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Esprit is the European Union's information technologies RTD programme


What's different about the new Esprit programme?


In the 1980s and early 1990s the Esprit programme followed a technology-push policy aimed at strengthening a growing IT industry. The new focus of IT RTD under the Fourth Framework programme is the emerging information infrastructure, which will provide the basis of the global information society of the future. The programme is in consequence to a greater extent led by the needs of users and the market. The overall objective is to contribute to the healthy growth of the information infrastructure so as to improve the competitiveness of all industry in Europe, not just the IT industry, and to help enhance the quality of life.

The programme emphasises ease of access to information, to services and technologies for companies, administrations, and individual citizens. Activities stress use and usability of technologies , and best practice . The RTD areas covered are those most vital to the development of the infrastructure, taking into account the need for selectivity and concentration of effort.

To meet these changing requirements the IT programme encompasses new orientations both in technical content and in implementation. Turning first to implementation, the programme puts a greater emphasis on networks of excellence, and makes use of supplier-user collaborations. It introduces a number of focused clusters, a new RTD modality which builds on the experience of the Esprit Open Microprocessor Systems Initiative (OMI) . Management procedures are being streamlined and simplified.

A network of excellence brings together industry, users, universities and research centres with a common research objective. It combines the critical mass of centres of excellence with the benefits for training and technology transfer deriving from geographical spread. 13 networks of excellence have already been launched under Esprit in the Third Framework Programme, involving more than 500 research teams.

User-supplier-collaborations supplement joint research projects: supplier enterprises and users between them form a consortium to pursue demonstrably new RTD, with the users having a particular interest in taking up and exploiting the results of the collaboration.

Focused clusters represent a major innovative modality in this specific programme. A cluster is a set of activities covering a number of technology areas but with a single well-defined goal. As well as collaborative research projects, a cluster may incorporate other kinds of activity, as its specific needs dictate. These may include networks of excellence, association of suppliers and users, cooperation with Eureka, coordination with national initiatives, international cooperation, dissemination of results, or training initiatives . Individual activities within a cluster may have a duration shorter than the life span of the whole cluster.

Participation in the programme is further facilitated for all potential participants by the streamlining of management procedures . The aims are to simplify the call and evaluation process, and reduce the cost of preparing proposals. Esprit now issues frequent calls for proposals - on 15 March, 15 June, 15 September and 15 December - with each call focusing on particular selected topics within the programme. Within each call some of the areas covered may use a two stage evaluation process, with only brief proposals required in the first stage. Specific procedures to help SMEs are in place established, including for example exploratory awards and cooperative R&D.

The programme includes a range of training , dissemination and technology transfer actions. In addition there is a substantial degree of international collaboration in particular with Central and Eastern Europe. Organisations in third countries are free to participate as full partners in Esprit projects, although only those from member states and associated countries receive Esprit funding

The technical content equally reflects the new emphases on infrastructure, access, use and usability, and best practice. Part of the programme addresses the more basic or underpinning technologies - software technologies (ST) , technologies for components and subsystems (TCS) , and multimedia technologies (MT) . In addition four focused clusters are underway, in part intersecting with the underpinning technology areas, as well as including activities with more of an application focus: technologies for business processes (TBP) , integration in manufacturing (IIM) , high performance computing and networking (HPCN) , and the open microprocessor systems initiative (OMI) . To complement the more downstream activities, part of the programme is dedicated to long term research (LTR) .

Two of the domains are quite new: multimedia technologies (work on tools and standards for basic multimedia processing) and the "enterprise" focused cluster technologies for business processes (the integration of enterprises into the information infrastructure, and the effective use of IT in business) - though in Esprit III individual projects have covered related topics.

The other "enterprise" domain, integration in manufacturing is a successor to CIME under Esprit III. The pattern here is that technologies developed at an earlier stage become applied elsewhere in the framework programme, while IIM will move on to newer leading edge topics.

In software technologies there are major new emphases on the dissemination of best practice to user industries, on reliability, dependability and usability in software, on open distributed systems, on the application of novel software techniques, and on support for access to very large amounts of distributed information.

The work on semiconductors under technologies for components and subsystems continues to cover CMOS, which will remain very important up to the end of the decade. There is a shift in emphasis towards integrated circuits for specific applications, and on techniques for flexible and economic semiconductor manufacturing. Microsystems is a new and emerging area, in which much basic work has to be done. In the area of flat panel displays the programme aims to promote accelerated development to put European industry in readiness for commercial take-up.

The open microprocessor systems initiative, which aims to develop technologies for microprocessor-based systems so as to help make Europe competitive in that area world-wide, started as recently as 1991. In the new programme there is therefore a strong element of continuity, with however a shift in emphasis towards tools and standardisation, and accompanying measures such as conformance testing centres aimed at SMEs.

The high-performance computing and networking cluster puts great emphasis on areas which are only now nearing wide applicability, such as the use of parallel systems for the substitution of simulation for experimentation and testing, and for large scale data and image manipulation.

Long-term research continues to support basic research activities, with however new approaches to implementation. The distinction is drawn between on the one hand projects whose risk is not yet assessable, for which short sharp efforts are needed to assess the feasibility of new technologies, and on the other hand advanced projects of high but known risk, requiring a more sustained effort.

What's different about the new Esprit programme?

Procedures have been changed to make the programme more flexible and accessible . During 1995 we introduced:

The main objectives of the programme have changed. Emphasis used to be placed on encouraging cooperation between IT enterprises and strengthening the Union's information technology industry. Now the focus is on helping to develop the services and technologies that underpin the emerging information society. To do this effectively means paying greater attention to the needs of users and the market. Our aim is to improve the competitiveness of all industry in the Union (not just the IT sector), and to help enhance the quality of life. This means:

How is Esprit contributing to the development of the information society?

Building the information society calls for a broad effort involving legal and regulatory changes, initiatives in the cities and regions, changes in educational and training curricula, and in developing new services. Research and development in information technologies is a key part of this effort, providing new tools and technologies, spreading best practice, bringing down costs, and helping train professionals and develop standards. Esprit is contributing in this way at a European level.

What results have Esprit projects achieved so far?

The newly published Applying Information Technology - 101 Success Stories from the Esprit Programme (available in both printed and World-Wide Web formats) , illustrates how the programme is contributing to providing the building blocks for the information society. Results from the projects have contributed to:

Some key results from 101 Success Stories :

What's been the outcome of the calls so far?

There have been five calls so far, including the one launched on 15 December 1995 . Over 1700 proposals were received in the first two calls, and some 450 were selected , with a total funding of about 500 MECU. Over 500 were received in the third (15 June 1995) call: the evaluation is still in progress. Users are playing a major role: in the first two calls, nearly 38% of all participations are user industries.

When will the work-programme be revised?

The work-programme is currently being revised. The new edition will be available early in 1996. Changes in content will be relatively modest, and reflect the changing needs of industry, the advice we have received from many quarters, and our experience in running the programme so far.

When will calls be published in 1996?

This will be decided very early in 1996. Two main calls are likely, in March and September.

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It was last updated on 15 December 1995.