European IT research gets €1.2 billion from EU

Robotics and networking are major beneficiaries

The European Union is set to add €1.2 billion (US$1.5 billion) in funding for IT research in Europe, and about half the amount is earmarked for robotic systems, next generation network and service infrastructures, electronic and photonic components and digital content technologies.

Emphasis will be placed on technologies that address societal challenges such as climate change, energy and food security, health and an aging population, said Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn as she announced the new funding on Monday.

The funding is part of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and aims to turn research into new technologies, products and services that will have a real day-to-day impact on people's lives.

One project funded by FP7 that has seen some success is the LOCOMORPH project. Encompassing a range of disciplines -- biology, biomechanics, neuroscience, robotics and embodied intelligence -- the researchers working at the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in Germany have studied how three-legged dogs move in order to find ways of increasing the efficiency, robustness, and thus the usability of robots in unknown environments.

The scientists wanted to discover why dogs are so resilient, managing to move about well even with a missing leg. "After limb loss, a re-organization of the locomotive system is required," explained Martin Gross, lead researcher and biologist at the Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena.

By analyzing dogs running on a treadmill, they were able to discover that the animals adopted different coping techniques or compensation strategies to retain their mobility. The scientists used 10 high-speed infrared cameras and markers on the dogs' skin to follow the movement of separate parts of the body and record the trajectory of the movements. The dogs were found to have more difficulty dealing with a missing forelimb than a missing hindlimb, because of the distribution of the dogs' body weight.

Future research will examine voluntary and involuntary changes to body movement in humans and other animals with the aim of developing robots that can help them continue functioning after the loss of a limb.

Another E.U.-funded project, PACO-PLUS is also working in the area of robotic gait. The PACO-PLUS researchers are working on neural circuits called central pattern generators (CPGs). Scientists from institutes Göttingen and Hanover (both in Germany), have developed a way for their robot to conduct the same task using one CPG that can produce a range of different gaits and can even switch between them.

Around 16,000 participants from research organizations, universities and industry will receive FP7 funding for projects following Monday's call for proposals.

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