FP7 final call round-up
The final calls for proposals for transport-related research under the EU’s Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7), announced in July 2012, has resulted in the launch of a wide range of potentially impactful projects.
With the final FP7 calls for proposals in 2012, the European Commission highlighted the close links between efficient transport and economic growth and the importance of an efficient, safe and sustainable transport system that supports the needs of both citizens and businesses.
At a time when Member States are wrestling with budget difficulties and austerity measures, attention is now squarely fixed on added value. This means 'innovation' – bringing research results to market as quickly as possible.
In this light, the projects ultimately selected can be seen as representing a new wave of research initiatives aimed at responding to some of Europe"s most pressing needs.
In the key area of urban mobility, for example, European Commission officials point to the new "OptiCities" project, which is aimed at improving urban mobility through the use of intelligent transport systems (ITS). Network management, enabled by ITS, has rapidly become an important area of interest for local authorities, spawning a large market for ITS systems and services. Most cities in Europe have already put in place new traffic management systems, although these are mostly aimed exclusively at road transport.
OptiCities researchers are taking an integrated approach, encompassing all transport modes. Key challenges include the development of open systems for easier data access and exchange. Project partners will carry out demonstrations in different pilot cities across Europe, including Lyon, Madrid, Birmingham, Göteborg, Turin and Wroclaw.
The electrification of road transport and consequent reduction of urban air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions has been a priority for the EU over successive Framework Programmes, with significant progress being made towards seeing new cars and vehicles on European roadways. However, the best-performing electric motors currently on the market include magnets that contain rare earth elements such as neodymium and dysprosium. These elements are mined principally outside of Europe, making the EU electric vehicle sector dependant on imported raw materials at high or unpredictable prices.
A number of newly funded projects are attacking this issue from different directions. "Mag-Drive" (and running project "Hi-Wi") are working to reduce the amount of rare earth elements in current permanent magnets (PM) electric motors, while "SyrNemo" is developing new electric motors that do not use these elements at all while still achieving the very high performance of PM motors.
Another issue facing electric road transport is so-called "range anxiety". Recent FP7-funded initiatives such as "Unplugged" are working to overcome the range limitation of fully electric vehicles, allowing owners to drive over longer distances.
Meanwhile, the "FastInCharge" project is focussing on the development of smart charging infrastructure for cities enabling the full integration of electric vehicles into urban road systems while increasing customer acceptance. The "FABRIC" project, funded under the last FP7 call, is continuing and enlarging the scope of previous projects by developing a dynamic wireless charging system that would eliminate many of the drawbacks of on-board battery packs by providing energy while on the road.
In the rail transport sector, the "NGTC" project is addressing the issue of the convergence of main line (ERTMS) and urban line (CBTC) train control systems and their integration. Researchers are analysing the commonalities and differences between the respective control systems in terms of design, architecture and hardware platforms. The project promises to deliver specifications describing the next generation of train control systems, with increasing commonality in system design and hardware. Benefits will include increasing economies of scale for suppliers, and, for customers, increasing competition between suppliers.
Meanwhile, "Capacity4Rail" will build on previous research to deliver both technical demonstrations and system-wide guidelines and recommendations on how to increase the capacity of future rail networks.
Lowering shipping-related pollution has become a serious challenge in recent years, both as a counter measure against global climate change and to protect local environments and populations from waste, gas emissions and noise.
The newly funded "Joules" project aims to significantly reduce gas emissions of European-built ships, including CO2, SOx, NOx and particulate matter. Researchers will take an integrated and holistic approach, not limited specifically to fuel- and energy-related aspects, but also considering the specific transport or service tasks of ships, and their operational profiles.
The "SmartYards" project is addressing the issue of European competitiveness in the shipbuilding industry, working to improve the productivity of European small and medium-sized shipyards and subcontractors by at least 20%. This will be achieved by improving the knowledge and technological skills necessary to survive in a time of tough global competition. This is particularly important as the technology gap between larger and smaller European yards has increased significantly over recent decades.
In the key area of logistics, which often spans multiple transport modes, two projects stand out. "Logicon" is aimed at developing affordable, reliable and trusted data-interchange solutions that will allow small and medium-sized enterprises to take part in international trade and commerce flows. Meanwhile, the "Cargo-Ants" project is to develop Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Highly Automated Trucks (HATs) that can co-operate in shared workspaces for efficient and safe freight transportation in main ports and freight terminals.
Aeronautics and air transport
In the area of aeronautics, initiatives retained under the last round of funding calls included large integrated projects such as "Aflonext", which is aimed at developing and testing highly promising flow-control technologies for novel aircraft configurations. The project"s researchers are targeting a "quantum leap" in aircraft performance and a significant reduction of the environmental footprint. Aerodynamic and environmental performance is also the focus of the Nioplex project, which is working to improve the precision analytical capabilities of wind tunnels.
Scientific cooperation with countries outside of Europe is also being pursued with, for example the "PolarBear" project, which includes partners from the Russian Federation and focuses on reliable novel composite aircraft structures based on geodesic technology.
In the stimulating area of "pioneering ideas", the "BrainFlight" project is investigating the concept of controlling an aircraft using signals from the brain alone. And finally, the Coordination Action "Optics" will deliver a comprehensive vision and strategic recommendations for safety-oriented research for air transport.
Taken together, these and many other new initiatives funded under the final FP7 call for transport research represent a solid response to the need for greener, smarter and safer transport, with an emphasis on maintaining the competitiveness of European industries.