The biggest challenge currently facing Spain is its need to substantially increase private sector investment in research and development, Mercedes Cabrera, the Spanish Minister for Education and Research, has said. 'We have to substantially increase private sector participation in research and development', said Ms Cabrera at the launch of the third European Research and Innovation Exhibition, where Spain was the guest of honour . 'We are very aware of the need to re-conquer scientific research and development in Spain in order to guarantee the future competitiveness of our economy,' the minister added. In fact, the Spanish Government has launched its INGENIO 2010 programme, which brings together public authorities, enterprises, universities and research and development (R&D) institutes, with the goal of increasing Spain's investments in R&D. If the goal of INGENIO 2010 is to move from the current 1.25% of GDP spent on R&D to 2%, and to boost private sector investment from 46 per cent to 55 per cent by 2010, then the programme still has some way to go to achieve its aims. 'Like many European countries, private sector investment in research and development is weaker than we would ideally like it to be,' said Eulalia Perez, Director General of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT). 'So although we have still long way to go in reaching the objectives of the Lisbon agenda, I think the fact that we have been invited as the guest of honour at this exhibition is a recognition of our continuing efforts in this field,' the Director added. Spain has made great strides when one considers that Spanish research was almost non-existent 30 years ago. 'It wasn't until 1986 that Spain developed its own R&D policy. Since then, thanks to the concerted efforts on the part of the central government, the regions and particularly the young generation of researchers, engineers and university graduates working in our country, Spain has become a scientific power and this, in all fields, in a short time,' said Ms Perez. This scientific power was demonstrated at the country's stand at the Research and Innovation Exhibition, where the ASIBOT robot was on display. The robotic arm, developed by the Carlos III University of Madrid, is designed people with a physical handicap who need help with such daily tasks as eating, shaving or washing their face. The arm works either through voice recognition or a personal digital assistant (PDA). The first prototype of the robot has already been tested in a hospital environment and shown to work so well that it has given a real confidence boost to its users. However, the project has still not found any private funding to turn it into a commercial product. The robot arm epitomises a more widespread problem in Spain, where much of the country's great research has still not found the private sector investment it so needs to propel it to the next level of development.