risk, high reward science’

Modelled on the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the new agency will be backed by £800m over the course of this parliament

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (DBEIS) has today (Friday 19 February) launched a new independent scientific research body, the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA).

ARIA will be backed by £800 million of government funding over the course of this Parliament, as outlined by chancellor Rishi Sunak in the March 2020 Budget.

Created to support high risk, high reward science, the new agency will be led by “prominent, world-leading scientists.”

By seeking to avoid “unnecessary bureaucracy”, it will act “with flexibility and speed”, experiment with funding models – including program grants, seed grants, and prize incentives – and will be able to start and stop projects depending on their success, redirecting funding where necessary.

ARIA will also, says BEIS, “have a much higher tolerance for failure than is normal, recognising that in research the freedom to fail is often also the freedom to succeed”.

ARIA is modelled on the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the research body behind technological breakthroughs such as the internet and GPS.

By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency will be given the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow – Kwasi Kwarteng

Today’s launch evokes the UK’s “long and proud history of inventing”, citing historical figures such as Ada Lovelace, Alan Turing and James Watt. “The creation of ARIA will continue this tradition,” says the government, and “fund the most inspiring inventors to turn their transformational ideas into new technologies, discoveries, products and services – helping to maintain the UK’s position as a global science superpower”.

“From the steam engine to the latest artificial intelligence technologies, the UK is steeped in scientific discovery,” said business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “Today’s set of challenges – whether disease outbreaks or climate change – need bold, ambitious and innovative solutions.

“Led independently by our most exceptional scientists, this new agency will focus on identifying and funding the most cutting-edge research and technology at speed.

“By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency will be given the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow, as we continue to build back better through innovation.”

ARIA will unleash our most inspirational scientists and inventors, empowering them with the freedom to drive forward their scientific vision and explore game-changing new ideas at a speed like never before – Amanda Solloway

Science and innovation minister Amanda Solloway said that “to rise to the challenges of the 21st century we need to equip our R&D community with a new scientific engine – one that embraces the idea that truly great successes come from taking great leaps into the unknown.

“ARIA will unleash our most inspirational scientists and inventors, empowering them with the freedom to drive forward their scientific vision and explore game-changing new ideas at a speed like never before. This will help to create new inventions, technologies and industries that will truly cement the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

According to Politico, the new agency will differ from existing funding agency UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) in that it will not fund mission-based projects, instead – according to an insider – financing “novel, contentious or repercussive” research without needing to seek government approval or fear reprisals if projects fail and public money is wasted.

Last week, however, a House of Commons science and technology committee (STC) report urged the government to be focussed in its purpose for ARIA, saying the new agency was at that point still “a brand in search of a product” and should work on “no more than two strategically important missions aligned with the long-term needs of the nation”.

Legislation to create ARIA will be introduced to Parliament “as soon as parliamentary time allows”, according to the DBEIS, with the aim for it to be fully operational by 2022. The location of the agency is to be confirmed as, according to Politico, some MPs argue for it to be situated outside London.

A recruitment campaign will begin over the coming weeks to select an interim chief executive and chair.

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, welcomed today’s launch:

“The creation of a new high-risk, high reward research agency for the UK is a real statement of intent about the future direction of our economy.

Russell Group universities are home to some of the world’s best researchers. This new agency has the potential to help turn their ideas into technologies that will support jobs and change our country for the better – Dr Tim Bradshaw

“Get ARIA right and we can unlock technological innovations that will drive post-pandemic recovery and help tackle global challenges like reaching net zero. Russell Group universities are home to some of the world’s best researchers. This new agency has the potential to help turn their ideas into technologies that will support jobs and change our country for the better.

“Covid has shown us just how quickly UK researchers can react to rapid funding calls – removing unnecessary bureaucracy and giving ARIA the ability to act flexibly will help cutting-edge projects go forward at pace. We look forward to working with Government to shape the new agency’s agenda.”


You might also like: UK ARPA ‘a brand in search of a product’, says science committee chair

Scientists will direct UK ARPA-style body, not politicians – Solloway

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