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Key Digital Technologies — The keys to our digital future — Brochure

Key Digital Technologies underpin all digital systems, and include electronic and photonic components, and the software that defines how they work.

Electronic components and systems

Semiconductor components — chips that capture, store, process, transmit and act on data — are a key enabling technology of electronic products and systems critical to all digital products and services. Semiconductor chips, in particular processors, are of growing importance in data processing for data infrastructure and communication, high-end and general purpose computing and future application trends like autonomous driving and AI. 

In 2018, the value of semiconductors in electronics systems reached 31.4%. Worldwide sales of semiconductors were USD 113.6 billion during the third quarter of 2020. Globally, the long-term market trend for electronic components is expected to exceed USD 1,000 billion by 2030.

The Commission is planning several actions with the involvement of Member States and industry on processors and semiconductor technologies.

These include:

Declaration on a European Initiative on Processors and semiconductor technologies

18 Member States agreed to work together to bolster Europe’s electronics, photonics and embedded systems value chain. This includes a particular effort to reinforce the processor and semiconductor ecosystem and to expand industrial presence across the supply chain.

The signatories of the declaration agree to work together to strengthen Europe’s capabilities to design and eventually fabricate the next generation of trusted, low-power processors. In particular, they agree to cooperate and engage in efforts to co-invest in semiconductor technologies across the full value chain, to mobilize industrial stakeholders through a future Industrial Alliance, and to develop a proposal for an Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI).

Investments will be required from the private sector, the EU budget, and national budgets, including through the national Recovery and Resilience plans, where feasible. 

Industrial Alliance on electronics

The Commission launched an alliance on processors and semiconductor technologies in July 2021. From smartphones to 5G to the Internet of Things and beyond, processors and semiconductor technologies are crucial for a successful Digital Decade.

The European Industrial Alliance brings together key actors in the electronics value chain in Europe, and leads the strategy to build up Europe’s capacity to design and produce advanced trusted microelectronics chips. This includes processors, which are key for strategic autonomy in the fields of automotive, edge-AI, secure connectivity, and defence. The Alliance will contribute as well to the set-up of strategic roadmaps for the new IPCEI.

Important Project of Common European Interest

A new IPCEI on microelectronics is being proposed with a focus on processors and connectivity. Targets of the IPCEI instrument are R&I at high technology readiness levels and first industrial deployment. The IPCEI will cover the areas of communication infrastructure networks, mobility industry (including automotive) and industrial automation. Having the capability to develop and fabricate processors will enable Europe to avoid the pitfalls of dependency, build secure 5G (and 6G) networks and data infrastructure, and serve the automotive and other industries with low-power, secure, trustworthy technology.

The joint declaration above ensures engagement of those Member States interested to co-invest in processor technology, design and manufacturing. The industrial alliance above will guide the IPCEI with its roadmaps and investment plans.

The new IPCEI builds on the first IPCEI on Microelectronics, which aims to reinforce design and manufacturing capacity of chips, including sensors, actuators, microcontrollers and power devices. The first IPCEI was approved in December 2018, and will finish in 2024. It brings together France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and 29 companies in the area of microelectronics. The four Member States provide €1.75 billion funding, which aims to unlock an additional €6 billion in private investment.

Scale-up Flagship on Microelectronics and Cloud Capabilities

European flagships were announced under the Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy 2021 to provide guidance to Member States on examples and reforms, which can be linked to the Recovery and Resilience Facility to support the post-pandemic recovery. The 6th flagship, so-called “Scale-up”, covers Microelectronics and Cloud Capabilities.

The Scale-up Flagship aims to substantially increase design and production of processors in Europe and achieve 10 times more energy-efficient processors by 2025. The flagship will strengthen Europe’s capabilities in the design and fabrication of microelectronics technologies, and will build the European next generation of interoperable, secure, real-time and sustainable cloud, edge and data capacities based on trusted services, modular platforms and interconnected infrastructures.

A large-scale innovative industrial project making use of the possibility to support first industrial deployment, such as the above new IPCEI on microelectronics, strategically linked to the Recovery and Resilience Facility will play a key role in meeting the goals and objectives set by the Scale-up Flagship.

Key Digital Technologies joint undertaking

This unique public-private partnership between national authorities, industry, and the European Commission manages research and innovation for strong and globally competitive electronics components and systems industries in Europe. It aims to reinforce Europe’s potential to innovate through contribution of electronic components and systems, including microsystems, software technologies, sub-assemblies, and systems of systems giving secure and trusted technologies to strategic value chains. 

The KDT joint undertaking builds on its predecessor ECSEL, which had a total of €4.9 billion investment in 2014-2020, and included 10 calls, 64 projects, and more than 2 100 participants. The KDT joint undertaking is expected to significantly increase investments, as compared to ECSEL.

Testing and Experimentation Facility for Edge AI 

While AI currently runs mostly in the cloud, the focus is gradually shifting to the edge of the network, where data is generated. By 2025, 80% of data is expected to be processed at the periphery. Edge computing offers benefits, such as real-time operations, efficient use of energy and bandwidth, low costs, embedded security and privacy of data. 

The Edge AI Testing and Experimentation Facility aims to ensure the availability in Europe of trusted, high-performance, low-power edge components and technologies to support the massive data-processing requirements of AI and the digital transformation. The facility will enable companies to develop, test and experiment AI product prototypes based on advanced low-power computing technologies, custom-designed for their application environment. 

Photonics: the science and technology of light

Light technologies are the key enabler for societal megatrends like digitalization, IoT, big data, artificial intelligence, autonomous transportation and protection of environment. Photonics will be essential for the digital transformation of Europe’s industry and achieving the European Green deal and a sustainable EU future.

European photonics production has reached €100 billion in 2019 (and €650 billion worldwide). A doubling of the production by 2030 can be reached continuing the annual growth rate of 7% since 2015. Its multiple benefits range from fighting climate change to enabling better health for everybody.

The Commission is planning several actions with the involvement of Member States and industry on photonics.

These include:

The Photonics Europe co-programmed partnership

The new partnership on photonics to start in 2021 will speed up photonic innovations for a digital, green and healthy future in Europe. The Commission and European R&I stakeholders from companies, research institutes and universities will team up to maintain leadership in core and emerging photonic technologies and to bring them into new applications for the benefit of society. 

Industry is committed to investing €100 billion in research and innovation (about 10% of revenues) in the next 7 years. The partnership will help to secure Europe’s technological sovereignty, to raise the competitiveness of Europe’s economy and to ensure long-term job and prosperity creation. Member states though not formal partners will contribute to the objectives with complementary programmes.  

The Commission has steadily invested in this area, in particular through a public-private partnership in Horizon 2020. More than 100 Research and Innovation projects have been founded, including several prototyping and manufacturing pilot lines. 

Photonics Pilot Lines

The aim of the pilot line initiative is to enable high-tech SMEs in Europe to take their good ideas on application of photonic technologies, scale-them up and validate them with industrial customers for commercial production.  
Seven pilot-line projects are active thanks to more than 80 million euros of targeted EU-funding aimed at enhancing the vibrant European photonic ecosystem. The projects offer access to technologies for the design and manufacturing of photonic integrated circuits PICs on different platforms to help industrial users to produce cutting-edge sensor, diagnosis, communication and lighting systems. 

A key remit of the pilot lines is to become sustainable after the initial 4-year duration and continue to offer their state-of-the-art technologies and services on a commercial basis to potential users, in particular European SMEs, with a low barrier and open access.  

Member States and regions contribute by providing infrastructure and running complementary programmes. 

Digital Innovation Hubs for photonic technologies

Building on the successful series of technology transfer activities of the ACTPHAST programme the Commission is about to launch a Digital Innovation Hub on Photonics. 

This hub will integrate the best-in-class photonics technologies, facilities, expertise and experience of more than 50 partners from all over Europe. Dubbed PhotonHub it will provide European companies, in particular SMEs and mid-caps that are first users and early adopters of photonics with key services on training and up-skilling, technology testing and guidance on access to finance. 

It will also support cross-border innovation activities of European companies by working closely with local photonics hubs to roll out best practices of the “lighthouse” regions and supporting the creation of new innovation hubs covering most regions of Europe. 

Cyber-physical systems: intersections between the physical and cyber worlds

Value is moving from hardware components and embedded systems (the main brain of the system where software is executed) towards large-scale systems, applications and solutions. This trend is expected to bring a tenfold growth over the next decade.

So, trustworthy, secure, safe, reliable and explainable cyber-physical systems are at the centre of Europe's competitiveness. Cyber-physical systems:

  • make use of traditional European strengths in system engineering to reach smarter systems with reduced complexity;
  • support safety-critical systems (e.g. autonomous driving), where value and intelligence are gradually shifting to the edge, i.e. devices and computing power that directly control processes;
  • exploit Artificial Intelligence for smart systems, and to support software developers.

Diagram illustrating that at the core of transport & smart mobility, health & well-being, energy, digital industry and digital life there are: embedded and cyber-physical systems, secure IoT and system of systems, edge computing & embedded artificial intelligence, embedded high performance computing, systems of systems integration platforms for digitalisation and embedded software technologies and software engineering tools.
Moreover, sustainability, energy-efficiency and climate protection are taken into account across the complete electronic system life cycle from design and operation, to re-use and recycling.