For 30 years, the EU’s Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme encouraged researchers from different disciplines to work together to convert crazy scientific ideas into proofs of concept, laying the foundations for radically new technologies. Now, the FET programme will be integrated into the new European Innovation Council and will help research to become industrial applications and systems more quickly.

At the moment, we are talking a lot about Horizon Europe, the Commission’s next programme for research and innovation, and  it’s easy to forget that Horizon 2020 is not yet over. In the last two years of Horizon 2020, for example, we are still spending over € 1 billion on ground-breaking technology research in Future and Emerging Technologies programme calls (calls for FET Open and FET Proactive are already open). Many of these projects will go on well into the next decade, so please keep your great ideas coming!

The EIC Pathfinder: a new and more ambitious home for FET Open and FET Proactive

At the same time, Horizon Europe is taking shape. The FET Open and FET Proactive schemes will become part of the new European Innovation Council (EIC). They will be at the heart of the new EIC Pathfinder, a science-driven exploration engine for radically new technologies. The EIC Pathfinder will be a laboratory for creating new technology-driven visions for the future where entirely new markets can develop. It will assess new challenges and missions, beginning with the early high-risk stages, and gradually crystallise research priorities and catalyse a new European research and innovation dynamic around them.

For 30 years, FET has spearheaded the exploration of radically new technologies, many of them in the area of ICT (such as nano-opto-mechanical systems, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing), but also in smart systems  (bio-inspired robotics, internet-of-things), the life sciences (body on chip), energy (artificial photosynthesis), and the environment (living architecture). Now, the EIC will provide a new context for FET research with new opportunities to enhance its impact, in two main ways:

  • First, the EIC is going to increase the visibility of results from FET research. This is important, because innovative companies are continuously looking for new, inspiring ideas – exactly the kind of ideas that FET projects provide. The EIC, by bringing together the worlds of research and innovation under a single programme, will link these ideas more directly with the innovators that could bring them to the market.
  • Second, turning good research into innovation requires active intervention. Europe needs new instruments to bring promising technologies swiftly to a level of maturity where investors and markets can pick them up. The ‘transition to innovation activities’ under the EIC Pathfinder as well as the use of Programme Managers will serve this purpose, creating a an active connection to the innovation, market creation and scale-up mechanisms that are developed through the downstream-oriented part of the EIC, the Accelerator programme.

FET: three decades of European success

The FET programme is a major success story of European research funding. In 30 years of existence, it has achieved great results and the FET Traces final report can give you great insights into how FET research has impacted areas like knowledge production, economy, people and society. But also, and perhaps more importantly, FET has always been a trailblazer for new ways to fund research and to attract new participants.

For instance, the FET Open scheme pioneered two-stage simpler submission process, the use of short proposals, and interdisciplinary evaluation panels long before others picked up these ideas. The FET high-tech SME and young researchers’ tracks in FP7 were breaking open the walls of FET, paving the way for wider reach under Horizon 2020. Finally, the FET Flagships were a novelty in European research funding and are now inspiring Horizon Europe’s new mission-oriented approach.

We are sure that the FET programme’s three decades of experiences will be an excellent asset to the European Innovation Council’s activities, giving scientific research and crazy ideas a chance to change people’s lives more quickly than ever before. We are convinced that even more will come from the EIC Pathfinder.

Want to know more about the future of FET in the EIC Pathfinder?

Join us in Bucharest on 19 June 2019 for the Imagine the Technologies of the Future event. Building on the legacy and success of the FET programme, policy and decision makers, scientists, researchers and innovators will discuss how to take this forward in the EIC Pathfinder. Register now!