|Abstract: The BENEFIT concerted action has been launched by EC in 1995 with the mission to stimulate pan-European co-operation in the areas of microelectronics and signal processing. The paper briefly summarises some of the results of BENEFIT which ended in December 1997. Workshops, summer schools, and special events organised by the project are listed and their objectives and results shortly characterised. The role of BENEFIT Special Days as a forum for discussion, reflection, and inspiration of the pan-European collaboration is explained in more detail.
Further on, the paper focuses on the new Internet-based technologies supporting collaboration over wide distances, and points to their innovative and fundamental role in development of pan-European academic and industrial collaboration. The main characteristics of WWW-based technologies for collaborative engineering are identified and discussed, and a need for an awareness action promoting these new technologies is finally underlined.
1 BENEFIT mission
BENEFIT - Concerted Action of the COPERNICUS programme has commenced
in 1995 with the mission to:
|promote and stimulate European collaboration among research groups from Central and East European (CEE) countries and those from the European Union in the fields of microelectronics and signal processing. |
During the last three years BENEFIT was providing with its numerous
scientific and technical events, like: workshops, schools, and
special days, enabling conditions for building pan-European links
and projects. One of the distinguishing features of BENEFIT was
that in addition to its scientific events, it was bringing the
"methodology for collaboration" with the series of unique
events, called BENEFIT Special Days.
2 Three years of BENEFIT
The BENEFIT Special Day on pan-European collaboration in Budapest and the panel discussion on "Collaborative Engineering based on Web" hold at the EMMSEC'97 Conference in Florence are the last events in the series of BENEFIT actions which were commenced in 1995 with the Workshop and Special Day in the Smolenice castle in Slovakia. All together, in the years 1995-1997 BENEFIT has organised two workshops with accompanying Special Days, four summer schools, three Information Industrial Days, three BENEFIT contact points, and two panel discussions. In addition, a number of events [4-7] were sponsored by BENEFIT and run with an active participation of BENEFIT partners. Programmes of all these events with an accompanying material are available on the BENEFIT WWW server .
Information dissemination activities of the project, and especially
the BENEFIT IDN - Information Distribution Network, as well as
"Who is Who" data base, which constitute an important
and useful part of the project mission and activities could be
accessed at easiest through WWW .
2.1 BENEFIT Workshops
Two BENEFIT workshops addressed advanced topics in:
- Design Methodologies in Microelectronics : Electronic Systems Modelling; Architectures for High Performance Signal Processing; Field Programmable Logic; Neural Networks; Artificial Intelligence Techniques; Hardware/Software Co-Design; Design for Testability; Mixed D/A Design; Performance Driven Synthesis; Applications: DSP, Telecommunications, Biomedicine and Biocybernetics, and
- Design Methodologies in Signal Processing :
Multi-Scale Signal Processing; Wavelets and Filter Banks; Nonlinear
Systems for Signals; Morphological Signal Processing; Chaos and
Fractal-Based Methods; Microelectronics Implementation Issues;
Applications in all areas: Neural Networks, Biomedicine, Speech
A few additional workshops closely related to BENEFIT objectives were sponsored by the project. Those were the workshops on:
2.2 BENEFIT summer schools
Three summer schools organised by the Silesian Technical University were devoted to various technologies and mathematical models as applied to signal processing, namely:
The fourth school was dedicated to standards in electronic
design automation. Standards play an important role as means to
transfer new technologies to manufacturing. They promote re-use
of designs of existing electronic systems and components. Thus,
they enable increase in productivity. Standards are also a universal
platform facilitating collaboration among industrial partners,
and between research groups and industry. Here, the mission of
the BENEFIT project met the objectives of ECSI - European CAD Standardisation Initiative
and resulted in the Summer School which presented the state-of-the-art
standards in Electronic Design Automation (EDA). The school was
organised in Prague in July, 1996 .
2.3 BENEFIT Special Days
BENEFIT Special Days on pan-European Co-operation and Technology
Transfer were established in order to: present to its Central
end East European participants: a concise introduction into the
research and technology development programmes of the European
Union: their underlying principles, objectives and contents, as
well as their operational characteristics. In addition, they became
a forum where many difficult problems related to building pan-European
projects in science, technology, and education were presented
and discussed. Originated as the accompanying event to the Workshop
held in Cracow, Poland, in Oct. 1993, Special Days (SDs) were
organised by the BENEFIT project in the following places: Smolenice (Slovakia) and Vienna,
in Sept. 1995, Zakopane (Poland),
in Sept. 1996, and in Budapest
in October 1997. Before BENEFIT was inaugurated by the European
Commission in April 1994, seminars similar in goals and scope
were also organised in Moscow,
in June 1994, and in Gliwice (Poland)
in October 1993.
The information distribution role of the Special Day, although very important was systematically extended in order to tackle with the whole conglomerate of problems related to the East-West collaboration. In addition to the European Union perspective, the research and development policy of the government of the country hosting the SD was expected to be presented, followed by the policy of research and technical associations.
The specificity of multinational collaborative research done in the programmes of EU, required the special emphasis on methodological and technical issues related to the project consortia build-up, and project management. Especially during the first Seminars on Pan-European co-operation these aspects were exposed. These presentations were done by experienced project co-ordinators.
Second very natural extension was, to open the Day to the reports monitoring the actual experiences in the first running collaborative projects. This monitoring aspect, and the identification of obstacles in building the pan-European consortia were also intended as an feedback to the European Commission. Further, the Special Days were an ideal forum for sharing the experience on collaborative undertakings among the CEEC partners.
In fact, from the very beginning it became evident that the main challenge faced by the newly built consortia would be to involve the industrial partners in order to guarantee the beneficial for both sides transfer the research results from academia to industry. This challenge has motivated BENEFIT to discuss models of technology transfer, and to stimulate such transfer by organisation of the specialised event  devoted solely to this mission. In Zakopane , we intended to make one step further and to investigate a particular models of technology transfer, namely the technopark structure.
Finally, we have intended to discuss the positive
role the INTERNET and its specialised tools and services can play
for the collaborative undertakings in general, and for the pan-European
projects due to the geographical distribution of their partners
3 From collaboration methodology to the technology of collaboration
The last three years constitute a remarkable period in the history
of the European integration. They are marked among others by the
rising awareness about the whole European potential in research,
and technology, on one side, and by the first elements of the
Information Society being implemented in Europe on the other one
. Three years ago, as already indicated,
one of the first postulates was the access to information e.g.,
about the European programmes. Recently, an efficient access to
information became obvious almost to everybody. Internet with
its World Wide Web (WWW) interface offer a perfect access to all
sorts of databases, electronic boards and journals.
In fact the new information and telecommunication technologies
offer much more than just an access to information. When widely
adopted they will change conditions of life and work. The technical
possibilities for collaboration over wide distances are especially
appealing in the context of pan-European co-operation.
Simplifying, one may view the BENEFIT Days as events which brought
the methodology for collaboration. The paper advocates for the
need in continuation of BENEFIT line of actions in the form of
the special awareness and demonstrator project devoted to the
promotion of the new Internet-based technologies for collaboration.
4 Internet and WWW as enabling technologies for collaboration
4.1 New paradigm of network-aware engineering
Collaboration is one of the central requirements for engineering
today. The shifting from the traditional manufacturing paradigm
to a new, virtual and agile model is generally observed. Whereas
the traditional model is characterised by the very limited information
sharing, static organisational structure, and almost no co-operation
among the competitors, the virtual and agile model exhibits information
sharing, collaboration, and dynamic organisation.
Collaborative engineering is an innovative method for product
development which integrates widely distributed engineers for
virtual collaboration. The reasons for widely geographically dispersed
teams are various, like: locality of certain resources and competences,
and perhaps different production costs.
4.2 Internet and WWW as enabling technologies
A rapid development of Internet-based technologies with steadily
increasing easiness in accessing any kind of information through
World Wide Web profoundly changes engineering practice. Already,
much of collaborative work is based on Internet. This includes
global collaboration, as well as enterprise-wide collaboration
based on Intranets. New models of work are being created with
tele-working and mobile working. The unique synergy of technologies
developed both, for Inter- and Intra-nets is responsible for the
profound change in information infrastructures becoming available
to enterprises .
Group of collaborating individuals working towards a common goal
has a need for communication and for accessing some shared workspace
through a common interface. The Internet with WWW provides an
interface and infrastructure for world-wide access to data. Due
to a low bandwidth of networks being used, communications rest
fairly simple. With the higher network bandwidth, more complex
interactive tasks, in real-time, could be undertaken over the
4.3 WWW in Internet-based collaboration
World Wide Web has been conceived as a means to support collaboration
among researchers, and as such proves to be extremely useful.
In the very beginning, this most often meant asynchronous collaboration
and electronic publishing. Recent developments in WWW browsers
extend however systematically their characteristics. Apart from
providing machine independent front-ends they support also information
sharing. Synchronous collaboration tools, like video conferencing
systems are entering the market.
The Java network interface and execution environment have presented
a new opportunity and paradigm for distributed computing and collaboration.
New projects, like CoopWWW  aim at development
of a shared workspace as a (virtual) place where the co-operation
is centred. This shared information workspace in the case of CoopWWW
contains objects which are primarily electronic documents. The
other project following this philosophy of extending a WWW browser
with the functionality supporting collaboration, is Tango .
Some of the elements of the Web technology
which are of direct consequence for collaborative engineering
are listed below:
-extensions of HTML and the HTTP protocols; content languages;
- navigation, annotation, and visualisation of complex engineering objects;
- new types of "engineering" links;
- intellectual properties protection in the context of W3C PICS;
- indexing and retrieval of complex objects;
- collaboration-oriented developments in WWW browsers;
- engineering databases infrastructure for WWW.
Further, collaboration-oriented, innovative
applications using Web interface, like: audio and video conferencing,
collaborative editing, screen sharing, and shared whiteboard are
of interest for distributed work. All these items are the objects
of intensive research and developments. Once the underlying standards
and based on them tools reach a mature state, the WWW-based technology
for collaboration will profoundly change the engineering practice.
5 Collaborative engineering based on WWW
Engineers are just commencing to leverage the possibilities which
Internet technologies can provide, especially in complex engineering
design, modelling, and verification. New design methodologies
based on re-use , accompanied by appropriate standards, and tools,
have to be developed in order to fully exploit the possibilities
given by: an on-line access to digital engineering libraries,
virtual design environments, and a simplified on-line access to
engineering experts. It is expected that the full deployment of
Internet in engineering will dramatically increase productivity.
New Internet-oriented engineering applications are becoming possible
due to new standards and IT infrastructures.
5.1 New technologies and applications
The envisioned virtual design environments (tools over the Internet)
in which a designer will be able to configure his/her set of tools
suiting at best his/her engineering tasks and distributed over
Internet, will be available to engineers, either through Internet
or on their enterprise Intranets. Work within virtual design environments
will be much easier to be shared since files with engineering
data will be exchanged between tools distributed over the network
in new, neutral, and secure data formats. Highly complex, and
proprietary engineering data needs new solutions supporting re-use,
security, and intelligent search (indexing).
Electronic systems engineering is particularly well suited for
using Internet. The first reason is the multitude of available
tools covering various phases and elements of a design, modelling,
and verification processes. Nor single vendor is in position to
cover the complete workflow. Diversity, of highly specialised
tools seems to be the destiny of this engineering domain. When
accessible over Internet, flexibly configurable into user-specific
virtual design environments, would dramatically increase engineer's
Design of new systems on a chip is particularly well suited for
new collaborative engineering technologies. Designs exceeding
10 mlns of transistors per chip would require hundreds of man-years
effort if designed from scratch. The viable strategies are those
based extensively on re-use. Re-use crossing the enterprise borders
require however, new standards and solutions including those for
intellectual proprieties protection.
5.2 Engineering libraries and services on Web
Digital engineering libraries
Digital engineering libraries are central to collaborative engineering
design. Collaborative engineering effort in an Internet-based
environment is based on reuse and composition (structural design).
In order to enable these strategies, digital engineering libraries
accessible on-line will store and appropriately organise information
about engineering product types, functions, and specifications.
Organisation (classification and systematisation) of engineering
knowledge and expertise is needed.
Visualisation tools integrated with Web browsers helping a designer
to navigate through large information sets are necessary. In addition,
an engineer will require an intelligent support in searching and
browsing libraries in order to find an appropriate product/model
with a required functionality.
The commercial issues related to a particular business model are
of predominant importance for engineering practices which will
Engineering-oriented services on Web
Engineering libraries require intelligent: search over and retrieve,
product request, and directory services in order to support a
designer in finding an appropriate product/model given a required
More complex queries concerning the utility of available components
for a specific design, their functionalities, rest without support.
This is an open area to design wizards, intelligent agents, and
search engines which will have some "knowledge" about
the designer's task and will be able to search the libraries for
appropriate for a designer solution. In very complex cases, the
Internet could help providing perhaps an direct access to an human
Network-based information brokers
Having access to different vendor catalogues, various libraries,
and services available on-line, an engineer will be again exposed
to a multitude of engineering information sources. Searching on-line
through all these sources may be tedious. Here, he will be supported
by a new kind of information brokerage service capable of searching
and retrieving the required data, as envisaged in .
Digital engineering libraries require an intelligent interface
in order to support an engineer in finding elements with required
functionality. Also new tools will be necessary to support a designer
in a redesign process. These, and many other sophisticated tools
may be available on Internet as new services. Main obstacles are:
the size of engineering models, proprietary and security issues.
5.3 Strategic goal - global engineering networks
"Working together through shared knowledge" was one
of the original goals of the WWW according to Tim Berners-Lee,
the WWW inventor. Further on, in his talk on "Collaboration
on the Web" , he stressed the need
for "sharing knowledge - with semantics ". In fact,
before engineering expertise could be accessed over networks a
common understanding of engineering artefacts has to be established.
One may expect that the Internet-based engineering services will
cluster into networks specialised for a particular engineering
domains, like DSP design, mechanical and building, or chemical
engineering. All these engineering networks will provide access
to specialised libraries collecting domain-specific knowledge
Before these global engineering networks are established, research and development into the following directions is required:
In order to assure a coherent rules for building libraries and
services in different engineering domains, standards are necessary.
Here again, we observe a positive result of basing all those so
different engineering domain-specific tools on one Internet and
WWW paradigm. For example, search and directory browsing tools
can use directly results of work of Internet Engineering Task
The breakthrough in information and telecommunication
technologies creates a special situation in Europe where a few
years after the dramatic changes in the political scene, a special
momentum exists for consolidation of pan-European engineering
and research efforts. New techniques and tools based on Internet
and World Wide Web which emerge offer unprecedented possibilities
for realisation of collaboration over wide distances.
The awareness about the potential of the new technologies, the
motivation, and the access to high speed networks aren't equal.
Due to the confluence of factors the penetration of the basic
Internet services (e-mail, WWW) progresses however extremely fast.
The paper advocates for the continuation of BENEFIT Special Days
in the form of an awareness action which would be specifically
devoted to the new technologies of collaboration. Such an awareness
action should perhaps be supported by a demonstrator project,
which will prove the feasibility of engineering based on Internet
and WWW on the pan-European level. This proof-of-concept action
should be strongly based on the TELEMATICS programme results,
and especially on the emerging TEN-34 pan-European high speed
network infrastructure. The supporting climate is there, created
by the Forum EU/CEE on the Information Society .
Special Report Main Page