Joint Research Programs sponsored by the European Union at the Research Institute for Measurement and Computing Techniques of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

J. Lukacs and F. Vajda
e-mail:
lukacs@sunserv.kfki.hu vajda@sunserv.kfki.hu

KFKI Research Institute for Measurement and Computing Techniques of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary


Abstract. The KFKI Research Institute for Measurement and Computing Techniques takes part in a number of research projects with European Union and Central and Eastern European partners, sponsored by the European Union. The paper introduces the institute, the research projects and describes the experiences gained during the common work. Research topics, the partners, advantages for the Institute and for Hungary and difficulties and obstacles are detailed.





1. Profile of the Research Institute for Measurement and Computing Techniques of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

The Institute was founded in its present form in 1992 for basic and applied research and development in the fields of information technology and measurement. Its activities involve laboratory automation, industrial automation, parallel processing, image processing, protocol engineering, discrete simulation and speech technology for handicapped persons.

The history of the Institute goes back to the nineteen-fifties. The Central Research Institute for Physics (CRIP) of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was founded in 1950 for basic physical and some related chemical research in the civilian area, mainly for nuclear physics, reactor physics, solid state physics and material sciences. The predecessor of our Institute was the Department of Electronics of the CRIP and its role was to provide the physicists and chemists with measuring devices for their experiments. Later, as computer and on-line measurement activity became more and more important in Hungary, designing and producing computers was an essential activity of the Institute until the end of the eighties.

With the big political changes in 1989 the Institute has also changed. Business oriented people formed their independent business units and the research oriented members stayed under the umbrella of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to form the new Institute.

The Institute has now about 90 employees 60 of whom belong to the research staff. One fourth of the research staff has PhD or higher scientific degrees (in Hungary there is a degree for scientists above the PhD, given by the Academy). The annual budget of the Institute is about 1.3 Million USD. About half of this budget is financed by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the other half by research projects and contracts.

The main profiles of the Institute are now the following. The major goal of the parallel processing department is to become the centre of high performance computing in Hungary. Several research topics are oriented in this direction: software engineering for parallel processing, graphical methods for debugging and testing of programs, efficiency measurements and calibration of parallel systems, CASE systems, parallel languages and applications for workstation farms.

The simulation department works on new simulation algorithms, tools and system architectures for discrete simulation and on implementations for practical applications. A new approach is to use artificial intelligence methods for simulation.

The protocol engineering department deals with data communication and application protocols and their formal description techniques. Some special tools and methods have been developed and used based on extended finite-state machine models and SDL (Specification and Description Language).

The main activity of the image processing department is to relate fine granulated architectures with image processing algorithms, to investigate the usage of reconfigurable algorithms, scientific data visualisation, motion analysis, expert systems for automatic image assessment and machine vision applications.

The speech technology department is working on new tools for the rehabilitation of visually handicapped people, providing computerised systems with text-to-speech facilities and enabling them to take part in the growing world-wide information web.

The laboratory automation department is solving laboratory automation problems mainly for physics research, but also for chemical and biomedical research. They take part in several projects with CERN (Geneva) and Jülich (Germany). The department develops also real-time systems and system elements, based on VME, VXI, Multibus II and PC bus standards.

The industrial automation department is helping to computerise the Hungarian electricity distribution network. Their important research area is to investigate how neural networks and fuzzy systems can be used to control power distribution systems.


2. Advantages helping to take part in international programs

The predecessor of the Institute had already broad international contacts, before 1989 mainly with the socialist countries, but since 1970 strong relations were established with the advanced countries both in Europe and in America. The Institute is member of ESONE, the big European laboratory electronics organisation since 1970, and in this respect it took part in several standardisation and related activities in the European Commission. The Institute is one of the establishing members of Euromicro, and still has a leading role in its work. Members of the Institute were teaching or working in different European, US or Canadian universities, institutes. As a result of these activities members of the Institute had several friends in the developed world already before 1989.

Active participation in former international conferences and workshops have a very important role both in finding partners and defining research goals for the proposals. At the same time results of research work presented at these events gave good background both for the research goals and the research people involved. Euromicro annual conferences have an outstanding role in this process.

Our Institute and all members of our research community have access to the Internet for many years. Therefore the use of electronic mail (and above it file transfer, data base research etc.) has been very natural for everybody for a long time. Both in the administrative and research phases of the cooperation Internet-based contacts have a very important role. Possibilities of far more advanced services as remote access to partner's computers (used as a "virtual" laboratory), distributed work groups were also used.


3. Research grants and contracts

As we have already seen, research grants and contracts have very important role in the Institute, both scientifically and financially . Unfortunately financing of research and development in Hungary is less every year, therefore the significance of international research and development contracts is growing. Three types of international contracts are available for the Institute:

- co-operation based on bi-lateral scientific agreements,
- research contracts with institutes, such as CERN or Jülich,
- joint actions (research, mobility) funded by the European Union.

In the past three years the Institute has taken part in 15 research programs with the European Union. Table 1 shows the types of the programs.

Type of action Number of projects
Copernicus6
PHARE5
Eureka1
TEMPUS1
COST2

Table 1. International cooperations of the Institute funded by the European Union

In 1990 the European Commission launched the PHARE program to contribute to the reconstruction of the economy, environment, education etc. in Hungary. The Hungarian authorities financed several research and development projects from this aid, and the Institute took part in some of these projects. The aim of the TEMPUS program was to support the Hungarian university education to get closer to the European system.

In 1992 the Commission launched eight research and development projects covering many countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Five types of activities were supported: fellowships, support for conferences and scientific networks, joint projects, support for participation in COST projects and in five programs of the 3rd Framework program. This was the PECO-COPERNICUS.

The Institute is taking part in 6 joint research projects in the framework of COPERNICUS, and in another project it is a subcontractor.

COST and Eureka programs are genuine European research programs. The goal of COST is to fund working groups of different European countries to work out programs, projects, recommendations for important scientific directions, and the aid of the Commission helped to take part in these working groups.

The EUREKA projects are related to the final phase of a development. They are organised by the Commission, but funded by the participants. The Institute took part in one EUREKA project, which was finished successfully, and now a follow-up program is starting. In this project our participation is funded by the Hungarian State Office for Technical Development (OMFB).

Appendix 1 lists the Copernicus, Eureka and COST projects of the Institute.

Table 2 shows the different research topics and their funding by the European Union.

Topic Funding in thousand

ECUs

Simulationpard 270
Speech Technology 200
Parallel Processing 160
Picture Processing 160
Protocol Technology 80
Total:870

Table 2. Research Topics of the European Union programs


4. Experiences with the European Union funded programs and projects

Last year we decided to organise a meeting in the Institute to collect and discuss the different experiences from the European Union research contracts. The goal of this discussion was to influence those reseain rch groups, who until now had not participated in such works and to encourage those, who are working on such programs, and have some difficulties.

The participants were asked to answer the following questions:

- How did the research group get into contact with the European Union and other partners to prepare a proposal?
- Who defined the research topic, and how close was it to our own plans?
- What type of research was intended (basic, a practical goal or other)?
- Who were the partners, what experiences have we learned by working with them, what was their research style, is there a tendency to continue the relationship when the particular program is ended?
- What are the advantages of the common work for the Institute?
- What are the advantages for Hungary?
- What were the difficulties?
- What help was given by the Hungarian authorities?
- Proposals for enhancement for the future.

In the following we briefly summarise the answers.

4.1. How does a proposal and a contract start? How did the research group get into contact with the partners and the European Union?

Almost every co-operation started with some previous personal contact. Generally members of the research group had already scientific contacts with a European university or research institute and a common proposal was initiated either by the foreign partner or by us. In one case one of our PhD students had contacts with a university, and he proposed to contact them. Joining the Eureka project has an interesting history. In 1994 the Institute took part at the Hannover fair, and several research results were demonstrated there. The leader of an Eureka project visited the demonstration and contacted our simulation group to take part in their Eureka project for quality control, because just this sort of simulation was needed there.

4.2. Research topic

In the different contracts the definition of the concrete research topic was very different. In about two cases we proposed the topic, and it was accepted by the partners, in another two the co-ordinator proposed the topic, and we accepted, though we had some objections. In most of the cases the topic was defined after previous discussions and agreement among the partners. In the Eureka case the contact was very fortunate, because we were just looking for a practical application of our system, and the partners were offering exactly that need.

4.3. Type of research

The aim of all the common research programs was to achieve some practical result. This intention is very close to our general goals. We think that research in the fields of informatics should solve real life problems.

4.4. The partners

Because of the great number of common research contracts almost all European countries (Western, Central and several Eastern) are involved in these research works. Universities, research institutes and private companies take part in the projects. In fact their attitude to the common research is very different. Most of them is really serious to achieve a common result, but there are some, who are not so interested. A good and efficient co-ordinator is also very important, fortunately most of them have considerable expertise in co-ordinating an international program, but in about two projects the co-ordinators have not enough time or energy to organise the work with acceptable efficiency.

There is also an interesting and sometimes disturbing problem when we try to discuss a Copernicus proposal with a Western European partner. The possible amount of money is very considerable in our own budget, but it is very little related to the budget of the Western partner, as their labour and overhead costs are much higher than ours. Therefore in many times they do not feel it worthwhile to start a common research project. Sometimes this different importance of the available money can be recognised in a running project as well.

However in the past three years there was a noticeable change in the behaviour of our Western partners. At the beginning in some cases they have not took very seriously the common research work, they were not very much interested in it. But in several cases after the first results they started to take the common project and through this our Institute more severely and as equal partners. We think that this is a very great result.

4.5. Advantages for our Institute

The advantages of the common projects for our Institute are manifold. As we have already seen in the presentation of the Institute, financially the projects are very important for us. In the past four years the amount of up-to-date equipment bought with the financial background of these common projects is about five times as much as we could buy from our own (i.e. Hungarian Academy of Sciences) resources. And without these projects several research groups could not have had enough resources to maintain their research.

But we think, that on top of these economic advantages two, even more important aspects have to be mentioned. Working together with the other partners we have learned very much on how an international project with a great number of participants has to be organised, what are the essential points where much attention has to be centred, what characterises the research and development work in the different European countries. Project management plays an important role in the success of a research project. It is especially true at an international project. The proper interface among parts of a common development is a crucial factor. We learnt very much in solving management and research problems of large projects.

The other great advantage is that through working together we get to know better those researchers who work in the same field as we. There is a proverb: you get to know better other people while working or living together with them.

4.6. Advantages for Hungary

Indirect advantages for Hungary are those, which were already mentioned above in relation with our Institute. It is always an advantage for a country, when an Institute which is important for the future of the country is strengthened financially and also in their methods of work.

In addition to that, almost all of the projects have direct advantages for Hungary as well. We should like to mention only three examples. The goal of one Copernicus project is to simulate the conurban traffic and the resulting environment pollution. The simulation is based on data obtained from the Budapest authorities, who are very glad to provide the necessary data, but have not enough money to finance such a project. We hope that when the project will be finished, the resulting recommendations will help to improve the very polluted air in our capital.

Another Copernicus project aims to help visually handicapped people to be more comfortable in the information society. The goal is to provide techniques for a so called "digibook", a CD which can be used by these people like a book that can be read by sighted people. At the end of this project the techniques will be available also for the Hungarian blind community.

A COST project deals with transmission protocols, used by data, multimedia transmissions and also by several applications, where standardised communication is needed. This project - as it is a COST project - has no direct results, the main goal is to get specialists together to form a common view of the needed future technology. Our members, who are taking part in this project are also asked by the Hungarian Telecommunication Authority to be consultants in the related technical problems.

4.7. Difficulties and obstacles

Here we do not want to deal much with the introductory difficulties. Our people had to learn how a good proposal has to be written, what points are essential in a proposal, what are the financial aspects of a proposal and a contract. In the previous years people were not accustomed to proposal writing, scientific and technical people were not interested in economic, financial problems. All this had to be learned.

On the other hand for the administrators of the European Community the Hungarian economic and financial system was very strange even after the political and economical changes. The meaning of some words had to be learned by both parties, as an example printing and disseminating the results of a project is a direct cost or an indirect overhead cost?

We think that in the past years both parties have learned a lot, but we are not at the end of this learning period. Even in the latest Inco-Copernicus Information Package it was not quite clear, what types of costs can be asked by the proposal writers. It seemed to us that several parts of the information package were obtained from former brochures, and some parts were modified, but it was very difficult to get a clear picture.

We have experienced also cash-flow problems in the course of research projects. In fact there is an advance payment from the Union, with which the work can start and the necessary equipment can be bought. But later, when this advance payment expires, as the technical and financial investigating procedure is in many cases quite long, the Institute has to pay the bills until the audit is finished.

4.8. Aid from the Hungarian authorities

Thanks to the Hungarian authorities, Hungary was one of the first former Eastern-block countries to obtain agreements with the European Union to take part in the different research and development programs of the Union. We think that is the main reason to the good Hungarian results in taking part in the different programs. There is also an information centre at the State Office for Technical Development (OMFB) for international programs, where we can obtain local information on the topics.

Last year a financial aid program has also started at this State Office. There are several European programs, where the financial contribution of the participants is also quite considerable. Until now it was rather difficult or risky to take part in these programs, because the additional money had to be obtained from some other source. Since last year OMFB has a special grant and loan for the purpose of taking part in self-financing European programs.

5. The future - as we see it

We think that some time at the end of this or the next year the first phase of the common research programs between Hungary and the Union will end. Until now the special Central- Eastern European programs dominated our common research programs. We think that the next step will be to join the main programs of the Fourth Framework Program, like the Esprit and HPCN programs. The main results of the previous programs were that both we and our western partners became acquainted with each other, the working style, the possibilities of the partners, the financial background, and now we have to be able to join the Action one of the Framework program. Though the financial questions are not entirely solved, we hope that the Hungarian authorities will go further and help the research and development community to join these programs. And for us, researchers and development people, to join these - for us new - programs will be a great challenge of the future.


Acknowledgements

We are grateful to our colleagues at the Research Institute for Measurement and Computing Techniques for their help and advice. In particular we would like to thank A. Arató, I. Erényi, A. Jávor, P. Kacsuk and K. Tarnay, who are taking part in European research programs and gave us detailed information on their experiences with these programs, for their help.


APPENDIX 1.

Copernicus, COST and Eureka projects of the Reseach Institute for Measurement and Computing Techniques

COPERNICUS Projects

Title
Duration
Partners
A CAD System for Automatic Design of
FPGA-Based Communication Processors
1995 - 1998 Univ. of Passau, Germany, Technical Univ. Prague,

Asicentrum, Prague, Technical Univ. Budapest

Digitized Speech Processing for Efficient Distribution of Texts 1994 - 1997 Katholieke Univ. Leuven, Belgium

Consiglio Naz. delle Ricerche Firenze, Italy

Univ. Vilnius

IPTK Logos

Learning and Educational Accesses using Remote Networks - Enabling the Disabled
1995 - 1997 University of Dundee, U.K.

Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Slovak Telecommunications, Bratislava, Slovak Republic

Software Engineering for Parallel Processing 1994 - 1997 Univ. of Westminster, United Kingdom,

Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovak Republic

Univ. Nova de Lisboa, Portugal

Univ. Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain

Technical Univ. of Gdansk, Poland

IMAG-LGI, Germany

Parsytec, Germany

High Performance Computing Tools for Industry 1994 - 1997 See above
Parallel Petri-Net Simulation for Traffic Control in Conurbations 1995 - 1997 Gesellschaft für Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung GmbH, Germany

Technical University of Gdansk, Poland

INFOINDEX, Poland

COST projects

Title
Duration
Partners
Verification and Validation Methods for Formal
Description Used in Software Engineering
1993 - 1995 Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, France, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Slovene, United Kingdom, Turkey
Future Teleeinformatics comunications and Tel
Facilities for Disabled and Elderly People
1994 - 1995 BME

EUREKA project

Title
Duration
Partners
Quality Assurance in Assembly of Components with High Demands on Safety Standards
1994 - 1995 Böhme u. Weihs Systemtechnik GmbH, Germany

Compar AG, Switzerland

FER-MONT GmbH, Germany

GESTRA AG, Germany

Kalte-Klima-Armaturen GmbH, Germany

Kraftwerks- unk Anlagenbau AG, Germany

MEL Anlagenautomatisierung GmbH, Germany


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