Daniel McHugh

Completing rotations in different parts of the business from AI and Optimisation to Interactive and Immersive content Daniel is making the most of his apprenticeship scheme.  

Why did you apply for the apprenticeship scheme with us?

Anyone who visited BT Group’s Robotics festival will tell you that Adastral park, our global research headquarters, and the amazing people who work here have an undeniable charm. As a bright-eyed youngster, I was inspired by the incredible innovation I witnessed on my first visit to Adastral and immediately bought into BT Groups purpose of connecting for good.  

Having forever held a passion for all things STEM, a degree apprenticeship seemed the natural fit. A career-focused role that allows you to apply the theory you learn with a practical, hands-on approach, not to mention the practicalities of no student debt and four years employment before I graduate.

Personally, I believe that for those interested in a technology career, an apprenticeship with BT Group is one of the best options. You will gain exposure to industry leading professionals and many of the pioneering technologies of our time. It came as no surprise to see BT Group celebrated as the number one ranked private sector apprentice employer in 2022. 

My best advice for those considering an apprenticeship, is to go for it… showcase your enthusiasm, ask questions, and push yourself out of your comfort zone, it’s the best way to learn. 

What are the key responsibilities of an applied researcher?

In Research, our aim is to deliver innovative new ideas that put the business one step ahead of our competitors. As a researcher, it’s my responsibility to identify a problem or opportunity within the business and a stakeholder who’s invested in that field. From here we develop ideas and take them back to the customer as proof of concept or trial. Once an idea has been successfully proven, we work closely with our Customer Facing Units (CFUs) to develop a solution for our customers.  

Currently I work in our Future Smart Infrastructure team, with specific focus on Drones and Robotics. Here my day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Software development on various drone connectivity projects
  • Presenting innovations to internal and external stakeholders from a diverse range of industries and public sectors
  • Communicating with colleagues across the business to identify new opportunities
  • Contributing to lab reports and research papers

It’s a great place to work and no two days are the same. 

As an apprenticeship ambassador I’m also passionate about challenging common misconceptions surrounding apprenticeships - we’re not just walking-talking-teapots, you know! I achieve this by working with our early careers team to run school engagements and host work experience students.  

Can you tell us about the different research teams you have worked in as part of your rotation?

As a research apprentice, we’re lucky enough to rotate throughout our various research teams.  This diversity of opportunity provides an excellent platform to develop a broad technical skillset across numerous bleeding edge research projects, gain exposure to different areas of the business and find an area you’re truly passionate about.  

Across my two years with BT Group, I have worked within:  

  • AI and Optimisation - where I used digital twins to visualise exchange infrastructure, identify energy inefficiencies, and simulate changes without disrupting customer services.
  • Future Cyber Defence - working on Nexus, BT Groups network security visualisation and analytics application.
  • Software Based Networks - testing disaggregated network solutions, with the aim of reducing OpEx and diversifying our supply chain.
  • Interactive and Immersive content - developing XR (Extended Reality) applications and researching BT’s metaverse strategy.  

Your area of work is currently focused on drones what excites you about the tech in this space?

The most exciting aspect of drones is the huge opportunity drone connectivity and services represents for BT Group.  Drones are unique in their offering of mobile hardware, internet connectivity and the ability to fly. It’s these capabilities that are enabling a range of new services both internally and within our customer base.  

An exciting recent example is our use of drones to survey our own network infrastructure, this can be captured as a 3D model and integrated with IoT (Internet of Things) data to create digital twins. Other examples include the use of drones in surveillance, asset tracking, search and rescue, and delivery.  

We are already at the forefront of drone connectivity in the UK, but our continued research into safely controlling drones - Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) of the remote pilot, will help realise the true potential of drone technologies to add value to ports, smart cities, and many other industries. 

On a personal level, remotely controlling a drone from software I’ve built to simulate a command centre environment, as well as the challenge of ensuring this software and the networks supporting drones are secure, are the areas that give me great excitement, especially as I specialise in cyber security at university.  

Can you talk us through what happens once your research has been approved, the development stage?

Down streaming research to the business, or commercialising it as a product, is what we’re all about.  However, research is always more than just the finished product. Our task is to demonstrate the art of the possible by developing original concepts and proving their viability to the business. 

Once a project proposal has been agreed, our Research colleagues collaborate with our accelerator teams, Innovation Martlesham (our high-tech cluster of over 150 companies based at Adastral Park), and various industry and academia partners to develop, test and document a product before it’s released to the client. Much of our research generates patents - this creates value by growing BT’s intellectual property portfolio alone, securing £41m annually for BT Group. 

A great recent example is Drone-in-a-Box. In Research, we investigated how to offer a drone-as-a-service solution by deploying and landing drones autonomously from a secure charging box. We then worked with the Drone Solutions team to build this into their strategy and roadmap. They are now engaging customers who are interested in trialling and buying this solution from the business.  

I’m immensely proud to be part of the brilliant research we do at Adastral, and the expertise we deliver to the business.  

What can you tell us about Adastral park, our tech and innovation hub?

Adastral park in sunny Suffolk is home to BT Groups global R&D headquarters. It has a long history of pioneering innovation, from development of the first commercial single mode optical fibre system in 1983 to our present-day research into areas such as IoT, Quantum and 5G, which is helping drive the UK’s digital ecosystem. 

Adastral also plays a tremendous role in the local area, inspiring the next generation of technologists by hosting over 6,000 school children each year on site as well as hosting live virtual events and sponsoring education initiatives such as the Tommy Flowers Network. 

Add to that our fantastic showcases, hothouse facilities and the brilliant colleagues that make it all happen and you have a truly amazing environment to work in.  

What is your team structure like, and how do you come together to work on different projects?

The department is divided into different themes and directorates. However, given the nature of research, it’s important to lower any barriers to collaboration, and consequently our projects often span various research specialties. I’ve had the chance to recently work with our core network systems team to demonstrate the capabilities of 5G networks to support drones for our robotics festival.  We all have different skillsets and yet all share BT Group’s vision, which inevitably leads to many exciting conversations huddled around a whiteboard!

Culturally, research has an almost palpable longing to problem-solve, which as an apprentice makes it a great place to ask questions and learn, and working on drones and robots all day, it’s hard not to have fun! 

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