Rural areas have specific characteristics that create challenges around issues such as quality of life and wealth creation. These include: small, often dispersed populations; narrow and uneven channels of information flow; rapid change in population structures and economic activity bases; and restricted access to digital infrastructure. We believe that rural areas of the UK can, through the user-led application of digital technology, be more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. dot.rural combined the Hub’s expertise with the experiences of a  range of partners to realise this ambition through the activities organised around the following challenge areas.


Digital Society

Society has been transformed by the introduction of digital technologies – leading to new opportunities and challenges – most notably around inclusion/exclusion. Key questions that frame research in this area include: How does the presence (or absence) of technology impact on the resilience of communities? How do digital exclusion, trust (and legacies of mistrust) lead to social exclusion and power imbalances within communities? What are the opportunities and barriers surrounding digital engagement by various communities?

Projects in this challenge area:

Enterprise and Culture

Enterprise & Culture

Rural enterprise is an essential element of rural development and is both a way of attracting new populations to the countryside and sustaining existing populations. There are many challenges facing rural enterprise, including poor access to infrastructure, lack of high-speed Internet access, isolation, and a dispersed population lacking major educational and cultural centres. In combination these prevent successful participation for rural communities in a digital world.

Projects in this challenge area:



Health services are challenged by increasing expenditure, consumerisation, and chronic disease in ageing populations. Rural communities are further challenged by peripherality, lack of economies of scale, difficulties in recruitment and retention of professionals, and specific environmental health issues. Evolving health policy is predicated on community resilience, through which individuals and communities can take more responsibility for their own health and the configuration of service provision. Sensor systems, mobile devices, intelligent information management systems and technologies to support high quality care provision by non-experts in emergency and non-emergency situations could all improve health and social care systems in rural communities.

Projects in this challenge area:

Intelligent Information Infrastructures

Intelligent Information Infrastructures

In recent years there has been much talk about a future Web driven by semantic and agent technologies. An intelligent infrastructure is envisioned which enables data, information, and knowledge to be exposed, shared, connected and consumed by users and services. To fully realise such an infrastructure, several important elements are necessary and these form the basis of our research. We are investigating means to represent the provenance of content and services; mechanisms to reason about quality, trust and reputation; computational solutions to support collaboration and coordination among people and services; means to represent and reason about user (or other agent) policies in order to ensure that actions comply with appropriate norms such as information security and privacy of individuals, businesses and other stakeholders. Finally, as many applications now blend human and machine aspects of computation, we are exploring provenance and quality issues within such hybrid information systems.

Projects in this challenge area:

Intelligent Mobility

Intelligent Mobility

We have a vision of intelligent mobility which draws upon components from passengers, freight, and the transport network, held together by an underlying framework of data and information technology.

Projects in this challenge area:

Internet Engineering

Internet Engineering

Internet Engineering activities explore technology that can improve the user experience and application performance for people in rural/remote locations. The work includes broadband access for individuals and communities where cost-effective fast broadband services are not available, the impact of broadband service on the creative industries and Quality of Service techniques, research into wireless access technology and remote sensing of natural and urban environments. Research combines Internet technologies, new satellite access methods, methods to reduce Internet latency, and transport methods for voice, data and video.

Projects in this challenge area:

Natural Language Generation & Affective Communication

Natural Language Generation & Affective Communication

Much of our work on interfaces to people is centred around the use of natural language generation (NLG) to produce natural and acceptable communication. This includes investigating the intelligent use of language to affect human behaviour. For example, by making tactful suggestions about what needs to be done in a stressful and demanding situation, or by seeking to motivate users to submit data by providing them with interesting feedback on their observations. We are also pursuing research on more traditional topics within NLG, including issues to do with the presentation of geo- and time-related data and the construction of coherent narratives.

Projects in this challenge area:


Natural Resource Conservation

Natural resources are fundamental to society. Water, land, and the species within, all form part of our surroundings to which we are intimately connected. Society imposes ever-greater demands on these resources that sustain and influence the quality of human life. This has fostered a growing realisation of the need to develop new approaches to the conservation of natural resources. We are exploring how digital technologies can help communities transform the way they manage, use and conserve natural resources. A key challenge addressed by the natural resources team and its partners is the provision of relevant and personalised automated feedback which informs and motivates volunteers working in citizen science programmes.

Projects in this challenge area:

Social Media

Social Media

There is now a broad consensus that new forms of social data emerging from people’s day to day activities on the Web have the potential to transform the social sciences. However, there is also agreement that the current analytical techniques fall short of the methodological standards required for academic research and policy making; and that conclusions drawn from social media data have much greater utility when combined with results drawn from other datasets (including the various public sector resources made available through open data initiatives). Human sense making is also seen as playing an important role. Areas in which social media data have the potential to provide insights include: social order and civil society, politics and trust, sentiment, consumption, health, information diffusion, creativity and the arts.

Projects in this challenge area:

  • Social Journeys
  • Twitter and Transport
  • Social Media – Developing Understanding, Infrastructure and Engagement (ESRC funded Social Media Enhancement)

Completed Projects


Agent and Semantic Support for Rural Enterprise


Digital Advanced Rural Testbed


Informed Rural Passenger


Satellite Internet for Rural Access


Technology to Support Older Adults – Personal and Social Interaction

dot.rural Internship Scheme

As part of its wider engagement with the academic community and impact agenda, dot.rural introduced a summer internship scheme which ran in 2013 and 2014 and is being repeated in 2015. The scheme is designed to support students from outside dot.rural and the University of Aberdeen to spend time at the Hub. Interns join a lively community of 18 PhD students already based in the Hub, working across a range of disciplines.

In 2013 there were four interns from Heriot-Watt University (logistics with the Smart Micro-logistics for the Rural Economy project), Dundee University (Design/Computing with the Informed Rural Passenger project), Edinburgh University (Mathematics with the Managing Information in Medical Emergencies project) and Horizon CDT, University of Nottingham (Computing Science with the Cultural Repositories & Information Systems project). In 2014 interns were from Northumbria University (Design, worked with community heritage groups), Exeter (Medical Geography, Sunbeds, e-cigarettes & social media) and Highwire, Lancaster University (othering online) alongside two joint interns between dot.rural and the James Hutton Institute.

For 2015 there are two internship schemes: one for penultimate year computing science students (joint with James Hutton Institute, two internships of 10 weeks long) and one for PhD students in any discipline where interns propose their own 10 week topic. The PhD internships are looking at smart cities, policy and governance (Sheffield University) and social media use by whisky companies (Robert Gordon University).

Paul Gault
Kimon Fountalakis Intern
Coll Freight

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