AI supercomputer plant plans revealed

PLANS for the plant that will house the supercomputer research centre promising to put Emersons Green “at the centre of the AI revolution” have been submitted.

The Isambard-AI site will be surrounded by a 4.2m (about 14ft) tall steel high-security fence, topped with razor wire and with turnstiles and vehicle gates, similar to a prison or military base.

If plans are approved it will be built on an underused part of the National Composites Centre car park at the Bristol & Bath Science Park.

Bristol University, which is leading the project funded by the Government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, says the site will directly employ 17 people.

In a statement supporting the application the university says: “The proposed specification would rank Isambard-AI as one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and the fastest in the UK.”

The university says it will be “used by a wide range of organisations from across the UK to harness the power of AI (Artificial Intelligence)” in areas including big data, robotics, “automated drug discovery” and climate research.

Details of the project were reported in October’s Voice, when the university’s pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise, Prof Phil Taylor, said it would put Bristol at the forefront of a revolution “as important as the steam age”.

It was welcomed by politicians including Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan and Metro Mayor Dan Norris.

As well as the “secure cage” and vehicle “air lock”, the computer facility will be surrounded by bollards, covered by cameras and an intercom entry system to comply with national security standards, and have its own independent high voltage power supply.

Architects Kendall Kingscott say the facility will not need any central heating because “the system will generate enough residual heat (when in use) to cover all heat losses of the site”.

“Top of the class” chillers and heat exchangers will be used to help cool the supercomputer, with the possibility of solar panels being fitted to the roof.

National Composites Centre managers have told the council car park to be built on by the project, losing 88 out of 278 spaces, is seldom more than 59% occupied due to hybrid working and workers moving between the site and another office in Filton. They say there is currently an “over-provision” of car parking at the site.

Work is already underway at the car park to build another Bristol University computer site, IKB3.

The plans, which were submitted in late December, can be seen on the planning section of South Gloucestershire Council’s website, by searching for application P23/03532/F.