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Brussels, 24 February 2011

Digital Agenda: how light puts the internet to work, saves energy & saves lives

Today, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes is meeting with 300 leaders of the European Photonics sector at the annual Photonics21 General Assembly, which is organised by the Photonics21 European Technology Platform in close collaboration with the European Commission. Vice-President Kroes will discuss with the photonics industry how they can play a stronger role in the EU research and innovation programmes to stimulate more growth and jobs in Europe. Photonics is one of the key enabling ICT technologies that can give all Europeans faster internet access, better health care and energy efficient lighting. Stepping up ICT research and innovation, a key objective of the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200), will help increase Europe's productivity and growth, improve the quality of life and overcome social challenges.

Photonics is the technology of light, covering all technical applications of light over the whole spectrum from ultraviolet over the visible to the near, mid and far-infrared. Examples of photonics technologies are lasers, fibre optics, lighting, photovoltaic and medical sensors.

Some examples of EU-funded projects in the field of photonics include:

PHAST-ID – saving people from pancreatic cancer

The PHAST-ID project is researching how photonics could help in detecting pancreatic cancer at a much earlier stage than is possible with current techniques. Every year seventy thousand people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in Europe, a disease which has a 90% mortality rate. As current technology detects this type of cancer only at a very advanced stage, fewer than 10% of those diagnosed are still alive 5 years after diagnosis. PHAST-ID has developed photonics crystal-based sensors that can measure changes in the blood molecules of a patient before the pancreas tissues are affected. This technology could save many lives as the early detection of the cancer potentially increases the survival rates of the patients.

The project is coordinated by the Tyndall National Institute in Ireland and other universities, research centres and companies in Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. It is funded by the EU Seventh Framework Programme with €2.68 million (total project cost of €3.55 million). It started in September 2010 and is due to finish in August 2013.

More information: – new energy efficient light

In the project researchers and industry from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, The Netherlands and United Kingdom have developed organic lighting technologies called Organic Light-Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) that are at least 5 times more efficient than conventional lighting. OLEDs are made of a film of special organic materials (i.e. carbon-based) like plastics, which emit light in response to an electric current. One fifth of the world's electricity is used on lighting, so more efficient lighting solutions can have a huge effect in reducing their carbon footprint. Widespread use of more efficient light sources like OLEDs would help to reduce energy consumption and so cut CO2 emissions drastically. Furthermore, unlike current energy efficient lights, OLEDs do not contain mercury, can be tailored to produce light in any colour and, due to their long lifetime, also create less waste. is part of the Commission's initiative under the Digital Agenda for Europe to boost research in innovative Solid State Lighting systems. Combined with intelligent light management systems such Solid State Lighting could help to save up to 70% of the electricity consumption of today's lighting systems.

The project is funded by the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research with €12.5 million (total project cost of €19.7 million). It started in September 2008 and is due to finish in August 2011.

More information:

POF-PLUS – moving data network speeds within the home into trillion bits per second

The roll-out of optical fibre-to-the-home networks will make it possible to meet the capacity demands for more bandwidth-hungry internet services such as high-definition video and games. The POF-PLUS project aims to allow the performance of networks within the home to match that delivered to the doorstep. The project is developing new components and is optimising transmission techniques to enable high speed (multiple Gigabit/s) connections over Plastic Optical Fibre (POF) to all the internet-connectable devices at home like computers, TVs, game consoles, and extended wirelessly to tablet PCs, smart phones, etc. Instead of installing Ethernet cabling in-house or WiFi enabled connections to connect all the devices to the home router and via the router to the Internet, POF-PLUS allows easy and very high speed interconnection of all such devices. With a bandwidth at home of 1 Gigabit/s or more, which is about 10-100 times faster than the connections today, customers would be able to watch multiple real time television channels in high definition or in 3D simultaneously, download movies in seconds rather than minutes, and play on-line games without any delays. Low cost and easy installation of POF based systems like POF-PLUS would put super fast in-house connectivity within everybody's reach. This project complements the targets under the Digital Agenda for Europe to roll out faster internet networks like fibre-to-the-home and have 50% or more of European households subscribe to internet connections above 100 Mbps by 2020.

The project is carried out by industry, universities and research centres in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, The Netherlands and Israel. It is funded by the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research with €2.6 million (total project cost of €3.66 million). It started in May 2008 and is due to finish in April 2011.

More information:

ICU – reducing pedestrian casualties in night-time car accidents

The ICU project is developing a low-cost night vision enhancement camera module employing far infrared (FIR) imaging techniques, which can detect pedestrians or animals on a dark road up to a distance of 120 meters ahead of the car and timely alert the driver to prevent accidents. More than 11 000 pedestrians and cyclists are killed and almost 2 million people are seriously injured in road accidents in the EU every year. This is mainly due to the driver's dramatically reduced range of vision during night-time driving. FIR imaging provides a high-contrast signal for warm (living) objects, perfectly suited for their detection at night. However, equipping a car with a night-vision system is currently still very expensive, limiting its availability to luxury cars.

The essential innovation in ICU is on the one hand the use of novel high-performance FIR sensing material (mono-crystalline Silicon-Germanium/Silicon quantum wells material), which increase the detection sensitivity by more than 40%, and on the other hand the use of industrial manufacturing and assembly processes, which enable low-cost mass production.

ICU aims to contribute to lower the price for a mass-produced FIR imaging chip to below €100 per piece, which would lead to a significant reduction of the cost of night vision camera systems in cars. The project is carried out by the automotive supply industry, universities and research centres in Belgium, Norway and Sweden. It is funded by the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research with €2.03 million (total project cost of €3.09 million). It started in May 2008 and will end in August 2011.

More information:

To find out more about Photonics21:

Speech of Vice President Neelie Kroes at Photonics21: SPEECH/11/120

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