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At the 2nd RTO Innovation Summit, Europe's leading research organizations, including the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, presented their contributions to digitalization, decarbonization and strengthening competitiveness.

The mission of Research and Technology Organizations (RTOs) - which are non-university research centers majority-owned by the public sector - is to serve society and business with their expertise. They are located at the interface between academic research and business: RTOs develop new technologies and transfer the knowledge to industry to drive innovation, strengthen the innovative power of the economy and develop concrete solutions to help tackle the major challenges of the future.

What this means in practice became clear at the 2nd RTO Innovation Summit, which took place online these days. This event was organized by ten leading RTOs from all over Europe with a total of more than 50,000 employees - among them the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology. Three highly topical issues were discussed: "The European Green Deal", "A Europe Fit for the Digital Age" and "Industrial Competitiveness".

Aftermovie of the RTO Innovation Summit

Challenges: Digitization and sustainability

Right from the opening statements, intensive reference was made to the current Corona pandemic, which clearly reveals weaknesses and problems. There was unanimous agreement that, in line with the motto "never waste a good crisis," we must immediately start to make better use of Europe's strengths - especially in the areas of digitization and "greening" of all sectors. There is a great deal of know-how in Europe, he said, and this must be used more intensively to increase competitiveness and create future-oriented jobs. The central question for the 2nd RTO Innovation Summit was therefore: How can European innovation capacity be further accelerated to ensure that the crisis is used as an opportunity for a better and stronger Europe?

Stronger collaboration

The first answers were immediately given by some heads of RTOs: Luc Van den Hove, CEO of the Belgian research center imec, said that RTOs could and should cooperate much more with industry. "This is underutilized. We have excellent science, but we're doing too little to bridge the gap between academic research and innovation." Paul De Krom, president of TNO in the Netherlands, added: "We work both in the public sphere and with companies: We have the capacity to orchestrate these collaborations. And we RTOs work very closely together: Through cross-border cooperation, we can harness the power of Europe."

Very important in this regard, he said, are EU initiatives - in particular the European digitization strategy "A Europe for the Digital Age" and the "European Green Deal," which provides a roadmap for a sustainable EU economy, laying a foundation for investment in new, green technologies, the development of innovation, Europe's future competitiveness and new jobs. These strategies provide a framework that must be used for stronger cooperation, was the unanimous opinion of all discussants.

key words on the topic of "Europe fit for the digital age"

Illustration by Alix Garin (from Cartoonbase) on the theme "Europe fit for the digital age

AIT experts in debates on hydrogen and...

In the course of the following discussions, numerous current topics were discussed, representatives of companies and the public sector as well as experts from European RTOs had their say. Also from AIT. In the panel "Enabling the Deployment of Low Carbon Hydrogen", Wolfgang Hribernik, Head of Center for Energy, outlined the two most important directions in which research must go: "The future energy system will be based on the two energy carriers electricity and hydrogen". On the one hand, he said, the focus is now on the further development of technologies for the production, conversion and use of "green" hydrogen, and on the other hand, on the integration of these technologies into energy systems in order to be able to exploit all the potential for the interaction of the different sectors. At the interface between politics and industry, the RTOs also have the important role of setting up demonstrators and pilot applications in order to be able to learn from them.

...cybersecurity and quantum technologies

Helmut Leopold, Head of Center for Digital Safety & Security, took a lance for a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity problems in the discussion "Cybersecurity in the Digital Age." "We're building more and more complex systems, we're connecting everything to everything else. This creates new threats - and we therefore need new technologies to deal with them," Leopold said. However, he said, it's not just a technology issue; an entire ecosystem needs to be built, with ongoing discussions with end users, society, businesses, with policymakers and regulators, and with researchers. In this context, the RTOs work on a solid scientific basis on the one hand and have the capabilities to develop technologies on an industrial level on the other.

In addition, AIT was strongly represented in the panel "Quantum Technology - The Future is Now". Quantum technologies are seen as one of the essential key technologies of the future. The AIT is leading major EU projects in which quantum encryption - which is completely tap-proof - is being rolled out, tested and further developed in Europe-wide testbeds.  

In the course of the 2nd RTO Innovation Summit, a number of position papers were also drafted, in particular on the topics of "Cybersecurity in the Digital Age" and "Quantum Technologies: The Future is Quantum ... and the Future is Now", on which AIT experts Markus Kommenda and Martin Stierle played a leading role.

Link leads to Youtube; the video is in English language

Click on the image to go to the recorded session with the topic "Cybersecurity in the Digital Age".

„Fast track to innovation“

In a conclusion, TECNALIA CEO Inaki San Sebastian summed up the most important task of RTOs for the future: "We need an approach that combines science and business, and we RTOs know how to combine science and business." What is needed now, he said, is a "fast track" for innovation. "We need to accelerate the path from science to market, and we need a scale up of prototypes." VTT President Antti Vasara added: "The secret power of Europe is collaboration, our ability to work together on common goals. We need to strengthen that - even in times of pandemic."

RTO Innovation summit banner with information about event date on november 18-19, 2020 virtual

INFO: To the 2nd RTO Innovation Summit

The 2nd RTO Innovation Summit took place online on November 18 and 19. The conference was organized by ten Research and Technology Organizations (RTOs) in Europe: AIT (Austria), CEA (France), DTI (Denmark), Fraunhofer (Germany), imec (Belgium), RISE (Sweden), SINTEF (Norway), TECNALIA (Spain), TNO (Nederlande), VTT (Finland). RTOs conduct research and technology development with partners to advance knowledge into practical technologies and solutions for society and businesses. This is intended on the one hand to increase the innovative power of the economy and on the other hand to find solutions to the major problems of the future.