PETRAS Year in Review 2023

by PETRAS Director, Professor Jeremy Watson CBE FREng


It has been my privilege to lead PETRAS since 2016, when the PETRAS Hub award was made by EPSRC to the five ‘Quintet’ universities – UCL, Imperial College, Oxford, Lancaster and Warwick. With outstanding senior academic colleagues from those universities we shaped both the PETRAS ways of working, and with user partners, the key themes of research. The founding deputy director and co-creator of PETRAS was Professor Emil Lupu; together we developed a cross- and interdisciplinary approach to researching the cybersecurity of the Internet of Things that brought together Social and Physical Sciences with Engineering and Technology. His successor, Professor Julie McCann has provided new perspectives and co-leadership, which I value very highly.

The second, ‘Centre’ phase of PETRAS, which ran from the conclusion of the Hub in 2019 to the end of September 2023, allowed us to demonstrate new ways of working and brought in 12 new university partners through open calls. The Centre operated as the research element of ‘Securing Digital Technologies at the Periphery’ (SDTaP), a UKRI funded initiative that included Innovate UK Demonstrators, and Research Fellowships. This provided a rich environment for collaborative discovery and innovation.

Now we are in an extension phase of PETRAS, focused on realising the best possible impact through public awareness and knowledge delivery. The extension will take us to July 2024, during which time the brilliant work of our Synthesis Fellows and Centre team will have delivered a large-scale ‘Summit’ event for parliamentarians and public, plus specialised industry workshops together with peer reviewed and conference publications.

When I reflect on the achievements of the Hub and Centre phases of PETRAS – 120+ projects, 400+ publications and co-working between our 23 universities with 150 user partners – I acknowledge and celebrate the excellence of our researchers’ and Centre team work, and the collaborative culture we have established. We have created an innovative model for cross- and interdisciplinary research that is driven by real world needs and concerns, which I hope can be re-used in our cybersecurity and other contexts.

The future of PETRAS looks rosy, with an adapted mission and funding on the horizon that will need us to pivot our themes while retaining our proven operating model. PETRAS 3 is likely to use a ‘Centre’ approach with open and closed calls for PETRAS-themed research around autonomous and connected smart technologies at the edge of the internet in new contexts.

Professor Jeremy Watson CBE FREng
Director & PI, PETRAS National Centre of Excellence