Billion-euro research race enters closing stage

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EU scientists and member states will decide over the next six months which future high-tech industries – from a choice including robot servants and nano clothing – should receive a €1 billion European funding boost.

Six so-called ‘future and emerging technologies’ (FETs) – all based in the ICT sector – are vying for a prize of up to €100 million each year over a decade, with at least one pilot guaranteed to claim the bounty.

Officials told EURACTIV that more than two of the pilots are unlikely to clinch the money.

The selection will be closely watched since any eventual winners will carry the endorsement that they are strong hopes for Europe’s industrial future.

The six programmes have just completed a year-long pilot period and are now producing lengthy proposals in their attempt to win the coveted status of FET flagship initiatives. The competition is intense since each consortium is backed by several university research departments and the private sector.

Robots and nano clothes

They include attempts to shrink microchips to nanoscale using graphene materials, to create a simulation of the human brain and the development of advanced mapping of biological data for health services.

Other programmes envisage the large-scale manufacture in Europe of domestic ‘slave’ robots designed to imitate the basic thinking patterns of animals, and nano materials designed to record minute fluctuations in body behaviour.

Another programme is seeking to create a super-computer that will allow social scientists to apply mathematical equations to the data surfeit arising from the ICT revolution and globalisation.

One official close to the decision-making process told EURACTIV that no one programme has so far emerged as an early favourite. “They are all holding their firepower for their proposals,” he said.

Member states involved in the final choices

The pilots must submit to a complicated multistage application process over the next six months, with their bids first being considered by an independent scientific advisory group to the European Commission.

The decision will ultimately rest with delegates from the member states who must also green light the winning programmes.

The €100 million figure is calculated to account for a Commission contribution in association with EU countries, incorporating contributions from institutions, national and regional funding agencies and industry.

Winning ideas are likely to be those combining broad support from the private sector, a geographic scope covering several member states, and with ideas for growth-stimulating innovation.

“Apart   from   the   impact   and   the   benefits   that   the   flagships can deliver to Europe’s economy and society, I also believe they will have a positive impact on the research landscape in Europe,” according to Neelie Kroes, the Commission Vice-President for digital agenda.

“The FET flagships will provide much needed opportunities for highly trained researchers to continue their work in Europe with the prospect of a long term career. I look forward to launching the two FET Flagships in 2013. I have no doubt that they will plant the seeds for tomorrow’s innovation,” Kroes added.

The Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship Initiatives were originally endorsed by the Competitiveness Council in December 2009.

In July 2010 a competition was launched to decide which pilots should be given the chance to bid in the process.

The six pilots were launched in May 2011 and have just finished their year-long period, the next six months will see a final decision made on which technologies should go forward as the FET flagship initiatives.

  • End October 2012: Proposals by the six pilot programmes must be submitted
  • Early 2013: Choice of winning programmes will be announced

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