Information Technology for European Advancement
Copyright © 2006 IEEE. Reprinted from IEEE Spectrum, January 2006.
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Winner? Loser? For many projects, it's hard to tell. But they're well worth pondering, because they get to the heart of waht makes technologies succeed or fail. We studied the seven projects described on the pages that follow but in the end couldn't give them thumbs up or thumbs down. So: you tell us!
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY FOR EUROPEAN ADVANCEMENT
By Harry Goldstein
The Information Technology for European Advancement program was formed in 1999 to help European companies compete with U.S. firms in the software realm. So what is Europe getting for the hundreds of millions of euros pouring into the program?
We posed that question to more than a dozen R&D funding experts. Few had even heard of ITEA, let alone had any opinion about its success.
When the current ITEA program ends in 2008, €1.2 billion (about US $1.4 billion) and 9500 person-years of R&D will have been invested in 85 projects, involving more than 450 partners from large and small companies, government research centers, and academia, in 23 countries. Funding levels differ from country to country, but in general, local governments provide 35 percent to 40 percent, with the rest coming from Alcatel, Barco, Bosch, Bull, DaimlerChrysler, Italtel, Nokia, Philips, Siemens, Thales, Thomson, and other companies.
The second incarnation of the program, ITEA 2, which will issue a call for projects that are slated to begin next year, probably will cost €3 billion over eight years. The program aims to fund projects that focus on precompetitive applied research into software to help applications inside a cellphone, PDA, or automobile operate with each other. If successful, such software could give key European industries that make such products a leg up on their international rivals.
It remains to be seen how Europeans will gauge whether ITEA is successful, given that there is no funding for research to assess the return on investment, according to Ed Steinmueller, Science and Technology Policy Research Professorial Fellow at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, England.
He thinks that ITEA managers might not be able to distinguish between projects that explore truly novel technologies and those that could result in merely incremental improvements. But Steinmueller says that this is just speculation on his part. "It is not possible to provide reliable or defensible evidence for such a conclusion without systematic program-level assessment." He adds that the United States and Japan have similar difficulties in assessing the return on investment of R&D funds.
Most ITEA projects have Web sites, but many of them are devoid of useful information. For instance, about all we learn from the AMEC (Ambient Ecologies) site, http://www.amecproject.com, is that the project defines the architectural framework and develops the methodologies, tools, and design methods "for people involvement, which will facilitate a user-centred evolution to this new Ambient Intelligent environment."
Other projects, such as ObjectWeb http://www.objectweb.org, an open-source software community that is developing middleware—software that sits between operating systems and applications and helps the nodes communicate efficiently—have active Web sites and are clearly thriving well beyond the termination of ITEA funding.
More information at http://www.itea-office.org. Also check out a Philips Research–sponsored list of links to European R&D projects at http://www.hitech-projects.com/euprojects.