• Director "Digital Excellence and Science Infrastructure"

    Thomas Skordas

I have attended the "European Leadership through Disruptive Technologies" event organised by the EFFECT project in the European Parliament. It is my pleasure to relate to you some of the most important takings from this event hosted by MEPs, Patrizia Toia and Isabella De Monte.

FET: novelty, interdisciplinarity and collaboration with focus on technology and application relevance

I was impressed by the success stories portrayed by the speakers and participants in the event, presenting the importance of the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) scheme, its impact and its contribution to the European Leadership.

As indeed, FET is a very popular and successful programme. For 30 years FET has been promoting inter-disciplinary, long-term, high risk, high-gain research that aims to translate science into emerging technologies and hence sustain Europe`s forefront position in global technological and scientific leadership.

FET is not only about exploring radically new technological directions, but also about building capacity for developing them further through the setting of research agendas and the emergence of new interdisciplinary research communities that can pursue them.

FET: innovations and breakthroughs

FET enabled areas that started from what seemed to be in the realm of science fiction and managed to bring them close to reality today. Such areas are for example: autonomous and bio-inspired robots, personalized medicine, opto-genetic technologies in neuroscience or artificial memory implants. Actually, a number of successful research programmes launched across Europe in the past twenty years would not have taken place without the pioneering efforts of FET.

Recent FET innovations include an artificial leaf to make useful fuels directly from sunlight and CO2; robots inspired by animals and plants, brain-controlled artificial limbs; AI-composed music; quantum computing, unhackable communications and global epidemic spread models. I am happy to say that FET has demonstrated relevant impact on society and economy.

It is not easy to measure the economic impacts of FET in quantitative terms. However a recent study (FET-TRACES) on the impact of FP7 FET projects, shows that 83% of analysed projects had contacts with industry; 40% had at least one partner in industry; industry participated in one third of research papers from FET research; one quarter of FET projects produced at least 1 patent; 12% produced at least 1 spin-off company.

FET: great impact on People

But more than everything else, FET is about people. By bringing researchers together around ambitious scientific endeavours, FET transforms their way of thinking and allows them to try new things in the real world, influencing their career path into entirely new directions of investigation and helps translate technology dreams about the future into reality.

As the FET -TRACES study shows, FET actively promoted the researchers' careers (for 88% of FET participants) and has changed the life of many scientists as it made them venture into unknown areas and disciplines, learning a lot from their interdisciplinary adventures. Researchers involved in FET projects are often receiving scientific awards (in 29% of cases) and are very active in publishing their results. Many are published in high-level scientific journals such as Science or Nature and the average citation score for FET-related publications is very high.

FET: what's next?

For the final 3 years of Horizon 2020, FET (FET-Open, FET-Proactive and FET Flagships) will receive funding of around €1,5 billion.

FET Flagships: the Human Brain Project Flagship and the Graphene Flagship are already running and the Quantum Flagship is starting in 2018.

The Flagships are already proving their value as large scale mission-oriented initiatives, accelerating the transition from science to technology. Their strategic relevance was confirmed by the FET Flagships Interim Evaluation Panel, who proposed a number of recommendations to improve the current implementation model and governance of the Flagships. They have also recommended launching new Flagships. Following a public consultation and a roundtable, a call for up to six preparatory actions for future Flagships was open until 20 February and 33 proposals have been submitted.

In her report entitled "Mission-Oriented Research & Innovation in the European Union - A problem-solving approach to fuel innovation-led growth", Professor Mariana Mazzucato states that FET Flagships "show a high degree of alignment with EU research and innovation missions. The experience from the current FET Flagships should prove valuable for designing and implementing future missions, and applying the selection criteria, implementation requirements and public engagement criterion proposed here could increase the impact and visibility of FET Flagship as future missions."

FET-Proactive actions include Community building and innovation ecosystem development as key elements. The six upcoming areas of focus will be on living technologies, socially interactive technologies, artificial organs, technologies related to time, micro-energy technologies, and topological matter. A specific action on neuromorphic computing is also foreseen.

FET-Open is now part of the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot, with the aim to provide the EIC with a bold exploratory engine that shatters the frontiers of current thinking. This pilot reinforces FET Open research role of catalyst for disruptive innovation

The European Commission is now preparing the next Framework Program, where we expect to continue to support the creation of tomorrow's technologies based on excellence and most advanced scientific knowledge.


9 March 2018
Last update: 
13 March 2018