To co-develop IT solutions is the objective of the scientists at Germany’s Fraunhofer and their Portuguese colleagues: in the new Fraunhofer Center for Assistive Information and Communication Solutions (AICOS) in Porto they will, in future, develop concepts and solutions which enable a wide audience easier access to and use of information technology. The IT experts are working on new, intuitively operable mobile phones, for example. They use existing open source software, simplifying the interfaces between mobile and the Internet. And so users cannot only take photographs with their mobile phones: at the push of only one button, they can now share and distribute self-generated photos and videos over the Internet. Family, Friends, and interested like-minded have easy access to the content as well: Besides the PC, digital photo frames or the TV can be used. “The location of Porto offers the perfect setting for the new Fraunhofer Center”, explains Dr Alfred Gossner, CFO of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, during the visit by the president. “There is an excellent university close by, the future building is surrounded by innovative spin-off companies, there are well-qualified engineers and a population receptive to new information technologies”. Like all Fraunhofer Institutes, the Center will form the interface between basic research and practical experience. The foundation stone has already been laid: the Center, under the management of Professor Dirk Elias, has started work. The respected Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto appointed Professor Elias to his chair, and is currently accommodating his class in its rooms. A move to a new building within the university is planned for summer 2009. During the five-year building phase, the Center will have a total budget of €16 million, financed jointly by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia FCT), the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft and by third-party funds. Around 100 researchers will be employed in the AICOS after 2012. If the building phase is successfully evaluated, the Center will be continued as a Fraunhofer Institute. “It is our objective to close the digital gap which is constantly growing at the moment”, explains Elias. “Society is divided: on the one hand there are those people for whom information technology is a part of daily life, who use the Internet, mobile phone, laptop or Blackberry to communicate and to obtain information without even thinking about it. On the other hand, there are groups in society who have no access to information technology whatsoever”. With his team, he wants to develop IT solutions for target groups practically ignored by the industry to date: people who are old or fragile, who live in rural areas, who cannot read or write, or who simply aren’t interested in complicated technology. “We are not trying to reinvent the wheel: instead, we want to use existing solutions in order to generate new products – computer networks and sensors, for example, or WLAN and mobile radio systems for data transmission.” Professor Elias sees Portugal as the perfect country for developing information and communication solutions for assisting people: “Portuguese society is considerably more receptive to information technologies than the majority of Europeans”. It is in this environment that the researchers at the Fraunhofer wish, in the future, to develop new technologies along with their Portuguese partners, and to test their acceptance. “Everybody involved will benefit from the cooperation”, emphasizes Gossner: “Fraunhofer researchers will become acquainted with the Portuguese markets, and Portuguese scientists will become acquainted with applied research at the Fraunhofer. For the industry, new product ideas will be the result. For the consumer new, user-friendly technologies will be the result”.
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