Information technology

European coordination in smart-systems research

5 September 2006

Smart systems based on microtechnology and nanotechnology hold great promise for future systems integration, with a variety of potential applications especially in medicine, automotive safety and aeronautics. However, lack of coordination among European research institutions, industry and government means that research and product innovation are not advancing as fast as they could.

The European Commission's Information Society Technologies (IST)-sponsored EraPilot project is working to improve coordination among the various players involved in European smart-systems research. It aims to develop new policy support tools, models and formats to boost interdisciplinary research and innovative design in these systems.

"We want to bring more cohesion into European policies for smart systems research at the various administrative levels, so that research turns into innovative products faster," says project coordinator Wolfgang Gessner of VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik in Berlin. Better coordination will allow European research to attain a more European scale, he says.

Potential for miniature-scale integration

Microtechnology (with features near one micrometer) and nanotechnology (tens of thousands of times finer than a human hair) have the potential to integrate optical, electronic and mechanical functions on a miniature scale for a wide range of applications.

"Smart microsystems are already used in automotive braking systems and medical equipment," says Gessner. "Future systems will be able to diagnose complex situations and help humans make decisions. For example, driver-status monitoring systems could help prevent accidents."

In aircraft, "Smart systems will increase power efficiency and reduce emissions," says Gessner. "In the healthcare sector, they will open up new possibilities for personalised health monitoring of patients outside the hospital, long-distance surgery, and integrated delivery of care at home." In healthcare, smart systems will open up to personalised health monitoring.

Facing differing rules and requirements

The possibilities are impressive, but to ensure a leading role for European industry in this field, efficiency needs to be improved within the various European structures, stresses Gessner. Companies and organisations that want to participate in research projects can face very different rules and requirements for regional, national, and Commission research projects, he says. Compounding these differences is a free-for-all competition for research money. "The result is that there is confusion," says Gessner.

EraPilot is consulting European industry representatives to define industry requirements for future research in Europe. "We call this a road-mapping process for technology priorities," says Gessner.

The project, which began in July 2005 and ends in July 2007, is a Coordination Action, so its main goal is to bring key people and groups together to improve support for research and design activities. The partners include programme management agencies from a number of EU countries, as well as the EUREKA initiatives Eurimus and Pidea.

"These organisations manage public R&D programmes and initiatives and assist governmental authorities in designing policies in this sector. The EraPilot project aims to intensify their communication and suggest concerted policy approaches," explains Gessner.

The EraPilot partners had themselves to coordinate with another European initiative with similar goals. Originally named ERA Pilot MiNa TSI, the project renamed itself to EraPilot Smart Systems Integration to reflect its link with the European Technology Platform on Smart Systems Integration (EpoSS).

"It was clear that this technology platform was crucial for the success of EraPilot,” says Gessner. With EPoSS, EraPilot jointly published a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) in July 2006.

Future research paths

"This is an important milestone for the project. We haven't finished working out the cohesion part of our mission yet. But we do have the SRA in hand now, which is an indispensable basis for our project's future activities, since it lays out the future paths of research on smart systems integration," he says.

EraPilot is now working out the details of an expected merger for two overlapping EUREKA clusters, Eurimus and Pidea. Gessner adds, “This is a major step toward better cohesion among the research organisations. The efficiency gained will be a great thing, a step forward for smart systems research."

Source: IST Results


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