Published on 30/03/2023
Share this Article:
Aston University and asbestos consultancy to use AI to improve social housing maintenance

•    Aston University and Thames Laboratories enter 30-month Knowledge Transfer Partnership 
•    Will use machine-learning and AI to create a maintenance prioritisation system
•    Collaboration will reduce costs, emissions, enhance productivity and improve residents' satisfaction.


Aston University is teaming up with asbestos consultancy, Thames Laboratories (TL) to improve efficiency of social housing repairs.

There are over 1,600 registered social housing providers in England, managing in excess of 4.4 million homes. Each of these properties requires statutory inspections to check gas, asbestos and water hygiene, in addition to general upkeep. 

However, there is not currently a scheduling system available that offers integration between key maintenance and safety contractors, resulting in additional site visits and increased travel costs and re-work.  

Aston University computer scientists will use machine-learning and AI to create a maintenance prioritisation system that will centralise job requests and automatically allocate them to the relevant contractors.

The collaboration is through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) - a collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly-qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate. 

This partnership builds on the outcomes of TL’s first collaboration with Aston University, by expanding the system developed for the company’s in-house use - which directs its field staff to jobs. 

The project team will improve the system developed during the current KTP to enable it to interact with client and contractor systems, by combining an input data processing unit, enhanced optimisation algorithms, customer enhancements and third-party add-ons into a single dynamic system. 

The Aston University team will be led by Aniko Ekart, professor of artificial intelligence. She said: “It is a privilege to be involved in the creation of this system, which will select the best contractor for each job based on their skill set, availability and location and be reactive to changing priorities of jobs."
TL, based in Fenstanton, just outside Cambridge, provides asbestos consultancy, project management and training to businesses, local authorities, social housing and education facilities, using a fleet of mobile engineers across the UK.

John Richards, managing director at Thames Laboratories, said: “This partnership will allow us to adopt the latest research and expertise from a world-leading academic institute to develop an original solution to improving the efficiency of social housing repairs, maintenance and improvements to better meet the needs of social housing residents.” 

Professor Ekart will be joined by Dr Alina Patelli as academic supervisor. Dr Patelli brings experience of software development in the commercial sector as well as expertise in applying optimisation techniques with focus on urban systems. She said: “This is a great opportunity to enhance state-of-the-art optimisation and machine learning in order to fit the needs of the commercial sector and deliver meaningful impact to Thames Laboratories.”

Notes to editors

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is a UK-wide programme that helps businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills. Aston University is a leading KTP provider, ranked third in terms of volume by Innovate UK, the National body.

This project is co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.


Watch our short film to see how it works and visit our website for examples of KTP in action at Aston.


To find out more about how your business can benefit from working with Aston University, please email or call 0121 204 4242


About Aston University

Founded in 1895 and a university since 1966, Aston University is a long established university led by its three main beneficiary groups – students, business and the professions, and the West Midlands region and wider society. Located in Birmingham at the heart of a vibrant city, the campus houses all the University’s academic, social and accommodation facilities for our students. Professor Aleks Subic is the Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive.

In 2022 Aston University was ranked in the top 25 of the Guardian University Guide, based on measures including entry standards, student satisfaction, research quality and graduate prospects. The Aston Business School MBA programme was ranked in the top 100 in the world in the Economist MBA 2021 ranking.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Nicola Jones, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44) 7825 342091 or email:


Sue Smith,
Head of Press and Communications


Sam Cook,
Press and Communications Manager


Nicola Jones,
Press and Communications Manager


Helen Tunnicliffe,
Press and Communications Manager


Alternatively, email