Industrial leadership in AI, Data and Robotics boosting competitiveness and the green transition (HORIZON-CL4-2024-DIGITAL-EMERGING-01-04)

  • Action type: HORIZON-IA HORIZON Innovation Actions
  • Opening date: 15 November 2023
  • Closing time: 19 March 2024 17:00 (Europe/Brussels)
  • Budget per project: € 10 000 000 of total € 60 000 000
  • Estimated number of projects funded: 5
  • Official website


Projects are expected to contribute to one of the two following outcomes, exclusively:

  • The creation of systems to address large scale challenges using combined robotics data and AI solutions that have significant impact on the objectives of the green deal. For example; in improving domestic energy consumption or in the cleaning up of contaminated land and waterways or in accelerating the circular economy along the complete value chain through automated waste avoidance and waste processing or reuse of materials.
  • The creation of systems to address large scale resource optimisation challenges using combined AI and Data solutions, that have significant impact on the objectives of the green deal, such as optimisation of any kind of resources, from production to use along the complete value chain in order to minimise waste or foster the reuse of resources or in using AI and data solutions to maximize energy efficiency, ensuring energy security.

Which will contribute to

  • The validation of solutions at scale by demonstrating the potential of integrating these technologies to address challenges in industrial ecosystems and develop solutions that are environmental friendly and contribute to the green deal
  • Making and exploiting major advances in science and technology, to maintain Europe’s scientific excellence and ensure sovereignty of these key technologies expected to affect the society in contributing to addressing major societal challenges affecting the environment.
  • Exploring deployment solutions that can ensure efficient scale up.
  • Boosting the uptake of AI, Data and Robotics to exploit the major contribution expected to environmental sustainability.

Proposals should clearly identify the outcome it will focus on.


Proposals should demonstrate the added value of integrating either AI and Data, or AI, Data and Robotics technologies through large-scale validation scenarios reaching critical mass and mobilising the user industry, while demonstrating high potential impact contributing to the European Green Deal objectives. For example in the recycling of electric car batteries, cleaning and monitoring the oceans, decommissioning energy infrastructure, supporting the recycling of materials, the optimisation of energy usage, the minimisation of resource waste in value-chains, for example through the better adaption of production to demand, etc.

Focus should be given to attracting new user industries, and/or showing new business opportunities to boost the uptake of AI, Data and Robotics in major sectors and stimulate the involvement where appropriate of end-users to define the technological barriers to uptake and the use cases for deployment.

Proposals should address the involvement of SMEs and/or start-ups with significant potential to foster innovation through their engagement with large scale pilots. Focus will be on leveraging and nurturing emerging collaborations between stakeholder communities shaping an effective eco-system fit for the challenge of European AI, Data, Robotics, and on accelerating European R&I through structural involvement of innovative SME and deep-tech start-ups.

Proposals should target sectors and application domains with wide-scale deployment potential and maximum contribution to the green deal.

Multidisciplinary innovation activities should address one of the following:

  • Large scale pilots bringing major industries from key application sectors in Europe – facilitating collaboration between small and large companies with the goal of exploiting and integrating existing tools, sub-systems and solutions that are re-usable from other sectors (thereby showing scalability/versatility, and enabling economies of scale) to have significant impact on the objectives of the green deal. The focus will be on the integration of tools, systems sub-systems and solution in the pilot by the grant beneficiaries. In this case, proposals are not expected to involve the use of financial support to third parties.
  • The development of large-scale pilots addressing key applications with a significant and scalable impact on the objectives of the green deal by facilitating collaboration between small and large companies able address key challenges in the deployment of AI, Data and Robotics.

Financial Support to Third Parties: Projects should use FSTP to leverage novel technical advantage to address the operation of the pilot and to thereby support end users and service providers in addressing the challenges of the green deal. Third parties are expected to use the pilots for developing, testing and validating innovative solutions with significant impact on the green deal. Proposals should clearly delineate the expected contributions from the main beneficiaries as well as from the third parties, to ensure their coherence and impact. 40% of the EU funding requested by the proposal should be allocated to the purpose of financial support to third parties.

Proposals should either involve directly, or indirectly, appropriate expertise in other relevant disciplines for example related to environmental science and, as necessary, Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) disciplines, especially where this is relevant to validating the effectiveness of proposed systems and technologies with respect to the green deal objectives.

Proposals should include a clear business case and exploitation strategy.

All 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 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.

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.


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