(01/03/2012) Despite the difficulties of the economic crisis, Europe has shown its readiness to tackle the challenges ahead. Europe's scientists and research community will be on the frontline in coming up with innovations and technologies that will drive sustainable and inclusive growth in the future. This year it will be up to Denmark, which took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU in January, to lead in laying the firm foundations for this positive outcome.
The Danish government's four big priorities over the next six months are the economy, growth, security and the environment. Intensified commitment to research will play a major role in achieving these objectives. Denmark will seek dynamic solutions to solidifying the Single Market. Here, the importance of the Union's Digital Agenda should not be underestimated, paving the way for a Digital Single Market as well.
Denmark will also look to put sustainable, 'green' growth at the heart of its programme and make sure the EU continues to show leadership on the environment, energy and climate-change. Ongoing and future research projects are critical so Europe remains at the forefront in green technology as well. And it is here that Denmark's experience, as a recognised leader in alternative energy and wind farms, will prove its worth.
Take the 'Distributed control of large-scale offshore wind farms' ( AEOLUS) project, which includes Denmark's University of Aalborg and Vestas, the world's largest wind-turbine manufacturer. The project is developing and using the latest model-based control methods which dynamically manage wind flow, thus producing more power at less cost. Denmark has carved a strong reputation in industrial engineering and manufacturing, which belies its size (population 5.5 million), and is an important exporter of goods, services and skills.
These qualities lend well to collaborative research projects, such as those supported by the EU's Framework Programmes. For example, the Virtual Campus Hub network, led by Denmark's Technical Institute is developing a platform, tools and training to help researchers get the most from European supercomputing research infrastructure, such as GÉANT.
The project will develop pilots, with special emphasis on the integration of research, innovation and education in sustainable energy. The aim is that the Virtual Campus Hub will consist of a technical platform which can deliver virtual meeting spaces, a set of documented best practices for the use of the platform for education and an inventory of staff competence and experience gained from using the Virtual Campus Hub.
A sense for robotics
Drawing on its industrial engineering strengths, Danish scientists also feature in several robotics-related research projects funded by the European Commission. For example, the TAPAS 'Robotics-enabled logistics and assistive services for the transformable factory of the future' project is breaking new ground in robot-based automation and logistics as the backbone of a transformable and scalable factory of the future. With Danish partners Grundfos and the University of Aalborg, TAPAS is developing mobile robots with more malleable arms that can pick up and deliver components where they are needed along the production line.
SMErobotics, meanwhile, is a European robotics initiative aimed at boosting the competitiveness of smaller enterprises in manufacturing by integrating cognitive systems and technologies. This means industrial-scale robots - with the ability to sense what is needed and perform jobs with minimal or no human intervention - which are highly adapted to the needs of smaller companies. With Danish partners DTI/Odense, the project is refining work procedures and systems which cover all phases of the robot life-cycle, including how humans and robots can safely work together on tasks, learning from each other and from past experience.
In a similar vain, the Chiroping project, which includes the University of Southern Denmark as a partner, is working on sensing and perception in the field of sonar systems. Drawing inspiration from the natural world, the researchers are developing biomimetic models - based on insect-gleaning and water-trawling bat species - to demonstrate how robotic systems can be used in situations with extremely poor or indeed no visibility.
Healthy solutions, cross-border
Mobility, or the ease with which citizens can move and do business across borders, is a mainstay of the European Union. The EU has made substantial progress towards a Single Market for goods and services. But more needs to be done before Europe can boast of a 'Digital' Single Market as well, especially when it comes to eGovernment.
Take cross-border health as a case in point. The Danish Ministry of Health is playing an important role in an eGovernment pilot project, together with 23 European member and other states in cooperation with national eHealth Competence Centres. Funded under the Competitiveness and Innovation framework Programme (CIP), the 'Smart open services for European patients' ( epSOS) project aims to improve healthcare quality and safety for citizens travelling, working or temporarily residing in another European country, and to advance towards pan-European agreements for interoperability. The consortium is working on solutions to improve the handling of electronic patient record systems, initially focusing on patient summary and emergency data as well as medication records and ePrescription solutions.
Meanwhile, the Region of Southern Denmark is involved in a CIP project which brings together nine EU countries with the aim of improving citizens' ability to access electronic health records online. The idea is to provide online tools which give greater information and choice, thus empowering patients. As Europe's population ages, demand for healthcare services could rise. The Sustains 'Support users to access information and services' project thus seeks to improve the quality of care while at the same time defining ways to boost the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of delivery.
Hard science, too
Danish partners are also making a valuable contribution to groundbreaking developments in chemistry and physics which promise to revolutionise information technology in decades to come.
For example, the Matchit 'Matrix for chemical IT' project is building molecular-scale containers, or so-called 'chemtainers', to help direct and channel molecular reactions which would form the basis of primitive 'wet' computers. The Matchit system would be able to imitate the internal functions of a biological cell (self-progamming, -replication, -repair and -assembly) by identifying and creating what is needed to process information and maintain itself.
This generic programmable 'information chemistry' draws on the field of MEMS 'Micro-electro-mechanical systems' technology, enables a new generation of IT applications in the life sciences, chemistry, and nanotechnology. It also promotes a deeper understanding of the computational power of coupled production and information processes, as in biology, and provides a platform for building 'organic computers of the future'. The pioneering Matchit project is being led by the University of Southern Denmark.
Meanwhile, the Phasors project targets the development and applications of fibre-based phase-sensitive amplifier (PSA) technology in 40Gbit/s broadband core networks. The goal of the team, which includes the Danish partner Ofs Fitel Denmark ApS, seeks to provide Europe with a lead in this important yet still relatively unexplored area. PSAs have the potential to be a 'disruptive technology' within future optical communications, enabling ultra-low noise amplifiers and a host of important ultra-fast optical processing functions for networks employing highly efficient so-called 'phase-encoded signals'.
As in many of the research projects mentioned in this Digest, the tangible improvements or net benefits to the average person are hard to imagine. But Phasors' work could translate into faster, more efficient data processing. That could mean potentially dozens of heavy multimedia files downloaded at the same time in one household. Faster broadband for every citizen is a major goal of the EU's Digital Agenda, and the work of Phasors and others in the future networks and future internet research fields is integral to achieving this goal.
All of the projects mentioned in this article have been funded by the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) or CIP. For more information about the project funding and instruments consult the project sheets in the useful links.