COLLABORATION

Self-driving cars & 6G: How European scientists will spend €100 billion

SOURCE: John Thys/AFP
The European elections did not affect the Horizon Europe research fund.

What’s a good idea without investment?

There are researchers and scientists across the globe brimming with ideas ranging from the weird to the wonderful, from daft to world changing. But as they know all too well, you don’t get very far without someone to finance your research.

Recognising this potential in exploring the unexplored, the European Union has deemed research an investment in the continent’s future and so put it at the heart of the EU’s blueprint for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and jobs.

With this commitment comes a substantial chunk of change – likely more than EUR100 billion.

One day before the last parliament dissolved, negotiators signed off on the general outlines of the union’s next giant research programme, known as Horizon Europe, which runs from 2021 to 2027.

YOU MIGHT LIKE

Even in the political turmoil currently facing Europe, Horizon Europe now looks secure.

With the election last week of some key MEP’s in favour or R&D, observers in Brussels expect the new European Parliament to continue its policy of defending generous research budgets.

The fund in its previous iteration, Horizon 2020, comes to an end next year. The agreement dictates the research and scientific landscape of the union’s 28 members and any other states that pay to join, directing the focus of research collaborations and public-private partnerships.

While there is still no confirmation as to where the money will be spent, a shortlist was circulating last week suggesting 44 subject areas likely to receive funding.

So where are the big areas to watch over the next seven years, and what are the best fields to be in if you’re in need of funding?

5G and 6G

5G has been in the news a lot recently with fears that industry leader Huawei could be a sinister arm of the Chinese government, able to spy on foreign populations if their plans for 5G dominance pan out.

While alarmist, the company’s plans for 5G supremacy are not without merit. Whoever owns 5G owns the future.

Europe doesn’t want to be left behind with plans to roll out 5G by early 2020. But they are going beyond that and while 5G infrastructure is not yet in place, they are already thinking about 6G.

A new partnership proposed for Horizon Europe will build on an existing public-private partnership – the Advanced 5G networks for Future Internet – which involves Nokia, Ericsson, Orange, Thales, Huawei, Telenor, and Telecom Italia, amongst others.

An autonomous car is seen driving down a road in Scottsdale, Arizona. February 11, 2019. Source: Ho/Nuro/AFP

Self-driving cars

There has already been great progress on self-driving cars, but there’s still a long way to go before having them completely road ready and available for widespread use.

While many research partnerships have had this as a focus topic during Horizon 2020, a problem with fragmentation has slowed progress.

The new Mobility and Safety through Automated Road Transport (MOSART) partnership aims to change that, pulling together disparate research projects and ensuring interoperability.

According to Nicholas Wallace at Science Business, MOSART could include car manufacturers and suppliers, public and private transport operators, mapping and satnav services, artificial intelligence and telecoms companies, and others.

YOU MIGHT LIKE

Clean energy

Clean energy here means, more specifically, hydrogen energy. The whole sector of hydrogen energy looks set to get more attention in this round of funding.

The old Fuel Cells and Hydrogen (FCH) partnership is being replaced with a Clean Hydrogen partnership, which will reportedly cover everything from production to distribution, and consumption.

The new body will go beyond just hydrogen fuel cells and look at other technologies for safely harnessing hydrogen as an energy source.

Also doing their part to save the planet is the Clean Aviation partnership.

The group will work on developing cleaner air travel and essentially de-carbonising the aviation industry. It is one of two joint undertakings dealing directly with aviation; the other is SESAR, which seeks to integrate management of European airspace.