digital innovation
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Here, Alun Foster, Head of Plans and Dissemination at ECSEL JU, highlights the key role that Digital Innovation plays in society, now more than ever during the world’s environmental and pandemic crises

Never was the world made so painfully aware of our dependence on digital “high tech” than early in 2020. Despite all our self-assurance, a 120nm blob of grease with spikey protein stuck in it, surrounding a 30k-base strand of RNA whose only ambition in life is to make more spikey protein suddenly and dramatically put the brakes on a lot of our daily business. The COVID-19 pandemic spread quickly around the globe, infecting many millions and sadly causing the death of hundreds of thousands, often of the most fragile people in our global community, and put a stop to large parts of human social and economic activity. With equally dramatic financial and societal consequences. But not for all. Thanks to electronics, digitalisation and the Internet – which itself could not exist without “Electronic Components and Systems” (ECS) – a significant number of people, including emergency services, have been able to continue their jobs while keeping relatively safe, and in so doing providing support to many others. 

Important sectors, like emergency medical care, pharmacological research, transport and logistics, and manufacturing, all demonstrated the benefits of innovations in digitalisation enabled by ECS, in adapting quickly. Similarly, the world will now look to innovative technological solutions to see where they can help in healing also the socio-economic wounds left by the pandemic and build a better future.

ECSEL Joint Undertaking (JU)

ECSEL Joint Undertaking (JU) funds Research and Innovation projects around ECS. Clearly, Innovation refers to something that is more than just “new”. There is an inextricable link between the Research at one end – looking for new things – and “the market” at the other – making them useful in overcoming any problem we presently live with. The environmental and now pandemic crises have emphasised this key role for Innovation in creating more well-being for more citizens with the same or preferably fewer inputs. In addition to the more concrete technological solutions coming out of the funded projects, creating the best conditions for this kind of Innovation, through the financing of industrially relevant RD&I projects that embrace all actors including SMEs and academic institutes and that are guided by European and National or regional socio-economic strategies, is already a key success story of ECSEL JU.

In the public space, put “electronics” and “innovation” together and you get a smartphone. But this is just a tiny part of why ECS are important: they have a long-established record as being a key enabler of Innovations across virtually all sectors. Either directly, as electronics products in their own right, or less visibly as the products that control manufacturing plants, logistics systems, cars (increasingly electric ones) and other vehicles, medical devices, and more.

A defining characteristic of ECS applications is their extreme complexity, which is growing exponentially. The reliable operation we today take for granted is only possible due to huge volumes of past R&D, at all points along the “value chain” (these days better referred to as a “value network”), within which continued RD&I effort on ECS is mandatory if society is to continue to benefit from digital technologies.

Socio-economic value

The socio-economic value of Innovation comes not from one specific breakthrough but from the combined effects of many interoperating ones, and the impact achieved is far greater than the “sum of the parts.” This observation, in the past, led ECSEL JU’s predecessor programmes (ARTEMIS JU and ENIAC JU) to define the “Pilot line” approach, which clustered work across several projects to achieve the synergistic benefit. This is continued into ECSEL JU in the form of “Lighthouse Initiatives”, whose charters also extend to embracing non-technical assets such as regulatory and standardisation issues. These industry-led “LIs” add a sturdy fulcrum for the leverage that can be achieved via ECSEL JU-financed projects. They collect and focus the results from projects in their specific field, funded by various instruments (not just ECSEL JU), and help to steer the uptake of project results. This effectively gets them ready for industrial operations to implement and deploy, thereby more quickly reaping the socio-economic benefits of their businesses, while at the same time overcoming the pitfalls that innovative ideas can otherwise encounter along that route. To date there are three Lighthouse Initiatives, focussing on Health, Mobility and Manufacturing (“Health.E”, “Mobility.E”, and “Industry 4.E” respectively), which can, in addition, offer an amazing potential in any future programme on ECS that comes after ECSEL JU.

ECSEL JU projects can already boast many technological developments that can become crucial in the global recovery from the pandemic and in protecting against future incidents. Some examples: enabling “Organ-on-chip” technologies to potentially speed drug development and testing, remote patient monitoring that can potentially help speed up clinical trials, also new electronics devices with low use of electrical power and intelligent energy control systems that can keep our ecological footprint in check, cleaner and more flexible factories, clean and safe transport systems, faster and better computing devices that keep our privacy and security safe,… results that can soon contribute to a better “post-COVID-19” digital society.

The world is thankfully managing to pull through and take with it many lessons learned, where ECS and digitalisation will also play a role in implementing the now very apparent urgencies for the future. So much so that this has become the theme of the 4th annual ECSEL JU Symposium, an online event on June 24th, where leading industrialists and decision-makers discuss the importance of continued RD&I efforts in electronics and digitalisation, to assure socio-economic recovery in the post-pandemic era.

To find out more, follow us on Twitter (@ECSEL_JU #ECSELJUSymposium2020) and at

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Head of Plans and Dissemination
Phone: +32 2 221 81 02
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