EU to launch €1 billion quantum technology megaproject

- Leadership - Apr 25, 2016

In what it calls the second quantum revolution, the European Union is committing to a €1 billion megaproject in a bid to further digitise industry across the continent.

Set to launch in 2018, it follows the likes of the USA and China, the latter currently building a 2,000 km quantum communication link between Beijing and Shanghai. Developments like these will greatly assist the fight against cybercrime by enabling secure exchange of data over long distances.

The exact format of the project is yet to be decided, although it is expected to be similar in size, scope and timescale to two other European Commission flagship projects, the Graphene Flagship and the Human Brain Project.

The ‘Quantum Manifesto’, a document proposing the project, outlines some of the benefits expected to be delivered. It says the plan will “create new commercial opportunities addressing global challenges, provide strategic capabilities for security and seed as yet unimagined capabilities for the future. As is now happening around the world, developing Europe’s capabilities in quantum technologies will create a new knowledge-based industrial ecosystem, leading to long-term economic, scientific and societal benefits. It will result in a more sustainable, more productive, more entrepreneurial and more secure European Union.”

The project will support solutions including quantum communication networks, quantum simulators and ultra-sensitive cameras.

Going digital

This is all part of a drive to digitise European industry.

The EU says that such digitisation would create an additional €110 billion of revenue for industry per year in Europe over the next five years, citing studies by PwC and Boston Consulting Group.

Companies will be able to develop new products, processes and business models that can provide improved safety and greater comfort for users. They will be able to sell personalised products at mass production cost, and they can optimise the use of energy and other resources.

Digitisation can help to solve issues related to an ageing society (people can stay longer at home), use less energy (for instance, city lightning that only switches on when it is needed), monitor the environment, etc.

Innovation hubs to receive €0.5 billion

The EU will invest €500 million in digital innovation hubs so that every industry, large or small, high-tech or not, can get access to knowledge and testing facilities in the latest digital technologies. These centres of excellence would be based in technical universities or research organisations and should provide companies, in particular SMEs, with access to facilities for digital innovation; supply advice on potential sources of funding or finance; make available spaces for testing and experimentation; and help workers find the necessary skills and training.

Example of successful hubs in Europe include the micro-tech cluster in southern Germany where institutes like Fraunhofer and university labs play an essential role, or the Grenoble digital innovation eco-system in France around institutes like the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) or the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA). 

The Commission will invite digital innovation hubs to bid for EU funding in a series of calls for proposals over the next five years. It will also encourage Member States and regions with no appropriate hub or facilities to invest in them, in particular with EU regional funding.

A formal announcement of the quantum technology project is expected to be made in May at a meeting in Amsterdam.

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Read the April 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine.

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