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Brussels, 4 May 2011

Digital Agenda: European science beyond fiction on display in Budapest

Cutting-edge examples of future & emerging technologies (FET) are currently in the spotlight at the "FET 11" exhibition in Budapest from 4-6 May ( This exhibition features 28 projects from across a wide range of disciplines that demonstrate the potential of long term research in information and communication technologies (ICT) for the way our lives will look in the future. It presents a number of achievements as well as early stage results, ideas and prototypes, illustrating the wide variety of disciplines, technologies and domains involved in future and emerging information technologies. Six FET projects have been selected to compete for two top spots in the area of research funding (see IP/11/530 and MEMO/11/270). This MEMO gives further details of some of the other projects on display at "FET 11" in Budapest.

Robotic Octopus: the next generation of soft-bodied robots

Octopuses have no skeleton, only muscles to provide movement and support, meaning that they can squeeze themselves into and manoeuvre through the tightest spots. European researchers have taken inspiration from this dexterous aquatic creature and are displaying their soft-bodied robotic octopus arm at FET-11 in Budapest.

Researchers have substituted muscle fibres with cables while soft actuators triggering contractions in the arm enable the robot to move about. Flexible tactile sensors embedded in the silicone surface also mean the robot can sense objects. Once fully developed, the robotic octopus will be able to stretch, shrink, fit through small holes and grasp odd-shaped objects, which could be very useful in deep-sea exploration.

Visitors can use a joystick to control the direction and flexing of the arm. The exhibit aims to help people understand the principles of embodied intelligence, which, when applied to bio-mimetic soft-robotics technologies, give the robotic octopus its highly dexterous motor capabilities. The potential for such a device is very large since it could access difficult or dangerous locations, sense its environment (pressure, heat, air or water flow, chemical sensing, etc…) and report back to a human-led expert team.

It has been developed by researchers at the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa, in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, the University of Zurich, the Italian Institute of Technology, the University of Reading in the UK and the Greek Foundation for Research and Technology.

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Brain-Computer Interaction: brain-powered control to help disabled people

The Brain-Computer Interaction project uses the brain's electrical activity to allow a human to control a robot or write a letter from a virtual keyboard, just by thinking about it .These are just some of the possible applications for BCI which can work in a natural way to increase human capabilities. It can, in particular, help disabled people to carry out previously difficult everyday activities.

The project takes the form of a cap with integrated electrodes that measure the electrical activity of their brain generated by the interaction of thousands of neurons. Visitors to the FET exhibition can have a short training session, after which they will be able to try out the system which fuses a user's intelligence with the intelligent smart devices.

The project is coordinated by researchers from the Technical University of Graz, Austria and the exhibition will be run by partner Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.

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Quantum computing: from Games to Diamond Qubits and Secure Quantum Communication

The race is on to develop ever-smaller, better-performing and low energy processors for electronic devices. Quantum computing, where the quantum bits (qubits) are made out of single atoms could be an important step down this road. However, so far, these quantum computers have only worked in a high vacuum or at very low temperatures, making it impractical to use the technology in real life. But diamonds could be quantum computing's best friend. The unique lattice properties of this gemstone protect the qubits in a way that could enable quantum-based memory devices to work at room temperature. Deliberately created defects in the diamond lattice ("spins") are used to store the quantum information and act as quantum memory bits.

Defect centre "spins" in diamonds are also very sensitive to magnetic fields and can be used as the world’s smallest sensors. This potentially opens up a wide new range of options, alongside the possibility to scale up to larger systems.

Commercial products exist and, based on the fundamentally random nature of quantum physics, have been used in applications such as information security (for cryptographic keys or passwords generation), gaming, lotteries and scientific research. At the FET exhibition, a quantum random number generator is being used to draw winning numbers in a roulette game where visitors can play to win small prizes.

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Pervasive Adaptation

Imagine if devices around us were to start to work together, creating an artificial society and collaborating with humans to make their life easier. What about tiny sensors that self-organise, or devices that perceive the emotions of people and react to them? Can the devices we carry around with us or use at home or work understand and support our daily activities? How do social networks function when they are built on devices which only have short-range and short duration connections to those of other people? Can a society of small robots be so single minded that it turns itself into a single organism?

Six projects which explore these possibilities (ALLOW, ATRACO, FRONTS, REFLECT, SOCIALNETS and SYMBRION) are on show at FET 11 in Budapest. Fancy yourself as the next Jackson Pollock? Want to find out how music - from Mozart to Meatloaf - can affect your mood? These are just two of the interactive games, videos and interactive displays on show to demonstrate concepts embodied in pervasive adaptation. An entertaining augmented reality application running on a hand-held tablet computer will show the normally unseen world of pervasive computing systems.

Coordinating institutions are Stuttgart University (Germany), Ulm University (Germany), Research Academic Computer Technology Institute (Greece), Fraunhofer FIRST (Germany) and Cardiff University (UK). Dozens of other universities and companies participate in the projects.

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Swarmanoid – applying swarm intelligence to robotics

Flying robots, climbing robots and wheeled robots carry out tasks and light up in different colours. Until now, most studies have focused on swarms of identical robots, but Swarmanoid features 60 autonomous robots of three different types:

  • Eye-bots fly or are fixed to the ceiling, sensing and analysing the environment from a high position

  • Foot-bots are specialised in moving on rough terrain and transporting either objects or other robots, and can hook up with each other;

  • Hand-bots can climb vertical surfaces of walls or other objects in the zones, for example climbing up a book shelf to retrieve a book.

Visitors will be given the chance to interact with the robots by writing simple programs that control one or several of them. The exhibit aims to show how biologically-inspired principles of swarm intelligence can be applied to robotics.

The project is coordinated by researchers at the Institut de Recherches Interdisciplinaires et de Développements en Intelligence Artificielle - Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), partnering Istituto Dalle Molle di Studi sull'Intelligenza Artificiale (Switzerland), Institut de Production et Robotique (Switzerland) and Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and Italy's Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology (Italy).

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Digital Agenda website:

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