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From lab to market: Three research projects that led to high-tech spin-offs

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1000000000000176000000E01DB8DF90Today (10 March) the European Women Innovator Award was awarded to Ana Maiques @ana_maiques.Maiques said: "To be a top innovator, you have to be able to do cutting edge science – but also take it to market." (read her post on Vice President Neelie Kroes' blog).

This is exactly what she has done with her spin-off company Neuroelectrics @Neuroelectrics, which develops revolutionary brain devices. This success story was made possible with investment from the European Union through the FET programme. Neuroelectrics has been created to commercialise technologies developed within the EU-funded project HIVE.

€2.7 billion for Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) under Horizon 2020

Research in the next generation of technologies is key for Europe’s competitiveness. This is why €2.7bn will be invested in Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) under the new research programme Horizon 2020 #H2020 (2014-2020). This represents a nearly threefold increase in budget compared to the previous research programme, FP7. FET actions are part of the excellent science pillar of Horizon 2020.

3 FET success stories @fet_eu #FET_eu

1) Revolutionary mobile brain devices. Want to monitor and stimulate your neurons' activities at home? It is possible with Neuroelectrics, a spin-off of the high-tech SME Starlab based in Barcelona. This company commercialises two revolutionary brain devices developed with EU research funding.

The first medical tool, Enobio, is a wearable and wireless sensor system for the recording of electroencephalography (EEG). EEG is commonly used for the detection of epileptic episodes and for the study of sleep disorders. It has also a great potential for detecting neurodegenerative diseases, for stroke rehabilitation and for non-verbal communication. With Enobio, EEG is mobile and monitoring can be done at home.

The second device, Starstim, is a wireless brain stimulator. Brain function can be modified by applying a weak electrical current using contact electrodes placed over the scalp (transcranial).

This stimulation can relieve pain (migraine headache, multiple sclerosis pain, fibromyalgia, etc) and could be used for depression treatment, post stroke rehabilitation and cognitive enhancement. Data recorded by the two products is directly available on a computer via a wireless connection.

These new brain technologies were designed, developed and tested within the project HIVE. €2.3 million of EU funding was invested in this project to advance state-of-the-art in fundamental neuroscience research, neurology diagnosis and therapy. On top of ground-breaking medical progress, the project led to the creation of the promising spin-off Neuroelectrics, which is going international with a branch in the USA.

2) A smartphone app for crowd safety. Imagine that you are at a festival: there is a mass panic, where should you go to be safe? There is an app to tell you. The system has already been tested during the Olympic Games 2012 in London (City of London Police app), the Vienna City Marathon in 2012 (crowd density visualisation video – picture below) and, more recently, the investiture of Prince Willem Alexander in 2013 in Amsterdam (30 APPril app) that was used by more than 70 000 people.

The app – which is adapted for each event – allows users to receive updated information on the best way to go to a specific place and, at the same time and with their prior approval, to send data on their movements to the organisers. The event emergency team can then be informed in real time about the crowd behaviours and its density. In case of a dangerous situation, messages are sent to users to coordinate their movements.

Research leading to the app was carried out within the SOCIONICAL project, which was awarded €5.3m of EU funding. The general vision of the project was to develop an understanding of how complex systems of interconnected electronic devices and humans interact, and how this leads to an intelligent, useful behaviour. The project crossed the boundaries between different scientific disciplines (physics, computer science, mathematics, social sciences and even humanities), addressing modelling techniques, simulation experiments and analytical methods.

SOCIONICAL resulted in the creation of a spin-off based in Germany, SIS Software, which commercialises social information solutions. The team started with emergency management and events, and wants to expand the concept to tourism and marketing.

Read this interview of Paul Lukowicz, co-ordinator of SOCIONICAL and scientific advisor at SIS Software.

3) Virtual characters with human facial emotions. Fancy slipping into the role of your favourite 3D character and control its facial expressions with your own? Do it with Faceshift @faceshift. This spin-off has developed the first facial tracking technology that allows users to animate virtual avatars by moving their own face in front of a camera. The software is used for TV and movie production, commercials and video games. The team, which has a strong academic and international background, believes that technology should enable creativity, that it should be at the same time simple and powerful, and that it should be accessible to everyone.

Faceshift technology is based on the results of the TANGO project, which received €2.8 million of EU funding. While motion synthesis techniques mainly focus on physical factors, TANGO explored the universe of non-verbal emotional interactions. Emotional interactions were studied quantitatively in detail and were transferred in technical systems simulating realistic emotional interactive behaviour. The obtained experimental results and mathematical analysis led to a new generation of technical devices establishing emotional communication between humans and machines.

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EU to step up digital push with digital identity wallet

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The European Commission will today (3 June) announce plans for a digital identity wallet to allow Europeans to access public and private services, prompted in part by the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen a massive surge in online services, writes Foo Yun Chee.

The move also seeks to counter the growing popularity of digital wallets offered by Apple (AAPL.O), Alphabet (GOOGL.O) unit Google, Thales (TCFP.PA) and financial institutions which critics say could pose privacy and data protection concerns.

The digital identity wallet "can be used anywhere in the EU to identify and authenticate for access to services in the public and private sectors, allowing citizens to control what data is communicated and how it is used", according to a Commission document reviewed by Reuters.

The wallet will also enable qualified electronic signatures that can facilitate political participation, the 73-page document said.

The adoption of an electronic wallet could generate as much as 9.6 billion euros ($11.7 billion) in benefits for the EU and create as many as 27,000 jobs over a five-year period, the document said.

By reducing emissions related to public services, the e-wallet could also have a positive environmental impact, the document said.

Currently 14 EU countries have their own digital identity schemes, of which only seven are mobile apps.

($1 = €0.8189)

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Digital economy

Digital Assembly 2021: Leading Europe's Digital Decade

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On 1 and 2 June 2021, the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union will host the Digital Assembly, which this year will be dedicated to Europe's Digital Decade. This high-level event will focus on the EU targets for 2030 for the Digital Decade and on the Digital Europe Programme, a new €7.5 billion funding programme for the deployment of European digital projects. The event will bring together ministers from several member states, representatives of the European Parliament and the Commission, as well as representatives of the private sector and the civil society. They will discuss ways to promote European leadership across the areas and the 2030 targets outlined in the Commission's Digital Decade Communication, including on digital skills, digital transformation of businesses, high-speed connectivity and secure and sustainable digital infrastructure, as well as digitisation of public services.

The discussions will also focus on how European values and rights can best be promoted and protected in the digital world. On the first day of the Digital Assembly, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will present the preparations for a joint inter-institutional Declaration of digital rights and principles for the Digital Decade. The Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa, will present the Lisbon Declaration, which will contribute to these preparations. The upcoming Declaration of digital rights and principles for the Digital Decade will include commitments such as ensuring access to high-quality connectivity across Europe, promoting digital skills to all citizens, and building a fair online world without discriminations. More information is available in this joint press release by the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

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Digital Society

How citizens can drive the green and digital transitions

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The Connected Europe initiative has shown how much popular support there is for a healthier, greener and more digital society. Ben Wreschner (chief economist, Vodafone) and Dharmendra Kanani (director Asia, peace, security & defence, digital and chief spokesperson, Friends of Europe) explain how citizen engagement will be crucial for the green and digital transitions.

The recently launched Conference on the Future of Europe has taken an innovative approach, as it looks for ways to reform the European Union’s policies and institutions. It offers a digital platform for people to send in ideas and engage in discussions, encouraging insight and debate across the EU.

This digital engagement approach mirrors a joint initiative between Vodafone and Friends of Europe that has been running for the last six months. Connected Europe gathers viewpoints from citizens, industry and policymakers and uses a collaborative approach to generate policy recommendations, with an emphasis on practical solutions to the challenges we face. Citizen perspectives are critical for Connected Europe: their hopes and concerns help guide the discussions.

As the Conference kicks off, here are some suggestions we can offer on how to foster debate and generate useful ideas for a greener, more digital society.

Leave no one behind

Citizens engaged in the Connected Europe discussions see the benefits of technology. But they reminded us that technology cannot be a solution on its own. We need to make sure that people can access the technology available to them. This means building digital skills from the school to the workplace and beyond so that there are opportunities for lifelong learning. It ensures that no-one is left behind.

Citizens are understandably concerned about digital exclusion, particularly when it comes to the elderly, those with disabilities and people living in remote areas. Ensuring access for all is incredibly important. Governments need to work with businesses to address the digital divide and deliver connectivity to everyone, young or old, urban or rural.

There was also a recognition, sometimes lost in the silos of policymaking, that digital transformation is an enabler of many other important goals. For example, digitalisation can help mitigate climate change and support sustainability, it can help to improve health, strengthen the economy and enhance social justice. It can even strengthen the EU's position in the world, by making the EU more competitive - while defending European democracy.

Make it fair

In our Green Europe focus groups, around 150 European citizens from 16 countries were asked for their views. One of the biggest concerns raised when it comes to the green transition is fairness. There is a major concern that the burden might fall unfairly on consumers, rather than governments and industry.

However, the whole point of digital enablement for a green transition is that it helps achieve sustainability goals without letting the burden fall unfairly on any single group. Both the green and digital transitions are aimed at finding opportunities for everyone so that the changes result in benefits all around.

Digital innovations, such as smart meters and LED streetlights connected to a central management system, can dramatically reduce energy consumption. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors on farms can measure humidity and soil health so that irrigation and fertiliser use are much more efficient. Neither of these innovations results in any one group losing out. They are genuine win-wins for citizens, consumers, industry and governments, as long as we all take our own emissions seriously and tackle them appropriately.

Clarity

The Connected Europe focus groups showed how people sometimes struggle to interpret green credentials. Most people want to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability, but when it comes to day-to-day decisions, it is not always clear what the environment-friendly option is. The lack of EU-wide standards and benchmarks means consumers may struggle to make informed green choices.

One solution would be to create a standardised framework that works in line with the EU’s sustainability principles. It could show not only the environmental impact of a product or service but also its digital credentials. One suggestion already emerging from the Connected Europe discussions is for the EU to use processes already underway to build a ‘Digital Opportunity Assessment’ to sit alongside assessments of green impact.

Another option is the digital product passport mentioned in the EU Ministerial Declaration on a Green and Digital Transformation. Tracking and tracing products and materials would improve consumer empowerment and sustainable choices through information and awareness. For the passports to succeed, a strong pan-European approach is needed alongside digital logistics tools that can track products through the whole supply chain.

Accountability

Closely linked to clarity is accountability. Citizen concerns around fairness, trust and convenience show that we need to prove that we do what we promise to do. But how do we keep ourselves accountable when it comes to digital for green and delivering the twin digital and green transition?

The Connected Europe discussions showed how important it is to work across sectors and develop common standards. One solution could be to use the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which monitors Europe's overall digital performance and tracks Member State progress on digital competitiveness. DESI could be tweaked to include sustainability. Recovery funds allocation and spend could be effectively monitored and policy reforms measured against the DESI. Digital as multiplier can help Member States to deliver on the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) commitment of at least 37% of national plans expenditure going to green projects.

The argument for such accountability is also about showing value for money: there are strong economic benefits to these changes. According to a Deloitte report, EU GDP could rise by 7.2% if recovery packages focus on digital and green investments and all member states reach a score of 90 on the DESI by 2027.

Working together

Connected Europe is a truly collaborative initiative, involving citizens, industry, policymakers and academics. This approach needs to be replicated on a wider scale if we are to successfully navigate the green and digital transitions. Citizen views and industry expertise must be brought together with decision-makers who can support and facilitate the right framework to enable a collaborative partnership to function effectively.

There is clear evidence that with the right framework, policy reforms, and the effective use of EU reconstruction funds, we can do more to invest in the right area. We can build a healthier and more sustainable society, empowering citizens and businesses to seize the potential of the digital transformation. We can build a green, digital and more resilient Europe.

The Connected Europe initiative continues to gather views and input to formulate the recommendations and policy asks that will build a more successful, greener and resilient Europe. A full report will be published later in the year. To get involved or to find out more about Connected Europe, click here.

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