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May 4, 2011 8:25 pm
Europe has shortlisted six “grand challenges” as flagship research initiatives, including developing robots as personal companions and building a supercomputer simulation of the human brain.
Two winning projects will each receive €1bn ($1.5bn) in funding over 10 years.
Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice-president, announced the finalists on Wednesday at the Future and Emerging Technologies conference in Budapest. The aim was to produce “successes that will be remembered, not just for today, but for a lifetime,” she said.
The contenders will each receive €1.5m seed funding from the Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies programme to work up their proposals before winners are chosen late next year.
The projects are expected to involve large networks of university and industry researchers across Europe and beyond.
“In particular they aim to improve today’s insufficient transfer of research efforts to technological solutions and industrial applications,” said Ms Kroes, who is responsible for the commission’s Digital Agenda.
“With the flagships it is not just about the excellence of the science,” said Robert Madelin, Europe’s director-general for information society and media. “Will it be possible on scientific grounds to tell the six projects apart in a year’s time? I think not. The winners will have to be determined by non-scientific priorities.”
Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, it is a full participant in EU research programmes and two of the shortlisted projects are led by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Swiss universities are also playing a role in the other projects.
Perhaps the most futuristic proposal is EPFL’s Guardian Angels, which will use computing and imaginative energy research to “create the ultimate smart device that will assist humans from infancy to old age”. The guardian angel will “scavenge for energy” from its environment, for example by tapping the heat and movements of the human body, said Adrian Ionescu, project leader.
Two projects concentrate on finding new ways to process vast amounts of data that are impenetrable using today’s computers.
The most wide-ranging is the FuturICT Knowledge Accelerator, which would create a computer simulation of the whole planet, encompassing everything from climate to population movements and the economic system. Within this Living Earth Simulator there would be several “crisis observatories” running gigantic data mining operations to warn of impending disasters such as financial crashes, emerging epidemics and environmental instabilities.
The other data-intensive project will apply IT to medicine to find better ways to apply all the health information gathered from the Human Genome Project and various biobanking projects to individual patients.
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