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Six emerging technology projects have been selected to compete for millions of euros in European funding, aimed at using technology to solve social problems.
The six finalists in the FET Flagship scheme were announced on Wednesday at the FET11 future and emerging technologies (FET) conference in Budapest. Each will receive €1.5m (£1.35m) in European Commission funding to refine their proposals over the next year, after which the two winning projects will be announced. Those two projects will each get an annual budget of up to €100m for a 10-year period.
"The finalists announced today will plant the seeds for tomorrow's innovation," digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. "Europe hosts some of the world's leading researchers in the fascinating and highly inspiring area of future and emerging technologies. By joining forces to address grand challenges, European, national and regional funding can lead to innovations that will tackle problems like neuro-degenerative diseases and climate change."
One of the six finalists is a project researching graphene and what this substance could mean for future electronics. According to Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology, which is running the project, a graphene Flagship project could provide a major boost for Europe's microelectronics industry.
Graphene is made from single layers of carbon atoms that, on an atomic level, has the appearance of chicken wire. Although it is only starting to become understood, many see graphene as a way of breaking past the limitations of silicon and moving onto the level of quantum computing. The technology may lead to flexible and very fast electronic components.
The Swedish project would look at fabrication methods for cheaper graphene materials that, according to the Commission, "combine structural functions with embedded electronics, in an environmentally sustainable manner".
Photo credit: AlexanderAlUS/Wikimedia Commons
University College London's Department of Mathematics is in the running with the FuturICT project, which aims to create a planetary-scale computer called a 'Living Earth Platform'.
The project's goal is both grand and abstract — a combination of ICT, social sciences and 'complexity science', it would provide new insights into the functioning of society and possibly the discovery of new laws of nature. Dynamic data sources such as crowd-sourced sensor information, digital media, social networks, blogs and public infrastructure would feed into a 'nervous system' of society, which would be used to analyse and manage complex events.
The Living Earth Platform could be used to predict natural disasters or manage and respond to man-made disasters that involve multiple countries or even continents. Societies could be modelled and areas for targeted technological development identified. Ultimately, the team hopes, the platform could lead to more sustainable living and better thought-out social and economic policies.
Photo credit: Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center
Human Brain Project
The Brain Mind Institute at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) is the only institute to have two projects in the final six, the first of which is its 'Human Brain Project' (HBP).
The proposed project would build an informatics, modelling and supercomputing infrastructure that would be capable of performing simulations of the human brain. According to the Commission, this would require research in high-performance computing and neuro-morphic computing — emulating brain circuitry — as well as brain-machine interfaces and robotics.
If it becomes one of the two winners, the EPFL would build a Facility for Brain Simulation, which would get to work on modelling the brain and running an internet-accessible 'simulation cockpit', allowing researchers from around the world to conduct virtual experiments and collaborate with one another.
Ultimately, the project aims to not only better understand the brain but to reuse some of its tricks in IT. After all, as the Commission notes, the human brain is "a very fast, massively parallel, distributed machine with negligible energy consumption (just 20-30W)", resilient to damage and very good at adaptation and prediction.
Photo credit: EPFL