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Topic outline

  • Brief information on the Funding Opportunity

    Program: Horizon Europe Framework Programme (HORIZON)  |  Call ID: HORIZON-CL4-2023-DIGITAL-EMERGING-01-CNECT
    Geographical coverage: EU

    Available contribution M€: The Commission considers that proposals requesting a typical contribution from the EU up to EUR 10 million would allow this specific area to be addressed appropriate.

    Budget M€: 30M€

    Deadlines: 29 March 2023 17:00:00 Brussels time

    Type of Action: Innovation Action (IA)

    Type of MGA: HORIZON Action Grant Budget-Based [HORIZON-AG]

    For more information on meanings of TRL, Type of Project and General Rules, please refer to the General Annexes of the Work Programme:  Link to the General Annexes of the Work Programme

  • Partners Profiles

  • Partner Search

  • Expected Outcomes

    Projects are expected to contribute to all the following outcomes:

    • To reach the point where human robot interaction, extended in time and scope beyond the current state of the art, adds value and improves the quality of outcome for complex tasks; for example service tasks, or complex industry processing tasks or tasks in a healthcare setting. Where the focus is on tasks where robotics can add capabilities that extend human ability but which require human interaction to be achieved. These tasks will require varying levels of interaction and communication, dependent on the current state of the task, but will essentially require close interaction over extended periods of time.
    • Validate AI, Data and Robotics at scale by demonstrating the potential of integrating these technologies to address challenges in key industries and develop solutions that address human robot interaction at all levels from physical interaction to social interaction in a variety of working environments.
    • Make and exploit major advances in technology, to maintain Europe’s excellence and ensure sovereignty of these key technologies expected to affect society by contributing to addressing major societal challenges by enhancing interactions between robots and people. Boost the innovation potential for wide uptake of AI, Data and Robotics by significantly improving the ability of robots to work in collaboration with humans as equals.
  • Scope

    Proposals should demonstrate the added value of integrating AI, Data and Robotics technologies through large-scale validation scenarios reaching critical mass and mobilising the user industry, Focus should be given to attracting new user industries, to boost the uptake of AI, Data and Robotics in major sectors and stimulate the involvement of end-users where appropriate. Besides major industries, these Actions should also involve SMEs and/or start-ups with high potential to foster innovation that advances the nature and level of interaction between people and robots, especially dealing with paradigmatic shifts in working practice that create improvements for industry and society. Proposals should target sectors and application domains with wide-scale deployment potential and maximum contribution to the European economy.
  • Multidisciplinary innovation activities should address one of the following

    • Development of innovative solutions to address major application-driven challenges, involving a large set of SMEs/ midcaps developing innovative solutions in order to boost the innovator community in Europe. This action also aims to expand the deployment of software engineering dedicated to human robot interaction. Especially to extend and adopt the practices of the Digital Industrial Platform for Robotics, and to stimulate the development of robust middleware that can be deployed in service and industrial applications and to expand the number and variety of high quality sharable industrially deployable modules related to human robot interaction at all levels, fostering the widespread deployment of such technologies in the targeted application sector and beyond.

    Financial Support to Third Parties: Projects should use FSTP to stimulate the engagement of SMEs in the delivery of high quality, robust, sharable modules for use in human robot interaction in service and industrial tasks. Minimum 50% of the EU funding requested by the proposal should be allocated to the purpose of financial support to third parties.

    • Large scale pilots bringing major industries from key application sectors in Europe – facilitating collaboration between these major companies and innovative SMEs/Start-ups/academia/tech-transfer organisations with the goal is to exploit re-usable tools, systems, sub-systems and solutions in various use-cases/sectors where human robot interaction is a critical necessity. Pilots should show scalability/versatility, and enable economies of scale.

    Financial Support to Third Parties: Projects may involve FSTP in order to stimulate the engagement of SMEs in testing and validating innovative solutions in the pilots. A maximum of 50% of the EU funding requested by the proposal may be allocated to the purpose of financial support to third parties.

    Proposals should involve appropriate expertise in all the relevant disciplines, such as engineering, computer sciences, mathematics, Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH), neuroscience, psychology, cognitive sciences, philosophy, biology, etc. and in particular should involve the relevant expertise to address the human factors aspects of robot human collaboration at all levels of interaction.

    Proposals should clearly delineate the expected contributions from the main beneficiaries as well as from the third parties, to ensure their coherence and impact.

    Security, privacy and safety should be taken into account to minimise risks to users both in terms of physical harm and in terms of digital privacy and security.

    Proposals should include a clear business case and exploitation strategy.

    Proposals should contribute to making human robot interactions using AI and robotics solutions meet the requirements of Trustworthy AI, based on the respect of the ethical principles, the fundamental rights including critical aspects such as robustness, safety, reliability, in line with the European Approach to AI. With these principles being adopted from the early stages of development and design through to deployment by using appropriate models of human robot interaction.

    Proposals are expected to embed mechanisms to assess and demonstrate progress (with qualitative and quantitative KPIs, benchmarking and progress monitoring, as well as illustrative application use-cases demonstrating well defined added value to end users), and share communicable results with the European R&D community, through the robotics elements of the AI-on-demand platform and/or the Digital Industrial Platform for Robotics, public community resources, to maximise re-use of results, either by developers, or for uptake, and optimise efficiency of funding; enhancing the European AI, Data and Robotics ecosystem through the sharing of results and best practice.

    This topic implements the co-programmed European Partnership on AI, data and robotics.

  • Specific Topic Conditions

    Activities are expected to start at TRL 3-5 and achieve TRL 6-7 by the end of the project – see General Annex B.

  • Destination

    Digital and emerging technologies for competitiveness and fit for the Green Deal (2023/24)

    This destination will directly support the following Key Strategic Orientations (KSOs), as outlined in the Strategic Plan:

    • KSO A, ‘Promoting an open strategic autonomy by leading the development of key digital, enabling and emerging technologies, sectors and value chains to accelerate and steer the digital and green transitions through human-centred technologies and innovations.’
    • KSO C, ‘Making Europe the first digitally led circular, climate-neutral and sustainable economy through the transformation of its mobility, energy, construction and production systems

    Proposals for topics under this Destination should set out a credible pathway to contributing to the following expected impact:

    • Open strategic autonomy in digital technologies and in future emerging enabling technologies, by strengthening European capacities in key parts of digital and future supply chains, allowing agile responses to urgent needs, and by investing in early discovery and industrial uptake of new technologies.

    Electronic and photonic components, and the software that defines how they work, are the key digital technologies that underpin all digital systems. As the digitalisation of all sectors accelerates, most industries depend on early access to digital components. Dependence on these technologies represents a clear threat to Europe’s autonomy, particularly in periods of geopolitical instability, exposing Europe to risks of vulnerability. Actions under this Destination will build on EU strengths in low-power consumption and ultra-secure components, Europe needs to develop the essential electronic and photonic components for a wide range of applications such as healthcare equipment, electric and autonomous vehicles, manufacturing and production plants and equipment, telecom networks, aerospace vehicles, consumer products

    R&I initiatives on 6G technologies are now starting in leading regions world-wide, with the first products and infrastructures expected for the end of this decade. 6G systems are expected to offer a new step change in performance from Gigabit towards Terabit capacities and sub-millisecond response times, to enable new critical applications such as real-time automation or eXtended Reality (“Internet of Senses”). Europe must engage now to be among the top influencers of - and competitors in - these technologies and ensure that emerging network technology standards are defined following European values and energy-efficiency requirements. Main actions on 6G technologies will be undertaken in the Smart Networks and Services Joint Undertaking.

    Despite a strong European scientific community’s on AI and robotics, Europe lags behind in AI diffusion. Actions under this Destination will develop world-class technologies serving the needs of all types of European industries (e.g. manufacturing, healthcare, transport, agriculture, energy, construction), providing top-performing solutions that businesses will trust and adopt to maintain their competitiveness and maximise their contribution to environmental sustainability.

    While Europe is strong in many sectors, it must take ownership of its unavoidable future transformations for competitiveness, prosperity and sustainability, by early leadership in new and emerging enabling technologies, e.g. alternative computing models such as bio- and neuro-morphic approaches, use of biological elements as part of technology, and sustainable smart materials. In particular, the far-reaching impact of quantum and graphene technologies on our economy and society cannot be fully estimated yet, but they will be disruptive for many fields. Actions in this Destination will ensure that Europe stays ahead in this global race and is in a position to achieve game-changing breakthroughs.

    In line with the vision set out in the Digital Decade Communication (COM(2021)118), in particular its ‘secure and performant sustainable digital infrastructures’ pillar, actions under this Destination will support Europe’s open strategic autonomy, and reinforce and regain European industry’s leaderships across the digital supply chain. It will direct investments to activities that will ensure a robust European industrial and technology presence in all key parts of a greener digital supply chain, from low-power components to advanced systems, future networks, new data technologies and platforms. Autonomy will require sustaining first-mover advantage in strategic areas like quantum computing and graphene, and investing early in emerging enabling technologies.

    Investments in this Destination contribute substantially to climate change objectives. Energy efficiency is a key design principle in actions, which will lead to new technologies and solutions that are cornerstones for a sustainable economy and society. These solutions range from ultra-low-power processors to AI, Data and Robotics solutions for resource optimisation and reduction of energy consumption and CO2 emissions; from highly efficient optical networking technologies and ultra-low-energy 6G communication networks to robotics that overcome the limitation of energy autonomy. Furthermore, promising emerging avenues are addressed via ultra-low power operations enabled by spintronics and 2D materials-based devices and systems for energy storage and harvesting.

    Actions should devote particular attention to openness of the solutions and results, and transparency of the research and innovation process. To ensure trustworthiness and wide adoption by user communities for the benefit of society, actions should promote high standards of transparency and openness. Actions should ensure that the processes and outcomes of research and innovation align with the needs, values and expectations of society, in line with Responsible Research and Innovation.

    As a result, this Destination is structured into the following headings, which group topics together with similar outcomes to address a common challenge:

    • European Innovation Leadership in Photonics

    The European photonics industry has an excellent position in core segments, far above the average EU market share. The objective of the topics grouped in this heading is to strengthen current leadership in photonic technologies and applications, and to secure access in Europe to cutting-edge photonic technologies.

    The topics of this heading are under the co-programmed Partnership ‘Photonics’.

    • AI, Data and Robotics

    Europe has an outstanding track record in key areas of AI research, Europe’s scientific community is leading in AI and robotics, but substantial efforts are needed to transform this into (disruptive) European AI technology products that can withstand international competitors. Europe also lags behind in technology diffusion, less than half of European firms have adopted AI technology, with a majority of those still in the pilot stage. 70% of these adopter companies, only capture 10% of full potential use, and only 2% percent of European firms in healthcare are using those technologies at 80% of potential[[See (based on data from 2017 and 2018)]]. Moreover, as demonstrated during the COVID-19 crisis, many AI, Data and Robotics solutions exist today but only a limited number of them reaches the level of maturity and adoption necessary to solve the problems at hand. Therefore, there is room for improved adoption by industry, which requires a drastic increase of industry-driven R&I, from basic research to large-scale piloting. In general, industry acknowledges the potential of AI technologies, but often lacks demonstrable benefits for their particular use cases.

    The objective of this heading is to ensure autonomy for Europe in AI, data and robotics in developing world-class technologies serving the needs of all types of European industries, from manufacturing to healthcare, public sector, utilities, retail, finance, insurance, transport, agriculture, energy, telecommunications, environmental monitoring, construction, media, creative and cultural industries, fashion, tourism, etc. providing top-performing solutions that industries will trust and adopt to maintain their competitiveness and maximise their contribution to environmental and resources sustainability.

    Several topics of this heading are under the co-programmed Partnership ‘AI, Data and Robotics’.

    When it comes to Robotics, Europe is leading in its industry, with a high intensity of use of robots. Europe is also scientifically leading in robotics’ cognition, safety, manipulation, soft robotics, underwater and aerial robotics, with demonstrated impacts in many use-cases in key industrial sectors (e.g.: healthcare, agri-food[[The term Agri-Food is intended to cover a wide range of food production sectors including livestock farming, fisheries, horticulture etc., as well as produce processing, ingredient preparation and food manufacture and assembly.]], forestry, inspection and maintenance, logistics, construction, manufacturing, etc.) and across multiple modalities (aerial, marine, ground, in-vivo and space).

    The objective of this heading is to ensure autonomy for Europe in robotics, leading the way in research, development and deployment of world-class technologies.

    Several topics of this heading are under the co-programmed Partnership ‘AI, Data and Robotics’.

    • Open Source for Cloud/Edge and Software Engineering Fundamentals to support Digital Autonomy

    The European strategy for data (COM(2020) 66) aims at creating a single market that will ensure Europe’s global competitiveness and data sovereignty. This calls for the ability to handle the entire data life-cycle which in turn relies on the underlying computing infrastructure (from the hardware to the software).

    In the light of dominant players, bridging established computing models (High Performance Computing, Cloud Computing, edge-computing and other emerging computing architectures) becomes a critical success factor for enabling a computing continuum. Open computing architectures at many levels based on Open approaches spanning both software/hardware is thus a pre-requisite for Digital autonomy – notably when it comes to Cloud infrastructures where European players are falling short.

    Actions under this heading will thus support the next steps of development and adoption of Open technologies on different levels while fostering progress on responsible software engineering fundamentals.

    • European leadership in Emerging and Enabling Technologies

    Europe’s leading industry sectors have a solid track-record in constant improvement, but less so for embracing transformative ideas. The pathway from research to industry uptake is often long and staged, with no intertwining of research and industry agendas. In the age of deep-tech, though, this intertwining is essential.

    The objective of this heading is to identify early technologies that have the potential to become Europe’s future leading technologies in all areas of this cluster and to establish industry leadership in these technologies from the outset. This heading has a unique focus on off-roadmap transformations with a longer time-horizon but profound potential impact.

    • Flagship on Quantum Technologies: a Paradigm Shift

    Since 2018, the Quantum Technologies Flagship has been consolidating and expanding Europe’s scientific leadership and excellence in quantum, in order to foster the development of a competitive quantum industrial and research ecosystem in Europe. The EU’s aims for quantum R&I in the next decade are set out in detail in the Quantum Flagship’s Strategic Research Agenda (SRA[[]]) and its associated main Key Performance Indicators,[[Link to provide later]] which drafted and published in 2020 on quantum computing, quantum simulation, quantum communication, and quantum sensing and metrology. Projects in each of these areas are currently supported by the Flagship, by other EU research initiatives and by national programmes.

    The objective of this heading is to further develop quantum technologies and their applications in the areas of quantum computing, simulation, sensing and communication, in order to strengthen European technological sovereignty in this strategic field and achieve first-mover industry leadership, capitalising on Europe’s established excellence in quantum science and technology maintaining and developing quantum competences and skills available in the EU and raising the capabilities of all Member States in this field.

    The aim of the Commission’s Digital Decade strategy is for the EU to become digitally sovereign in an interconnected world, and in the coming years quantum technologies will be a key element of this digital sovereignty, as they are of global strategic importance. Quantum technologies will be also used, among others, for sensitive applications in the area of security, and in dual-use applications. Other world regions are already investing heavily in all areas of quantum technologies research. In this context, the EU must take action to build on its strengths, and to carefully assess and address any strategic weaknesses, vulnerabilities and high-risk dependencies which put at risk the attainment of its ambitions. This will enable it to safeguard its strategic assets, interests, autonomy and security, while advancing towards its goal of open strategic autonomy.

    The Quantum Technologies Flagship conducts research and development activities in the key domains of quantum computing and simulation, quantum communication, and quantum sensing. The Flagship will contribute to world-leading quantum computers and simulators, that will be acquired by the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking, and will be crucial to achieving its Digital Decade goal of having its first computer with quantum acceleration by 2025, with a view to being at the cutting edge of quantum capabilities by 2030. These machines will have a profound impact, with applications in medicine, manufacturing, or new material and new drugs design but also in cryptography, finance and many other sensitive domains.

    Research in quantum sensing technologies is also vital to the EU’s interests, as it will develop European expertise in quantum clocks for navigation (including for embarkation on Galileo satellites) and precise timing applications, sensors for autonomous vehicles, and the next generation of medical sensors.

    It is therefore clearly in the EU’s interests to protect European research in these domains, the intellectual property that it generates, and the strategic assets that will be developed as a result, while taking steps to avoid situations of technological dependency on non-EU sources (in line with the call of the October 2020 European Council to reduce Europe’s strategic dependencies). With this in mind, the Commission has decided that, in the research areas covered by 6 actions in this work programme in quantum computing and simulation, communication, and sensing, only Associated Countries that meet certain conditions will be eligible to participate in these actions.

    The eligibility to participate in such actions is limited to specific entities as specified in the relevant topics.

    • Graphene: Europe in the lead

    The starting point is the Graphene Flagship, launched in 2013, which already reached European leadership in graphene and related 2D materials. The work is now coming to a critical point where first simple products are being launched. R&I activities would now need to be pursued and accelerated in order to translate achieved technology advances that are at TRL 3-5 into concrete innovation opportunities and into production capabilities in many industrial sectors (e.g. aviation, automotive, electronics, batteries, healthcare).

    The objective of this heading is to strengthen and accelerate the technology developments that support a strong European supply and value chain in graphene and related materials and provide first-mover market advantages of scale.

    Activities beyond R&I investments will be needed to realise the expected impacts: testing, experimentation, demonstration, and support for take-up using the capacities, infrastructures, and European Digital Innovation Hubs made available under the Digital Europe Programme; large-scale roll-out of innovative new technologies and solutions (e.g. new energy-efficient connectivity technologies) via the Connecting Europe Facility; further development of skills and competencies via the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, in particular EIT Digital; upscaling of trainings via the European Social Fund +; and use of financial instruments under the InvestEU Fund for further commercialisation of R&I outcomes.

    Expected impact

    Proposals for topics under this Destination should set out a credible pathway to contributing to digital and emerging technologies for competitiveness and fit for the Green Deal, and more specifically to one or several of the following impacts:

    • Europe’s open strategic autonomy by sustaining first-mover advantages in strategic areas including AI, data, robotics, quantum computing, and graphene, and by investing early in emerging enabling technologies.
    • Reinforced European industry leadership across the digital supply chain.
    • Robust European industrial and technology presence in all key parts of a greener digital supply chain, from low-power components to advanced systems, future networks, new data technologies and platforms.

    Innovation Actions — Legal entities established in China are not eligible to participate in Innovation Actions in any capacity. Please refer to the Annex B of the General Annexes of this Work Programme for further details.

  • Topic conditions and documents

    General conditions

    1. Admissibility conditions: described in Annex A and Annex E of the Horizon Europe Work Programme General Annexes

    Proposal page limits and layout: described in Part B of the Application Form available in the Submission System

    2. Eligible countries: described in Annex B of the Work Programme General Annexes

    A number of non-EU/non-Associated Countries that are not automatically eligible for funding have made specific provisions for making funding available for their participants in Horizon Europe projects. See the information in the Horizon Europe Programme Guide.

    3. Other eligibility conditions: described in Annex B of the Work Programme General Annexes

    If projects use satellite-based earth observation, positioning, navigation and/or related timing data and services, beneficiaries must make use of Copernicus and/or Galileo/EGNOS (other data and services may additionally be used).

    4. Financial and operational capacity and exclusion: described in Annex C of the Work Programme General Annexes

    5. Evaluation and award:

    • Award criteria, scoring and thresholds are described in Annex D of the Work Programme General Annexes

    • Submission and evaluation processes are described in Annex F of the Work Programme General Annexes and the Online Manual

    To ensure a balanced portfolio coverage, grants will be awarded to applications not only in order of ranking but at least also to the highest ranked proposal for each of the two expected scopes (1. Development of innovative solutions to address major application-driven challenges, 2. Large scale pilots bringing major industries from key application sectors in Europe). Proposals should clearly identify the scope it will focus on.

    • Indicative timeline for evaluation and grant agreement: described in Annex F of the Work Programme General Annexes

    6. Legal and financial set-up of the grants: described in Annex G of the Work Programme General Annexes

    Beneficiaries may provide financial support to third parties.

    The support to third parties can only be provided in the form of grants.

    As third parties' grants may include robotics components, requiring high equipment investment and/or important effort to integrate in a use-case to address robotics challenges, the maximum amount to be granted to each third party is EUR 200 000.

    Specific conditions

    7. Specific conditions: described in the [specific topic of the Work Programme]


    Call documents:

    Standard application form — call-specific application form is available in the Submission System

    Standard application form (HE RIA, IA)

    Standard evaluation form — will be used with the necessary adaptations

    Standard evaluation form (HE RIA, IA)


    HE General MGA v1.0

    Additional documents:

    HE Main Work Programme 2023–2024 – 1. General Introduction

    HE Main Work Programme 2023–2024 – 7. Digital, Industry and Space

    HE Main Work Programme 2023–2024 – 13. General Annexes

    HE Programme Guide

    HE Framework Programme and Rules for Participation Regulation 2021/695

    HE Specific Programme Decision 2021/764

    EU Financial Regulation

    Rules for Legal Entity Validation, LEAR Appointment and Financial Capacity Assessment

    EU Grants AGA — Annotated Model Grant Agreement

    Funding & Tenders Portal Online Manual

    Funding & Tenders Portal Terms and Conditions

    Funding & Tenders Portal Privacy Statement

    Information on financial support to third parties (HE)