Europe's largest research body has £160m a year, 2,000 staff and big ambitions. Jennie Brookman writes
Germany has created Europe's largest research body for information and communication technology after the Fraunhofer Society merged with the German National Research Centre for Information Technology (GMD).
The Fraunhofer I & C Group employs a total of 2,000 staff and has an annual budget that exceeds €170 million (£107 million). It has 15 institutes, incorporating all eight institutes of the former GMD, which was jointly owned by the German government and the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse and Berlin.
Hans-Juergen Warnecke, president of the Fraunhofer Society, said the merger was the most efficient and effective way to make the most of tight resources in an emerging field of research "not just in finances but above all in qualified staff". He said it was "the right strategy to focus activities in information and communications technology, and thereby achieve a better position for Germany in international competition in science and industry".
The Fraunhofer Society is Germany's main applied research body and generates two-thirds of its funding from contracts from industry and publicly funded projects. It believes it will provide the ideal platform for the rapid transfer of advances in information and communications technology to industry.
The I & C group has elected as its chairman Jose L. Encarnacao, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research in Darmstadt.
It has begun its integration by launching an extensive research programme encompassing nine projects that address key issues for the next internet generation.
"The joint projects will develop new systems and methods for secure and reliable solutions for e-trading, and new forms of dialogue between people and machines and net-based cooperation," wrote Encarnacao in Fraunhofer Magazine .
He says the project aims to create IT solutions that "understand" human language and gestures and even react to emotions.
Computer simulation, visualisation and virtual reality will be integrated into digital development environments that will make complete digital product manufacture a tangible reality for many industries.
The research will address system solutions for engineering, e-business and logistics. The programme will include research projects beyond the confines of information technology, on the borders of biology and medicine.
For this, the I & C group will work with experts from other Fraunhofer institutes. "The Fraunhofer Society will create a new platform for interdisciplinary research which will be the largest... in Europe in terms of volume and scope," Encarnacao said.