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Helmholtz funds the commercial application of three research projects
The Helmholtz Validation Fund aims to bridge gaps between scientific findings and their commercial applications, and between public research and private investment. "The selected projects are based on interesting new technologies in the fields of health, robotics and traffic control, which are all highly relevant areas for the future of society," said Rolf Zettl, Managing Director of the Helmholtz Association. "We are convinced that, with the aid of the Validation Fund, these approaches will soon be generating a lot of interest in industry."
The road to market readiness
Zettl explained that the advice and financial support aims to help scientists at the Helmholtz Centres develop their research findings to the point where they can achieve added or commercial value. It is often the case, he said, that research lacks validation, i.e. some kind of evidence that its findings are of interest to industrial partners or that they can lead to a successful spin-off. Validation can be, for example, proof of applicability, a suitable production process, or a pre-clinical test.
The Helmholtz Association is designating around €2 million from its Validation Fund to the promotion of the three research projects LIVEcheck, RACE-LAB and VITAL in a funding programme that will last two years. The projects will receive a further €2 million in joint funding from the German Aerospace Center and Forschungszentrum Jülich.
The three projects
LIVEcheck (printed point-of-care diagnosis)
Alexey Yakushenko's team at Forschungszentrum Jülich is developing electrochemical sensors designed to facilitate medical diagnosis and replace conventional methods. The sensors are manufactured in an automated nano-printing process with conductive inks, through which the signals can be picked out electronically rather than having to be visually evaluated as is currently the case. The new process will allow sensitive and very specific results to be produced on location (point-of-care) using a smartphone. The production costs associated with these sensors are much lower than those of current diagnostic methods, and they may therefore be able to serve as prototypes for detectors for diseases such as malaria. Following successful validation, the Helmholtz Association foresees the products being marketed via spin-offs.
RACE-LAB (robot application creator)
With their RACE-LAB project, Christoph Borst and his team at the German Aerospace Center are endeavouring to simplify the industrial use of robots and to achieve greater automation. The project is aimed in particular at industries that are working with the latest robot generation - machines generally characterised by a lightweight design, good interactional skills and high sensitivity. The scientists are developing an intelligent programme management system and software library that will enable various robotic capabilities such as drilling and screwing, and putting down and picking up objects. In addition, RACE-LAB will facilitate recurring interactive processes such as the handing over of objects from a human to a robot. Thus, complex procedures like the interaction between humans and machines will become safer and more dynamic with relatively straightforward programming procedures. This technology could also allow small and medium-sized businesses in areas as diverse as carpentry and medical technology to efficiently manufacture products with highly individual features automatically and economically - something that has been inconceivable until now.
VITAL (traffic-dependent, intelligent control of signal systems)
Robert Oertel and his team at the German Aerospace Center are working on a project that will improve control over the ever-increasing amount of traffic on our roads. The VITAL technology is able to control signalling lights - particularly traffic lights - in such a way that it significantly reduces the waiting time and overall journey time for road users. Consequently this technology lowers pollutant emissions - thus aiding climate protection efforts - and reduces infrastructure costs in local communities as they can continue to use existing structures. The advantages of this intelligent control system have already been demonstrated in computer simulations - now the scientists must also prove these benefits in actual practice. Once tested, the process then needs to be introduced as standard by the relevant road and traffic authorities so that local communities are allowed to make use of the technology later on, for example to obviate the need for road expansion or the construction of induction loops.
The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy; Earth and Environment; Health; Key Technologies; Structure of Matter; and Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With almost 36,000 employees in 18 research centres and an annual budget of approximately €3.8 billion, the Helmholtz Association is Germany's largest scientific organisation. Its work follows in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).
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