Pacemakers have a complicated set of components that allow, among other things, the patient's level of activity to be calculated, his/her heart rate to be measured and, on the basis of this information, electrical impulses to be generated in order to make the heart beat. These sets of components built into a larger object and capable of assessing a situation and taking decisions based on this assessment are known as intelligent systems, an integration of technologies offering various advantages like reduction in device size, lower energy consumption, lower cost and other functions.
To promote the introduction of intelligent systems, the European Union has recently launched the EXPRESS project. The Basque R&D Alliance IK4 is participating in it alongside seven organisations from six European countries, including industrial clusters and other players in technological innovation. To this network has to be added another fifteen organisations scheduled to participate in the capacity of collaborators.
The EU has decided to promote intelligent systems because they offer a competitive edge on the market and allow new business models to be explored. It is confident that they will ultimately contribute towards reinforcing the European industrial base thanks to the comparative advantage they give to the products fitted with them. Intelligent systems will allow big opportunities to be opened up for industries, like the aeronautical, automotive, healthcare, telecommunications, energy and logistics industries.
Each of the partners participating in the project EXPRESS will be responsible for engaging and attracting companies, clusters and institutions in order to foster their commitment towards promoting intelligent systems. The IK4 centres participating in the project will be maintaining contacts with the industrial clusters in the Basque Country and with Mondragon Corporation to promote their participation in the Horizon 2020 projects, the EU´s new framework programme for research.
The EXPRESS project will be working over the next two years to broaden the current 'ecosystem' of intelligent systems in Europe. It will do so by identifying the capabilities of the various players in the value chain between research and the market, by examining the challenges existing in this field, and by implementing strategies designed to allow new products and services based on such a set of technologies to be researched, developed and exploited.
Among the technologies included in intelligent systems are micro and nano electronics and sensor systems, as well as technologies for interaction with the environment and energy self-management. They are also capable of communicating with each other and the environment using wireless means. These technologies allow the size, consumption and cost of the devices in which they are incorporated to be cut.
What is more, they allow new functions to be implemented. A key feature in this respect is the improvement in energy efficiency made possible by intelligent systems. The most advanced lifts, for example, have devices that allow the energy produced in braking to be obtained and stored in a battery so that it is available later on when the lift has to go up. When the ascent begins, the lift needs a lot of power. Using the energy available in a battery at that moment means that less power can contracted from the grid.
Another advantage offered by intelligent systems is that they allow full advantage to be taken of component life. Continuing with the example of the lifts, they allow the condition of the parts to be monitored, which means they can be changed when necessary. This allows the components to be used to the maximum rather than systematically replacing them every so often. That way their performance and safety can be optimized.
According to Chris Merveille, coordinator of the project at IK4, "intelligent systems offer so many advantages that encouraging their use will contribute towards strengthening our economy and developing more useful products." He added: "More than just technology, intelligent systems constitute a strategy for competitiveness."
Jaione Agirre, researcher of the project at IK4, pointed out that "the EXPRESS project is aligned with the strategy of regional intelligent expertise that is being promoted by European as well as Basque institutions." She concluded: "That is why IK4 is keen to encourage the research and development in the Basque Country of new uses relating to these technologies, in collaboration with any organisations that could be interested."
Besides the IK4 R&D Alliance, the consortium of the EXPRESS project is made up of the following organisations: VDI/VDE Innovation und Technik (Germany), which is leading the initiative; Fondation Suisse pour la Recherche en Microtechnique (Switzerland); Hahn-Schickard-Gesellschaft für Angewandte Forschung (Germany); Centro Servizi Industrie (Italy); Mikrosystemtechnik Baden-Württemberg (Germany); ESP Central (United Kingdom) and the Pôle des Microtechniques (France). In addition, there will be another fifteen associated participants.