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April 14, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 2:27pm

5 big EU tech projects you should follow

Robots, brains, the EU’s got it all.

By Joe Curtis

The public sector isn’t renowned for its speed of innovation, but the EU is a different story. With a Digital Agenda, it’s innovating in all sorts of exciting areas that have the potential to shape the world around us for decades to come.

Here CBR takes a look at some of the best projects.

The Human Brain Project


Launched in October last year, this ambitious scheme sets out to map the human brain. Covering researchers from 15 EU states and nearly 200 research institutes, the EU committed €1bn back in January 2013 to the project in order to finance 10 years of study.

It should collect all the data the world has collected about the brain, and store it in completely new computer science technology.

European Commission VP Neelie Kroes, responsible for the Digital Agenda, said last month: "The brain is a fascinating thing. Digital tools enable us to make huge progress in understanding the brain, but also to learn from it: from better treatment of brain diseases, to building the next generation of supercomputers."

Another €8.3m in March this year provided enough cash to get another 32 organisations from 13 more countries on board, whose job it is to collect data and work on developing the groundwork for six ICT platforms dedicated to Neuroinformatics, Brain Simulation, High Performance Computing, Medical Informatics, Neuromorphic Computing and Neurorobotics.

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Your smartphone could be more useful than you think. While it’s adept at checking when the next bus arrives and where your closest pizzeria is, it could even take care of you. The EU wants to develop this concept even further with the recent launch of its mHealth (mobile health) survey.

While the survey will seek to discover how people use their mobile devices to monitor their wellbeing, there’s also a variety of projects it’s funding that are using smartphone technology in innovative ways.

One of the most interesting has to be the €5m Nephron Plus project. The company is using the cash to improve the lives of patients with chronic kidney disease, by developing a wearable artificial kidney device that removes toxins just like a healthy, functioning kidney would.

The piece of kit reports back to a smartphone app belonging to the patients, as well as medical staff, who can monitor its performance.

Technical manager Frank Simonis said: "Continuous, 24/7 dialysis with a wearable device offers a smooth and uniform extraction of toxins over the day similar to the natural kidney. This improves the health condition tremendously and eliminates the ‘after dialysis sickness syndrome’ that many patients suffer from."

While the technology still has to pass a few rounds of testing, it is predicted to save hospitals between €5bn and €7bn a year, or €15-20,000 per patient, as well as improving their quality of life.

Internet of Things: Smart toys

The living playthings of Toy Story may still be make believe, but some 90 EU projects are ensuring children’s imaginations get the next best thing soon.

The next generation of toys will be connected, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). Not only could kids play with them, but they would also act as educational and therapeutic aids.

Says the Commission: "When at home, the toy will be able to connect to PCs and online games to deliver personalised content.

Smart toys credit Calipso

A smart toy in action. Credit to Calipso

"When visiting theme parks, zoos, and museums, the companion will serve as an assisting and educational device. The toy will, for example, tell fun facts about the exhibit, monitor your child’s level of interest, provide directions and schedules to help organise the time during the visit."

A company called Calipso is using IoT tech to produce long-lasting, interactive toys that also interact with one another. They’re expected to be generally available come 2015, so keep some space on that Christmas list.

Stay anonymous online


Looks like the EU has got pretty serious about online privacy after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone was hacked by the NSA.

It’s already spent €350m on online safety projects, with a further €85m available this year. One that caught our eye was a Swedish scheme (of course) to provide schoolchildren with a private and anonymous online profile.

Pupils of Norrtullskolan secondary school in Soderhamn can use the anonymous authentication tool to speak online with a counsellor or nurse without giving away their identity.

Robots in disguise

Forget about Amazon’s drones, the EU is behind some of the most exciting robotics innovations around. At its third EU Robotics Week in November 2013, more than 300 events around Europe celebrated the achievements of our finest non-AI minds.

There’s loads of cool projects, but one that was completed after three years’ work last year is the RADHAR self-driving project. While Google stole all the headlines with its own self-driving car, researchers from Belgium, Germany, Austria, Sweden & Switzerland have developed a similar concept, but for wheelchair users.

Advanced sensors allow the wheelchair to identify, interpret and correct signals from the user and to help the wheelchair user find their way around various environments.

The wheelchair user is able to decide how much help he or she needs. Meanwhile, the robot can correct the projected path using information from online 3D laser sensors reading the surroundings. It is also equipped with cameras monitoring the position of the user in order to be able to judge if he or she is awake and in control.

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