A million pounds. No strings. A million pounds to fund research that could change the world for the better. Fantasy? Yes, of course. Unfortunately NCE can do little more than ask researchers the question: what would you do with such a windfall? What pet projects languish in your desk drawers for lack of funds to prove the basic concept; what prototypes are rusting in dusty sheds because the money to develop them further is simply not available?
The question was put to Britain's most famous inventor, plus research organisations, major consultants and contractors throughout the construction industry. Of the ideas, five looked really promising and a few more caught our fancy. All of them are worthy of funding, yet most will probably never get a penny, let alone £1M.
For most researchers in the construction industry the reality is a cut throat battle for the limited funds available, most of which come with strings very firmly attached.
Yet in a recent review carried out for the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions it was concluded that £30M spent on just 12 research projects would generate a staggering £600M of benefits over 30 years. But 30 years is a geological timescale in political terms, and research money tends to gravitate towards projects which promise quantifiable commercial returns within a much shorter period.
Some of the projects here fall into that category, yet still face an uncertain future. Others are longer term, blue sky research, always difficult to justify to funding committees. Nevertheless, if the industry is to continue to improve the quality of human existence in the dramatic fashion of the last century, both types of research must progress hand in hand. As these ideas show, there is no shortage of inspiration.