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Vol.32 No.1 February 1998

Computer Graphics in the European 5th Framework Program for Research and Technological Development

Gino Brunetti
Fraunhofer-Institut für Graphische Datenverarbeitung

February 98 Columns
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Gino Brunetti

The European Commission recently published its revised proposal for the 5th RTD Framework Program (1998-2002). Once approved by the European Parliament, this program will set out the priorities for European Union (EU) RTD activities as we move into the next millennium. For this reason, it is of major interest to analyze its significance for European computer graphics (CG).

The basic principle which has guided the European Commission in its choices concerning the structure and content of the 5th Framework Program (with an overall allocation of ECU 16,3 billion, approximately $17 billion U.S.) is the need to increase the impact of the community effort, encouraging multidisciplinary research and the focusing of resources. This approach forms the basis for the selection of the research priorities for the specific programs, objectives and scientific and technological content. The result is a Framework Program (FP) designed to ensure that the EU transforms into a priority area for investment in research and innovation and to maintain its position of excellence at world level.

The proposed FP is divided into seven programs, including four major thematic programs that are the research and technological development programs, and three horizontal programs. The thematic and horizontal programs are both complementary and interrelated. One of the main functions of the horizontal programs is to ensure coordinated implementation of all the activities related to the objectives at the level of the 5th FP as a whole.

The thematic programs are: improving the quality of life and the management of living resources; creating a user-friendly information society; promoting competitive and sustainable growth; and preserving the ecosystem. The horizontal programs are: confirming the international role of European research (international cooperation); innovation and participation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs); and improving human potential (training and mobility of researchers).

European Research in Computer Graphics

European research is covering the whole spectrum of topics based on the understanding that computer graphics is the technology with which synthetic graphics of any type are generated or acquired, managed, displayed and processed by means of computers, and with which graphics are correlated with non-graphical application data. Thus, CG is the basic technology for realizing interactive graphics dialogues for engineering; printing, publishing and office applications; research and medical science; media and visual communication; geographical information systems; and architecture or civil engineering applications. Moreover, CG is the key technology for enabling computer-based working paradigms such as multimedia and computer-supported cooperative work; the development and application of virtual reality; the analysis and simulation of complex information; and the realization of intelligent interactive graphics information systems.

New topics and trends include the use of CG technology for simulation and animation of living structures, mobile information systems and telecommunications. Furthermore, CG is an enabling technology for information infrastructures like the Internet, WWW and on-line services.

Taking into account this broad understanding of CG, it is easy to figure out how CG is represented in the structure of the 5th FP. Besides the important role computer graphics plays as an enabling technology for most of the RTD topics that are based on modern information technology, the framework program is the information society program where the European efforts in CG are concentrated.

Creating a User-Friendly Information Society

The reason for implementing an information society program is based on the observation that the EU is undergoing a fundamental transformation: from an industrial society to an information society. Information society technologies increasingly pervade both industrial and societal activities and are accelerating the globalization of both economies and societies.

Therefore, the strategic objective of this program is to realize the benefits of the information society for Europe both by accelerating its emergence and by ensuring that the needs of individuals and enterprises are met.

The details of this program are organized in key actions with explicit RTD priorities. Some of this key actions relevant for CG are, for instance, systems and services, new methods of work and electronic commerce, multimedia and essential technologies.

Systems and Services for the Citizen

This key action will foster the creation of the next generation of user-friendly, dependable, cost-effective and interoperable general-interest services, meeting user demands for flexible access for everybody, from anywhere, at any time. Addressed RTDs are, for instance, in the fields of health, administration and transport: healthcare systems such as intelligent systems for non-invasive diagnosis and therapy, intelligent medical assistants and advanced medical imaging; advanced telemedicine applications; "virtual hospitals"; multimedia applications for supporting daily living and social integration of handicaped persons at home, work, education, transport, etc; multimedia data interchange between administrations; traffic: positioning and guidance systems; fixed, on-board and portable interactive multimedia devices.

New Methods of Work and Electronic Commerce

The aim of this key action is to enable European workers and enterprises to increase their competitiveness in the global marketplace, while at the same time improving the quality of the individual's working life. This can be done through the use of information society technologies, providing the flexibility to be free both from many existing constraints on working methods and organization, including those imposed by distance and time: examples of such technologies include telework and networked cooperative working; simulation- and virtual-reality-based methods, for both individual and collaborative working; systems to address processes in development, including life-cycle support, design, engineering and maintenance; digital signature and certification techniques.

Multimedia Content and Tools

Content is a key asset in the global information society. Technological advances have provided ever-improving information processing and communications infrastructures. Increased research is now needed to address digital content, so that it can be produced effectively, given attractive functionalities, exchanged or traded securely, retrieved confidently and used or reused in a variety of digital ways: interactive electronic publishing, generating creative content through advanced tele-collaborative real-time authoring and design systems and skills development (for example for 3D or virtual reality design and conceptual modeling); collaborative creative expression and publishing; processing large sets of data in innovative ways (e.g. visualization and spatial analysis); digital heritage and cultural content: integrated access to heterogeneous distributed collections and repositories in digital and traditional form; improving the learning process through more autonomous and more individualized learning with a content ranging from simple hypermedia to advanced simulations; rich descriptive models of digital information content supporting all human senses; cognitive relations between the system and users via individualized metaphors or visualization techniques.

Essential Technologies and Infrastructures

The convergence of communications, computer networking and broadcasting poses a major policy and technological challenge to Europe over the next decade. Interoperability and interworking of diverse infrastructures and services must be assured at the European level, and industrial-led consensus on a European or global charter for service and network management will need a strong foundation of collaborative technology development: real-time systems handling large volumes of data; interactive mobile and personal multimedia services; multimodal multisensory interfaces and novel devices; augmented vision and virtual reality; advanced display technologies for professional and consumer applications; use of new flexible materials for portable and mobile subsystems; simulation environments including pre-processing, advanced post-processing (including visualization and virtual reality) and tools for the validation of simulation with experimental and archival data; integration of simulation in industrial and business processes; applications requiring very high bandwidth or new services like remote high-volume data visualization, metacomputing and networked immersive virtual reality; efficient design and production by integrated product design, multitechnology integrated products and related manufacturing processes based on digital mock-ups or virtual prototypes, also taking into account human factors such as human-machine interfaces and use of simulations.

Gino Brunetti
Fraunhofer-Institut für Graphische Datenverarbeitung
Rundeturmstraße 6
D-64283 Darmstadt

Tel: +49-(0)6151-155-220
Fax: +49-(0)6151-155-299

The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.

European Computer Graphics Industry

There are several sectors where the European CG industry is a strong competitor in world markets. A good example is the software industry for graphical engineering applications and its trendsetting role in the European automotive and aerospace industry. Another sector is, for instance, the graphics arts industry where Europe even plays a leading role.

Besides these traditional areas one can observe that the CG industry is a fast growing industry in Europe and it can be expected that it will become a factor of increasing importance in the world market. This trend is also supported by the RTD policy of the European Commission which gives a high priority to both the CG research and the industry in all its application areas by conceding a central importance to the user-friendly information society in its 5th RTD Framework Program.

Finally, the opening of competition in the telecommunication market in Europe will essentially push the development of new technologies and services for which CG is the enabling technology. Taking all these factors into account, one is well advised to carefully observe the development of computer graphics in Europe.