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EU throws €5.5bn at embedded chips and nanotech

Anoints tech industry with fat wad of cash

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The European Union is to pump billions of euros into a number of key technology projects to bolster Europe's nanotech and embedded systems industries over the next decade.

The European Commission (EC) is coughing up a staggering €2.5bn in industrial research in embedded microcomputers. The joint technology initiative, dubbed ARTEMIS, was given the green light by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers at the end of last year.

EU Information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding described the public and private R&D investment in embedded systems, used in the likes of credit cards, mobile phones and cars, as a “very worthwhile” project. She claims the ten-year initiative will help push European development in the field of microcomputers to the forefront.

The EC said that over four billion embedded processors were sold in the global market last year, worth €60bn. It predicts annual growth rates of 14 per cent for the technology.

Public funding will be pooled with universities and industry under an ARTEMIS open consortium to provide industry-led pan-European research and development.

Private firms including Airbus, Ericsson AB, Nokia Corporation and ST Microelectronics currently sit on the Artemis board, and will, apparently, be balanced by public stakeholders.

The EU’s investment in nanoelectronics will be even bigger.

The EC – which estimates an eight to ten per cent growth rate in the semiconductor industry over the coming years – said it would stump up a massive €3bn on R&D in miniature electronic devices over the next ten years under a joint private-public initiative called ENIAC.

Reding said: “The possibilities offered by nanoelectronics are only limited by our imagination. They underpin all aspects of everyday devices and so concern everyone in Europe.” She added that the huge investment was “a concrete way to ensure that such a key industrial sector continues its strong economic growth, right here in Europe”.

In May last year the EU explained the rationale behind its decision to provide the tech industry with funding through a mixture of private and public investment.

It said in a statement: "The rapid pace of technological change, the rising costs of research, the increasing complexity and interdependence of technologies, and the potential economies of scale to be gained by cooperation across Europe are all strong reasons for setting up long-term public-private partnerships."

Presumably, the industry – in the EU at least – will broadly welcome the EU's decision to sink such huge sums of cash into important sectors of the technology market. How non-EU companies and governments will view the funding plans is a different matter.

The EC has also announced plans to stick its beak into creating a peer-to-peer system that can pipe programmes to set-top boxes and home televisions, which is likely to be met with a collective shrug of the shoulders from the industry.

The EU will spend €19m over the next four years on P2P Next, which is built on Tribler technology and is currently under development at Delft University of Technology.

EC officials hope that, in partnership with the likes of the Beeb and the European Broadcasting Union, a standard way of sending TV via the internet can be set up.

But it’s a small-fry, arguably short-sighted project compared to the EU's grand-scale nanotech and microcomputers investments. And it’s an initiative which fails to address the fact that the market-led IPTV standard is already a reality, and an area that European ISPs such as BT Vision and Tiscali are continuing to spend and focus heavily on. ®

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