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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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Business

Commission proposes measures to boost data sharing and support European data spaces

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Today (25 November), the Commission is presenting the Data Governance Act, the first deliverable under the data strategy adopted in February. The Regulation will facilitate data sharing across the EU and between sectors to create wealth for society, increase control and trust of both citizens and companies regarding their data, and offer an alternative European model to data handling practice of major tech platforms.

The amount of data generated by public bodies, businesses and citizens is constantly growing. It is expected to multiply by five between 2018 and 2025. These new rules will allow this data to be harnessed and will pave the way for sectoral European data spaces to benefit society, citizens and companies. In the Commission’s data strategy of February this year, nine such data spaces have been proposed, ranging from industry to energy, and from health to the European Green Deal. They will, for example, contribute to the green transition by improving the management of energy consumption, make delivery of personalized medicine a reality, and facilitate access to public services.

Follow the press conference by Executive Vice President Vestager and Commissioner Breton live on EbS.

More information is available online

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Business

Education and training in the digital age: Digital skills essential for learning and for life

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The Commission has published its annual Education and Training Monitor, this year with a special focus on teaching and learning in EU member states in the digital age. The coronavirus crisis demonstrated the importance of digital solutions for teaching and learning, and highlighted the existing weaknesses. The report shows that, despite member state investment in digital infrastructure for education and training in recent years, large disparities persist, both between and within countries.

Contrary to the assumption that today's young people are a generation of ‘digital natives', survey results indicate that over 15% of the pupil population in surveyed countries have insufficient digital skills. In addition, teachers report a strong need for professional development in the use of ICT skills for teaching. The report will be presented during today's Digital Education Hackathon.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, said: "I am delighted that digital education is the lead theme of this year's Education and Training Monitor, the Commission's flagship report on education in Europe. We believe it is necessary to bring about deep changes in digital education and we are committed to increasing digital literacy in Europe. Just recently the Commission proposed a package of initiatives, including the new Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027, which will strengthen the contribution of education and training to the EU's recovery from the coronavirus crisis, and help build a green and digital Europe.”

The Education and Training Monitor analyses the main challenges for European education systems and presents policies that can make them more responsive to societal and labour market needs. The report comprises a cross-country comparison, with 27 in-depth country reports. More information in the press release and factsheet.

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Digital economy

Economic regulation of major digital platforms : The best way to kill the European digital economy

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As European leaders applaud the success of Airbus, an aerospace giant in a duopoly with Boeing, they are about to prevent any possibility of similar success in the digital sector, writes Pierre Bentata (pictured, below).

A Franco-Dutch proposal, now gaining European attention, aims at imposing specific regulations on the major digital platforms, in order to limit their market power. The target of such a regulation is pretty obvious: the big American “tech” companies, and in particular the so-called GAFAM - Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft - and NATU - Netflix, Airbnb, Twitter and Uber.

Pierre Bentata

Pierre Bentata

According to several reports, these companies enjoy a monopolistic position that ultimately harms European users. More precisely, these companies of accused of controlling the markets on which they operate, based on their important market shares. Yet, the same reports concede being enable to define those markets. In this context, it is argued that a specific regulation should be introduced for platforms deemed too large: a true regulation by size, based on criteria such as turnover, market share and diversity of the services offered, which never takes into consideration consumers’ satisfaction or the economic benefits for the society as a whole.

In practice, once define as a "structuring" digital platform, the company will be required, among other things, to provide information on its algorithms (as we would ask a chef to reveal the secret of the recipes), to share its data with its competitors, and even more important, to present their business development strategies in advance to a European regulator who will decide whether the strategy is prohibited or not, depending on its likeliness to significantly increase the companies’ market share. (This last proposal has been defined as the introduction of a new “abuse of monopolization” specifically designed for large platforms). In short, although they deny it, the promoters of such regulations only have one goal: regulating the large platforms because they are large, regardless of the reason for their success and the existence of competitors.

Besides the legal risk of total arbitrariness on the part of the regulator - how to objectively assess the impact of a company on its consumers based solely on its size ? -, and the political risk of a tit-for-tat escalation in trade protectionism - as was the case with the "GAFA tax" - what will be the obvious consequences of this new regulation?

From a purely economic point of view, it will maintain status quo instead of promoting competition. This is due to the fact that no nascent platform will be willing to grow and take the risk of ending up on the "black list". In addition, the concept of “abuse of monopolization” implies that any potentially effective strategy, which would therefore result in an increase in market share, could be prohibited: in other words, only clearly ineffective strategies would be authorized, i.e. those that no one will take!

In this status quo, or rather this slump, the big losers will be the European citizens, deprived of the current dynamic of innovations and developments in the services provided by the platforms. Indeed, what the promoters of regulatory solutions forget is that the reason why major platforms keep innovating and investing in new solutions lies on the fact that they all compete to satisfy consumers who have the choice between dozens of competitors. While most of the people do their research on Google Search, it is not due to the lack of alternatives - Qwant, DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Yandex, Yahoo - but to the efficiency of the former. Likewise, those who don't like Amazon can easily turn to Walmart, Otto, JD.com or eBay, to name only the most famous. And the same reality prevails in all areas: browsers, "cloud" services, streaming platforms or social networks. In fact, there are hundreds of competitors, and these "giants" themselves are in fierce competition with each other.

With a regulation aiming at limiting the size of the platforms, all of this will end. Platforms will no longer have the possibility to innovate and will no longer have the right to improve their services, since this would increase their attractiveness. This will also slow down the emergence of new digital solutions that could improve teleworking and strengthen individual autonomy.

Instead of promoting the rise of major European digital platform, this regulation will deprive Europeans of the platforms they value and use every day. And to benefit from innovations and new services, they will have to take a plane and go to the United States and China. Hopefully, they’ll take an Airbus to do so.

Pierre Bentata is professor of economics and president of Rinzen Conseil. He holds a Ph.D in economics and an LL.M is civil law. He is a specialist of the economic analysis of regulation and has published several reports on the digital economy and digital platforms.

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