The European Commission is announcing the winners of a pan-European competition open to researchers addressing grand scientific and technological challenges that could change our future. The six preparatory actions now launched will have one year to prepare science and technology agendas in areas of strategic importance for Europe. These may contribute to defining and launching new research activities within Horizon Europe, the EU’s proposed research and innovation programme for 2021-2027.
Following an EU-wide competition, the Commission has selected six preparatory actions that will address some of the key challenges that Europe will face in the coming decades, and drive forward the major global transformations fuelled by the interaction already underway between new digital technologies with many other technologies and scientific fields. Each has received a one-year grant of € 1 million to develop ambitious research agendas with the potential to have a transformational impact on science and technology and deliver competitive advantages to European industry and substantial benefits to society.
The preparatory actions will also work to mobilise research communities and industry to collaborate in the development of these agendas, and their work will inform the strategic planning of the proposed Horizon Europe programme. They will focus on broadening our understanding of how diseases are generated and evolve, how our rich cultural heritage can become widely accessible to all, how fertilisers can be produced and fuels synthesised directly from new clean energy sources, and how new artificial systems can be developed to serve people and industry.
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said:
Europe must embrace the opportunities opened up by technological breakthroughs. The six projects now launched all hold great promise: to open up new horizons in personalised medicine, harvesting the potential of renewable energy for our industry and economy, and creating a more sustainable and fair digital society that builds on our unique European values and rich cultural heritage. Each project now has a year to further develop its planned work and then apply for large-scale funding.
Time Machine aims to build a large-scale digitisation and computing infrastructure (based on multi-scale modelling and simulation and AItechnologies) for digitising huge volumes of information from Europe’s historical archives, large museum and library collections, and geo-historical datasets that are mapping millennia of European historical and geographical evolution. Making available these vast amounts of Europe’s cultural and historical knowledge will have a profound effect on understanding Europe’s historical and societal evolutions and an impact on key sectors such as the ICT industry, creative industries, and tourism.
Humane AI aims to develop the scientific foundations and technological breakthroughs needed to create AI systems that empower people and extend their intelligence by using transparent decision-making processes and adapting to dynamic real-world environments, and which can understand people and complex social contexts. It promises to shape the AI revolution in a direction beneficial both to people and to society, adhering to European ethical values and social, cultural and political norms.
RESTORE will focus on regenerative medicine and targeted immune reconstitution for cancer treatment. It aims to contribute to developing an emerging new class of medicines (“advanced therapy medicine products”), which work, for example, by inserting laboratory-created DNA stretches into the body or creating tissue that can be used to repair or replace human tissue, up to whole human organs.
LifeTime seeks to better understand how diseases start and progress in the human body. It will develop and integrate several breakthrough technologies including single-cell multi-omics and imaging, machine learning and AI, and personalised disease models such as organoids. The goal will be to gain new insights in how genomes function within cells, and how cells form tissues and dynamically remodel their activities when tissues progress towards disease. This will have a dramatic impact on the early detection, prevention and innovative treatment of chronic and progressive diseases.
SUNRISE aims to develop ways of mimicking natural photosynthesis to produce sustainable fuels and commodity chemicals for renewable energy storage and a clean chemical industry. It will use high performance computing, advanced biomimicry, and synthetic biology to design new materials that can capture and store solar energy. It will also work on nitrogen fixation and the conversion of atmospheric CO2 into products. This has the potential to be a game-changer in the fight against climate change.
ENERGY-X intends to find ways for efficiently converting solar and wind energy into chemical forms. It aims to develop new catalysts as well as novel approaches for converting water, CO2, and N2 into fuels and base chemicals, which should substantially help to reduce Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels. It will focus in particular on the manufacturing of carbon-neutral aviation fuels and the local production of fertilisers with no carbon footprint.
In early 2016, the European Commission held a public consultation with the research community to gather ideas on science and technology challenges that could be addressed through future FET Flagships. Towards the end of 2016, Commissioner Oettinger hosted a round-tableevent with high-level representatives from the Member States, industry and academia. They agreed on three major areas where promising grand science and technology challenges could be addressed by the FET Flagships: “ICT and connected society”, “Health and the life sciences” and “Energy, environment and climate change”. As a result, a call for preparatory actions for future research initiatives was launched in October 2017 as part of the Horizon 2020 FET Work Programme 2018. From the 33 proposals submitted, six have now been selected after a two-stage evaluation by independent high-level experts.