In the last 40 years, the capabilities of computer chips has grown enormously. As an example, while the engine power of a small car roughly doubled from the 80’s until today, the speed of computer chips is now a thousand times faster.
However, the technology used to build computer chips is close to its limits, and writing high-quality software is becoming so difficult that there is a significant shortage of skills in Europe.
To overcome these challenges, the EU supports research and innovation on advanced computing. EU-funded projects help European industry to develop the next generation of computing systems and address the issues of computing architectures and software design. Advanced computing systems will also power the complex cyber-physical systems of tomorrow.
The computing challenges of today
- Energy efficiency: big data centers can consume as much energy as a small city. At the same time many “smart” devices are unable to operate for more than a few days without recharging. Larger batteries are not the real solution: we need computers that can operate using much less energy than today. This will require completely new architectures, technologies, and software.
- Cybersecurity: security has to be supported by hardware capabilities and by appropriate software tools. Also, for all the applications in which a guaranteed response time is needed or where critical applications need to coexist with less critical ones (think for example the braking control and the entertainment systems of your car), today’s computer chips and their multi-core architectures are showing their limits.
- Software complexity: even a low-cost device like a cheap smartphone needs many different layers of code to run. All these components, developed by different teams and with different criteria, create a high level of complexity, which is very difficult to manage and has a negative impact on performance and reliability. Usually, it is not a big deal if an app crashes on your phone, but if something bad happens in an aircraft system, the consequences can be very serious. Therefore, there is a clear need for a new generation of tools that can guarantee a high level of quality in the code in terms of functionality, reliability, resilience, security and performance.
A vision for computing after 2020
Computing technologies are changing significantly the life of European citizens, and their impact on the society is growing quickly. The European Commission aims to understand the underlying trends in order to better address them through research investments and policy actions.
Since 2007, the EU-funded project HiPEAC develops a vision document analysing the current trends, future developments and expected impacts in the evolution of computing. The report includes guidelines for research and policy activities.
EU research and innovation
Even though advances in computing benefit also the consumer markets, EU-funded research and innovation (R&I) in this area is focused on industrial and professional applications. These are the areas in which European industry is strong and can further improve its competitiveness.
EU-supported R&I activities on advanced computing are complementary to the European Processor Initiative aiming at developing Europe’s microprocessors for future supercomputers, and to the ECSEL Joint Undertaking, in which the European Commission and Member States join forces to fund Research, Development and Innovation projects for world-class expertise in Electronic Components and Systems.
Currently, the European R&I programme Horizon 2020 is supporting advanced computing through the following open calls: