Prestigious fellowship awarded to UWE Bristol academic to fund development of music technology

Media Relations Team, 04 December 2023

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Professor Tom Mitchell

A UWE Bristol professor has been awarded a prestigious fellowship which will fund the development of a radically new approach to digital musical instrument design.

Tom Mitchell, Professor of Audio and Music Interaction, has been awarded a Future Leaders Fellowship by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Professor Mitchell has become the first academic from UWE Bristol to have been named a Future Leaders Fellow since the introduction of the initiative in 2018.

The fellowships are granted to the most promising research leaders in the UK. In the latest round of funding, £101 million has been awarded to 75 fellows to tackle major global issues and help researchers commercialise their innovations.

Professor Mitchell is best known for developing gestural musical gloves which use motion capture and AI to enable wearers to create music with their movements. The technology was developed in partnership with Grammy Award-winning musician Imogen Heap and commercialised by MiMU in 2019.

With the funding from the UKRI fellowship, Professor Mitchell will develop his work further by producing new technologies and methods that will invite broader participation in the development of new musical instruments and future visions of musicianship.

He said: “I'm absolutely delighted to have been awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. The application involved creating a long-term research vision that significantly extends my previous research with a level of support that I have never had available to me in the past. For that situation to become a reality is just unbelievable!

“I'm so grateful to the many colleagues in College of Arts, Technology and Environment, Research Business and Innovation, Creative Technologies Lab and the School of Computing and Creative Technologies who have been a constant source of inspiration and support throughout the application process.”

Current digital musical instruments are highly constrained by their internal sensing technologies. Professor Mitchell’s fellowship research, starting in summer 2024, will explore an alternative “Outside-In” approach, which blends high-fidelity wearable technology and leading-edge manufacturing methods.

To deliver the project, Dr Mitchell will partner with MiMU Gloves, x-io Technologies, Drake Music, Billy and Andy’s Music School and the Watershed. A new group called the Music Interaction Lab will be formed, located in The Bridge - a new physical meta-creation facility under construction at UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus with investment from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and West of England Combined Authority.

Professor Mitchell said: “I will be exploring a novel human computer interaction method that will extend the work that I have done with the MiMU gloves by using motion capture sensors worn on the wrists and hands to sense nuanced interactions with objects.

“As these interactions will be sensed via the hand, the design of the objects is not constrained by their internal technologies and they can take on any size, shape or material. This will enable the objects to be rapid prototyped in partnership with end-users to meet their specific design and access requirements.

“The initial application domain will be music, but wider applications will be considered in later years including extended realities, robotics and smart homes.”

UKRI’s flagship Future Leaders Fellowships allow universities and businesses to develop their most talented early career researchers and innovators and to attract new people to their organisations.

UKRI Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowships provide researchers and innovators with long-term support and training, giving them the freedom to explore adventurous new ideas, and to build dynamic careers that break down the boundaries between sectors and disciplines. 

“The fellows announced today illustrate how this scheme empowers talented researchers and innovators to build the diverse and connected research and innovation system we need to shorten the distance between discovery and prosperity across the UK.”

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