Multi-Million Euro Research Grants for Planetary Surface Robotics: European Commission Calls for Proposals

Dr. Peter Breger of the European Commission's Space Research and Development Unit speaks at today's event
Early this morning, I headed up to the Bay Area and the campus of Stanford University for a special session put on by the European Commission and the Stanford School of Engineering's">European Entrepreneurship and Innovation program. The topic; a new call for proposals issued by the EC yesterday for space research grants. The particular reason that I was there: one of the seven specific research categories called out in the RFP as being of interest was "mobility on planetary surfaces (robotics)." Sounds like something that might be interesting to our Google Lunar X PRIZE teams, and to other readers of this blog.

First, a word about our own restrictions on government funding. We do indeed place some restrictions on government funding for our Google Lunar X PRIZE teams, in the interest of trying to make sure the technologies and institutions that emerge from the competition are economically sustainable. However, there are three key caveats to that restriction: 1) we draw a clear distinction between government as customer (good) and government as funder (not so good), 2) even in that not so good case, we consider only the government funding that supports their Google Lunar X PRIZE mission itself, not funding that may support, say, scientific research the team might undertake in addition
to tackling the Google Lunar X PRIZE mission requirements themselves, and 3) even when neither of the first two caveats apply, the amount of government funding we allow is still non-zero. We recognize that in the field of space exploration that their is a long and positive history of government funding advancing important developments, and therefore we don't want to totally disqualify teams that go (or have gone, prior to their registration in the Google Lunar X PRIZE) that route: accordingly, we do allow some government funding, but we limit it to a relatively small percentage of the total mission cost.

Given that, we'd expect that our teams might be interseted in pursuing these research grants. Today's session was essentially an introduction to the program, with a specific focus on providing information to US and other non-european entities on how they can participate.

I was tweeting the first part of the session in real time, so I'll post some of my tweets below, and then add extra detail below.

Finally made it to the european commission event--two hours after landing at SFO. Joining the session already in progress

The part of the EC hosting this session today is, in effect, a granting agency roughly analagous to the US's NSF. Offering research grants.

One category of research that will be granted: "mobility on planetary surfaces (robotics)". Non-euro orgs with euro partners can propose.

Not -every- country can participate, but looks like it is pretty close. Not subject to "geographic return"--best proposal wins.

These grants can be used to cover 50, 75, or 100% of actual costs associated w/ research, inc. overhead but not profit.

Call for proposals went out yesterday on "cordis" website. Search for FP7 SPACE. Grants can be for several million euros.

The research programs can last any amount of time. 3 years is typical. Could be a stand alone component of a larger project. #FP7SPACE

These grants seem to be for -large- consortia, eg 5 to 40 different institutions (wow!). I may have misunderstood this... #FP7SPACE

Consortia must have at least 3 European member institutions. #FP7SPACE

EC does not claim intellectual property; consortium members decide IP assignments among themselves. (BTW phone batt already dying) #FP7SPACE

(Photo to be added here once I can access my camera's memory card!)
Artwork on the wall at the part of the Stanford Faculty Club where today's event was held. Seemed appropriate for an event I was live-tweeting

You know you are having an exciting day when you've depleted your cell phone battery by 10:30 am. I'll continue the notes--and add a bit more context to those 140-character morselsof information--here.

Essentially, these grants are large, multi-million euro (as high as 8 million euro), multi year (2-4 years generally) research grants that fund most or all of the actual costs associated with a relevant research project. These grants go to large consortia of research organizations, universities, non-profits, and/or small and medium enterprises built to collaborate on said research topics. Generally, the consortia include at least five or six instutitions; at times, they've included as many as fifteen or twenty (Note: the non-native English speaker said forty, but I'm guessing that was a mistake). Although this is a European program, entities from outside of Europe are welcome to compete (Note: the list of countries from which entities can be eligible is not exactly the full world, but seemed pretty close). However, each consortium must have some European participation; to be exact, each consortium must have at least three European institutions as participants, including one who will serve as the project coordinator.

Artwork on the wall at the part of the Stanford Faculty Club where today's event was held. Seemed appropriate for an event I was live-tweeting. 

One good aspect of the requierment that each consortia's coordinator be European is that, presumably, the coordinator will be familiar with European contractual norms that may be foreign (pun intended) to entities unacustomed to working in that particular framework. Indeed, as part of the program, the participating institions will be required to submit agreements formed between each of the members of the consortium dealing with Intellectual Property rights and other topics, and will also be required to follow certain procedures such as conducting many of their contracting procedures through open, competitive bids (this caveat goes for the whole post, but especially this section: read the exact details! I'm briefly summarizing based on my understanding of today's talks. That's no substitute for you going direct to the source.). This does add a bit of red tape to the research process--but given the scope of the grants, and the fact that the European Commission does not claim the resulting intellectual property, this is probably worth the cost. Additionally, this is a foot in the door for teams that plan to do business in Europe in the future--an important strategic advantage.

I certainly hope that our Google Lunar X PRIZE teams will seriously consider these grants. Those teams that are already built as consortia of institutions and universities, especially those with a presence in Europe already--for example, White Label Space, SYNERGY MOON, ITALIA--should be well positioned to be quite competitive in pursuing these grants. The deadline for submitting these proposals is in November.

More information can be found online at the following links.

Call for Proposals
Registration Page
Participants' Portal
EC's Space Research and Development Unit

Slides from today's presentations will be posted early next week, I'm told.

Professor Ron Li from the Ohio State University presents on the Planetary Robotics VIsion Ground Processing work that he and his colleagues conducted as part of a consortium with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and several European partners. Dr. Li's lab was funded at 75% of its actual costs over a period of roughly three years. Other partners included Surrey, TU Berlin, University College London, EADS, Scisys, DLR, and CNES. The coordinator was Austria's Joaneum Research

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