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Feature Stories - Points north: the future on display in Lithuania…

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More than 4000 researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs and young people from the field of 'Information and communications technologies' (ICT) are making their way to Lithuania for ICT 2013 , taking place in Vilnius from 6 to 8 November. The event, which includes a conference and an exhibition, will focus on Horizon 2020 - the EU's Framework Programme for Research and Innovation for 2014-2020. If you want to find out how to participate, or learn more about the future of cloud computing, broadband, ICT infrastructures, e-Skills, cyber-security and much more, then this is the place to watch.
Feature Stories - Points north: the future on display in Lithuania…
The Vice-President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes will open the conference , accompanied by Dalia Grybauskaitė, the President of the Republic of Lithuania. And there is at least one ICT field in which this Baltic country of 3.2 million people really shines: lasers. Vilnius University and the Institute of Physics have been carrying out cutting-edge laser research since the 1970s, a decade or so after the first functioning laser was demonstrated. And today their work in this area is continuing apace.

In the FAST-DOT (1) project, which will be exhibiting at ICT 2013, Vilnius University teamed up with 17 other partners in 12 countries to develop the next generation of lasers for use in biomedical applications. The new lasers are not only much smaller than previous technology (the size of a matchbox instead of a shoebox) but they are also more energy efficient, enabling them to be used in microscopy and nano-surgery, where high-precision cutting, imaging and treatment therapies are required.

The project's technology, called 'quantum-dot materials', will give surgeons access to higher-performance, lower-cost lasers than are currently available, opening up new application areas for lasers in biomedicine. The Vilnius University research group contributed to the project with highly technical experiments on the quantum-dot materials themselves. The aim is to exploit the lasing characteristics of these materials for use in biomedical applications, such as 'laser tweezing' for microsurgery.

Many more projects will be showing their wares in Vilnius. The exhibition space is organised into five themes: 'Digitally empowered citizens', 'Smart and sustainable cities for 2020+', 'Industry and business for tomorrow', 'Intelligent connecting intelligence', and 'Culture, science and creativity'. It will allow the more than 180 projects that have been selected (PDF) to showcase the latest findings from their advanced research, new systems and innovative services, as well as prototypes of ICT products that will hopefully enter the market in the next few years.

Digitally empowered citizens

Looking at ICT that has immediate application in our daily lives, this first theme of the exhibition is divided into: 'Digital services' for governments and citizens, 'Social ICT' addressing ageing, health and inclusion, and 'Digitally cocooned', which addresses our personal environment at home or on the move. Demographic change means that the European population is steadily growing older - so ICTs will have a vital role to play in solving the health and social-care challenges ahead.

As one example of the potential of e-Health technology, the REACTION (2) project, ending in February 2014 and led by Atos Spain, has been working on an integrated approach to improved long-term management of diabetes. This includes continuous blood-glucose monitoring, clinical monitoring and intervention strategies, as well as education on lifestyle factors such as obesity and exercise - the project is also working towards automated delivery of insulin.

Diabetes is a growing concern due to diet and an ageing population. In-hospital hyperglycaemia has been identified as an important marker of poor clinical outcome and mortality among diabetic patients. The project has developed a prototype for safe glycaemic control in the hospital ward. A REACTION application can monitor a range of parameters, including glucose level and nutritional intake, as well as measures of administered anti-diabetic drugs or insulin. The data is then used to calculate the required insulin doses. Results are delivered to clinicians for validation and verification before being fed back to the physicians and nurses at the point of care in the patient's ward.

At ICT 2013, the REACTION team will be demonstrating how vital data such as blood glucose, weight and blood pressure can be collected from patients, and presented to clinical staff in primary care, in order to help monitor and make decisions on treatment based on the condition and history of the individual patient. They will also show off GlucoTab: a tablet-based decision-support system developed for clinicians in hospital with the aim of improving treatment workflow and optimising insulin therapy.

Also in the area of e-Health, SYNERGY-COPD (3), coming to an end in January 2014, will develop a simulation environment and decision-support system to enable deployment of systems medicine.

The project, coordinated by the Barcelona Digital Centre Tecnològic, focuses on patients with 'Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease' (COPD). The team is developing a platform based on a complex mathematical model - developed from epidemiological data, clinical trials and interviews - which will help predict the evolution of this disease in people and enable specialists to make better treatment decisions.

SYNERGY-COPD is also working closely with the VPH NOE (4) project. From 2008 to 2013, this project served as a rallying point and source of best-practice information for the 'Virtual Physiological Human' (VPH) community - an effort to coordinate European computational-biology research at all levels, from molecules to the whole human body.

The progressive advance in computing power - and ICTs in general - holds the potential to deliver tailor-made clinical treatments by running computer simulations of individual patients. The VPH is therefore an attempt to build a conceptual, methodological and technological framework for the quantitative understanding of the human body as a single complex system.

Coordinated by University College London, in the United Kingdom, the VPH NoE was set up as an umbrella project to bring together the different 'VPH Initiative' (VPH-I) projects working on various aspects of the body. The VPH-I aims to make a real impact in health care by putting these technologies and methodologies into the clinical environment for the benefit of patients. Thus, the VPH NOE also worked to promote the translation of research results into clinical and industrial applications.

During ICT 2013, the project team will present some of the advances that will make a 'digital patient' a reality - enabling specific medical treatments to be tailored to individual patients via personalised computational models of themselves.

Going beyond research, the EU's 'Competitiveness and innovation framework programme' (CIP) funds the piloting and implementation of new technologies in order to encourage their application and speed their time to market. When it comes to digitally empowering European citizens, the CIP has been backing a number of 'Large-scale pilots' (LSPs) that are introducing innovative ICT to public services, with additonal impact on the realisation of the digital single market (cross-border services such as e-procurement, e-Identification, etc.). Please see our previous article for more details on the eSENS (interoperable public services), e-CODEX (e-Justice), epSOS (e-Health), STORK2.0 (identity management and authentication), SPOCS (e-Business), and OpenPEPPOL (procurement) projects, which will all be exhibiting at ICT2013.

Smart and sustainable cities for 2020+

Looking at our changing urban landscape, this exhibition theme includes: 'Smarter cities', 'Sustainable cities' (optimising natural resources), and 'Social cities' where everyone - whether old, young or disabled - can fit in.

In the future, when it comes to sustainability, buildings and neighbourhoods may well combine a range of 'Energy-using products' (EUPs) - such as electrical lighting or 'Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning' (HVAC) systems - with locally available renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind, and local storage, car batteries for example. An intelligently managed local electricity grid could enable such customers to participate in the energy market and even contribute to the wider power grid. The SMARTCODE (5) project, coordinated by edacentrum in Germany, set out to develop energy-management systems - previously limited to large industrial users - for private and small commercial buildings and neighbourhoods.

The three-year project, which ended in December 2012, has developed and prototyped technology that could enable manufacturers of EUPs - whether fridges, heaters or air-conditioning systems - to add energy-management functionality (and maybe additional features such as remote control, etc.) for very little additional cost, potentially creating a huge new market in homes and offices.

Energy management is also important for the data centres increasingly used for cloud-based services, especially due to the trend for using modular building blocks. This approach provides lower costs, shorter building times, and flexibility of design, but they may end up as less energy-efficient as a result. Thus, the main goal of the COOLEMALL (6) project, led by the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Center (PSNC) in Poland, is to provide advanced planning and optimisation tools for modular data-centres.

As the two-and-a-half-year project approaches its end in March 2014, it has produced innovative simulation and visualisation models that take into account workload profiles, IT equipment characteristics, management strategies, and cooling. The team will use ICT 2013 to show off some of these tools to help minimise energy consumption - and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions - such as interactive simulations of temperature distribution and airflow in a data centre, using 'virtual reality' visualisation, and a prototype of energy- and resource-efficient servers which provide a visualisation of the heat transfer within them by using 'augmented reality'.

Greenhouse gas emissions are of course intimately related to ongoing climate change. And as more and more European cities continue to be hit by natural disasters, then 'Early-warning systems' (EWSs) will play a crucial role in mitigating these effects - providing alarms, decision-support and information services to governments, companies and the general public.

Led by the Dutch organisation for Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek (TNO) in the Netherlands, the URBANFLOOD (7) project worked on an internet-based hosting platform for EWSs. The EWS platform is run as an internet service connected to sensor networks, to online sources of information and other EWSs. Using touch screens, visitors to ICT 2013 will be able to see how the project's European data centres monitor flood-defence infrastructures via the internet.

By the project's end in November 2012, it had developed a platform that is able to host multiple EWSs, corresponding to various hazards and belonging to different organisations. The three-year project then validated this EWS framework in a case study of dike failures and the resulting flooding in an urban environment.

Through the internet, additional computer resources required by the EWS platform are made available on demand - using cloud technologies to cut costs and ensure easy maintenance and resilience. Artificial intelligence technologies detect any alarming conditions that might forecast the onset of a catastrophe. And a decision-support system, making use of computational models of the physical environmental, then informs stakeholders about the developing situation - even processing simulated data so that disaster-mitigation scenarios can be developed and personnel can be trained.

In the second part of this article we will look at some more of the EU-funded ICT research being exhibited in Vilnius at ICT 2013 - the projects exhibiting under the three remaining themes:

- 'Industry and business for tomorrow'
- 'Intelligent connecting intelligence'
- 'Culture, science and creativity'.

The projects featured in this article have been supported by the Competitive and Innovation Programme's (CIP) ICT-Policy Support scheme or the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research.

(1) 'FAST-DOT: Compact ultrafast laser sources based on novel quantum dot structures'.
(2) 'Remote accessibility to diabetes management and therapy in operational healthcare networks'.
(3) 'Modelling and simulation environment for systems medicine (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - COPD - as a use case)'.
(4) 'Virtual Physiological Human Network of Excellence'.
(5) 'Smart control of demand for consumption and supply to enable balanced, energy-positive buildings and neighbourhoods'.
(6) 'Platform for optimising the design and operation of modular configurable IT infrastructures and facilities with resource-efficient cooling'.
(7) 'Urban flood'.

Links to projects on CORDIS:

- FAST-DOT project factsheet on CORDIS
- REACTION project factsheet on CORDIS
- SYNERGY-COPD project factsheet on CORDIS
- VPH NOE project factsheet on CORDIS
- SMARTCODE project factsheet on CORDIS
- COOLEMALL project factsheet on CORDIS
- URBANFLOOD project factsheet on CORDIS

Links to projects' website:

- 'Compact ultrafast laser sources based on novel quantum dot structures' project website
- 'Remote accessibility to diabetes management and therapy in operational healthcare networks' website
- 'Modelling and simulation environment for systems medicine - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - COPD - as a use case' website
- 'Virtual Physiological Human Network of Excellence' website
- 'Smart control of demand for consumption and supply to enable balanced, energy-positive buildings and neighbourhoods' website
- 'Platform for optimising the design and operation of modular configurable IT infrastructures and facilities with resource-efficient cooling' website
- 'Urban flood' website

Link to related video:

- REACTION project video

Links to related news and articles:

- Commissioner Kroes' blog post on ICT research: 'The EU investing in innovation - new partnerships to support electronics and ageing well'
- Digital Agenda news: ICT 2013 conference programme
- Feature Stories - Going from e- to we-government

Other links:

- European Commission's Digital Agenda website

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