In a move to drive further innovation in Europe, the European Commission (EC) will set up Testing and Experimentation Facilities (TEFs) as an important part of the Digital Europe Programme.
TEFs “will offer a combination of physical and virtual facilities, in which technology providers can get support to test their latest AI-based soft-/hardware technologies in real-world environments” as described on the EC’s website.
TEFs will be set up in different application areas, Agri-Food, Smart Cities and Communities, Manufacturing, and Healthcare. Each of the areas have specific requirements and issues that need to be solved, leading to specific ways to set up a TEF, for instance one in agriculture close to a farm for testing various processes. In healthcare, a TEF could be located around a university hospital, but also include other partners of a local ecosystem such as health centres, public agencies, or business accelerators.
It is important to involve all relevant stakeholders in an area, so that the needs of different sizes of business can be addressed. SMEs in particular could benefit from infrastructure – virtual or physical – where they would otherwise not have easy access.
In addition to technical validation and demonstration, TEFs will also support regulatory ‘sandboxes’, where experimentation under realistic conditions is possible. This is a means to support a process to set up meaningful regulation without stifling innovation.
The responsible unit within the EC, DG Connect – Unit A1: “Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Innovation and Excellence” organised a series of workshops focusing on the areas mentioned in early summer 2021 to address these aspects. The material and outcome of these workshops can be found here: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/library/2021-workshops-sectorial-testing-and-experimentation-facilities-artificial-intelligence-under
A call under the Digital Europe Programme will be launched, expected to open in February 2022, where one large-scale project with an overall funding of €40M- €60M per sector is foreseen, “each of them requiring a consortium of several testing facilities across Europe” and co-funded by EU and member states. To facilitate the consortium building, an online information and matchmaking day will be organised on 29 November 2021. More information can be founded here: https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/events/digital-europe-programme-calls-sectorial-online-information-and-matchmaking-day