понедельник, 12 октября 2015 г.

Ten features of the new Horizon 2020 research plans, from robot farm aides to 5G networks

Éanna Kelly, Science|Business

Draft work plans for 2016 and 2017 are out, with ambitions to replace animal testing, resist the rising tide of antimicrobial resistance and deliver faster internet speeds

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Photo: Luci Ellis www.universitypost.dk Advertisement

With draft copies of the European Commission’s research plans for 2016 and 2017 recently arriving online, Science|Business takes a first dive, and picks out ten interesting features and competitions.

1. New prizes

Setting a seemingly intractable research challenge and offering a prize for the best answer is becoming a well-known part of the EU’s repertoire. There will be a number of prize competitions in the field of climate change in 2016 and 2017, to be awarded to projects that come up with an effective way of destroying plastic litter; promoting the circular economy in the retail sector; and propose novel ideas for capitalising on reams of environmental data beamed down by satellites. The Commission will also set an encryption challenge in the field of cyber security and offer rewards to a project that delivers a cheap way of shooting nano-satellites into space and another for reducing car engine emissions.

2. Alternatives to animal testing

Roused by the Stop Vivisection campaign, which earlier this year saw an Italian pressure group gather over a million signatures in 26 EU countries in protest over animal testing, the health section includes money for a new expert group to examine the feasibility of alternatives to animal testing, from computer modelling to cell culture experiments.

3. Cyborg farmhands

Farmers across Europe are weathering a slump right now, with dairy prices depressed and agricultural exports down since the EU imposed sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine. It is hard how they will feel then, about a research call for labour-saving (or maybe labour-replacing) autonomous farmhands.

According to the food work programme, research efforts should, “prioritise technologies such as selective harvesting, more targeted weed reduction or environment friendly fertilisation, and/or livestock management, based on better planning and targeted intervention, using sensors (local and aerial, even maybe earth observation satellite).”

4. Motoring towards electric vehicles

With the global race to launch unmanned vehicles on to the consumer markets attracting the efforts of global companies like Google, Ford, BMW, Apple and others, it may be surprising to find just one call dedicated to autonomous cars (a pilot in the ‘cross-cutting’ section). By contrast, there are 12 calls for electric vehicles in the transport section.

5. Seeding the ground for 5G

Some money from the ICT section will go towards developing high speed 5G networks, which promise capacity so great that buffering videos and slow-running apps will be consigned to history. Europe’s role in building the networks, which could be available as soon as 2020, got a boost last week when the EU signed an agreement with China to set out common goals for 5G standards and timeframes for introducing the new technology.

6. Cleaning up data centres

With increasing demand for cloud computing, big data and the rise of the internet of things, the requirement for data processing and storage has never been greater. In the energy section there is a call for proposals covering, “innovative and energy efficient cooling solutions, waste heat reuse, geographical and temporal workload balance, integration of local and remote renewable energy sources, integration in smart grids, integration with district heating/cooling networks, integration of power backup system in the grid and use of heat pumps for efficient use of waste heat.”

7. A shift to close-to-market projects

Several commentators drew attention to what they see as the continued shift within EU research towards projects with higher technology readiness levels (TRLs). Such closer-to-market funding does not appeal to everyone. One lobbyist, who represents universities, worries the Commission is becoming too pre-occupied with the other end of the pipeline and moving steadily away from basic research funding.

The Commission does not go far enough for another who said, “I would have liked to see TRLs of between seven and eight for climate projects." Europe is committed to cut its non-renewable energy use by 2020 compared to 2005. “Ahead of the 2020 climate goals, I would have guessed this was a good time to ask for more demonstration projects.”

8. Risk-based financing for new antibiotic drugs

Horizon 2020’s investment vehicle, the InnovFin scheme, will introduce a pilot for antibiotic research financing, making loans of between €7.5 million and €75 million to SMEs, midcaps, special project vehicles, research institutions and large pharmaceutical companies for the development of new antibiotics.

9. Virtual reality

There will be some funding for the development of “augmented and virtual reality visualisation systems”, in the ICT section. The Commission funded several VR projects with health applications in Horizon 2020’s predecessor, the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), including a VR treadmill for senior citizens and VR for rehabilitation following stroke.

10. ‘Smart anything, everywhere’

Managing to imply everything and nothing at the same time, the vaguest-sounding call, and remnant from FP7, returns in the ICT section, promising to put money into networks of SMEs and mid-caps so they can solve particular problems. Whether the ‘smart anything everywhere’ initiative can go on to become a stock piece of technical jargon like ‘the internet of things’ remains to be seen.

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