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From Rubik to research, Hungary's colourful innovations
31 August 2012
European Commission, CORDIS
Challenging, colourful, multifaceted and at times surprising, the Rubik's Cube is probably one of the most famous inventions to emerge from Hungary. But while Erno Rubik, a sculptor and professor of architecture, can take credit for designing the world's best-selling puzzle, other Hungarians have been making equally colourful and surprising contributions to the world of science and technology.
From the first modern diesel engine and supersonic flight to ballpoint pens, LCD and plasma televisions and holography, the past century has been one of outstanding creativity and innovation in Hungary - a period in which 12 Hungarians received the Nobel Prize, mostly for their contributions to the sciences.
Today, Hungarian researchers are following in their footsteps. Building on Nobel Laureate Dennis Gabor's invention of holography, for example, a team at Holografika, a Hungarian company specialised in 3D displays, is working on ground-breaking technology for not just 3D content, but 3D holoscopic content. Supported by the EU and the BBC and coordinated by Brunel University in the United Kingdom, the 3D Vivant (1) project aims to generate and deliver beyond-state-of-the-art content that is a cross between 3D video and a hologram: the image literally jumps out of the screen at the viewer, regardless of viewing angle and without the need to wear special glasses.
To generate the unique content, the team is developing the world's first ultra-high definition 3D holoscopic imaging camera to enable 3D content to be captured live, while for the display, based on a HoloviZio screen made by Holografika, the researchers are taking advantage of advances in holography to provide immersive, ultra-high resolution presentations of 3D content. To further enhance the experience, they are also developing technology to improve the generation and playback of 3D spatial sound.
'Content creators always look for new forms and ways for improving their con¬tent and adding new sensations to the viewer experience,' the project team explains. 'High definition video has been the latest innovation in the area of content enrichment. 3D is the next single-greatest innovation in film-making. 3D Vivant is to advance the current existing technologies for capture and ma¬nipulation of 3D content and to provide a new 3D content format.'
Beyond entertainment, 3D and holographic imaging has a range of other uses. Holografika, for example, is also contributing its technology and expertise to the Safros (2) project. The initiative, which involves partners in six EU countries, aims to greatly improve patient safety during robotic surgery, in part through improving 3D simulation technology, enhancing tactile feedback and providing surgeons with advanced interfaces.
Robotics is the focus of diverse research projects involving Hungarian partners, with a wide variety of applications.
In the Have-it (3) project, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics contributed to the development of an innovative and scalable architecture to enable advanced driver assistance systems to be implemented in vehicles, with a view to developing highly automated vehicles that promise to make driving much safer. The project, which is likely to lead to commercial applications within five years, specifically addresses the reluctance of many drivers to entrust their vehicles and their lives to automated robotic systems.
'Many drivers dislike the idea of automation; they fear they will no longer be in charge of the vehicle. What we are proposing gives them a choice,' explains Reiner Hoeger, the project's German coordinator.
Using existing sensor and actuator technology combined with on-board computers and new algorithms, the Have-it system implements a high degree of automation during extreme driving situations in which drivers are often most at risk of having an accident, negotiating roadworks, for example, or while stuck in stop-and-go traffic, while always keeping the driver in the loop.
Meanwhile, researchers at Eötvös Loránd University are addressing a key question as robotics and robotic systems become an increasingly common feature of our daily lives: How do we create technology that supports long-term relationships between humans and synthetic companions?
In an effort to answer that question, the Hungarian researchers and partners from across Europe set up the Lirec (4) project in which they are developing methods to enable robotic and virtual companions to perceive, remember and react to human users, with the aim of enabling a new generation of socially aware companions. They are implementing the technology in several robotic and virtual systems and carrying out far-reaching studies on how humans react in different social settings.
Among other approaches, Adam Miklosi of Eötvös Lóránd University is looking at how dogs and humans interact. By studying dog behaviour, Dr. Miklosi is working on models that can be transferred to robotic systems, replicating the sort of relationship that develops between humans and their canine companions, and even giving robots individual personalities.
Sensor technology, which has uses in robotic systems but also a wide range of other applications, also features prominently in Hungarian research and innovation.
In the Scandle (5) project, for example, researchers from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences are working with German, Cypriot, Swiss and British teams to develop a system that will be able to identify and distinguish living beings from inanimate objects, on the basis of sound alone. Described as a cognitive acoustic scene analysis system, it combines knowledge from physics, acoustics, human auditory neuroscience and psychophysics with engineering and computer science.
'In coming years this technology will open up the possibility of many innovative and valuable applications, moving us into the realm of truly neuromorphic cognitive machines. For example, the system could be used to intelligently monitor home environments to facilitate independent living for the elderly or to optimise energy usage; using only sound information, issues of the invasion of privacy are reduced. Interactive gaming systems possessing better representations of peoples' behaviour, remote monitoring and identification of animals and fish based on their movements, and detecting life where visual contact is obscured are just some of the exciting applications that will become possible using Scandle technology,' the project team notes.
The academy is also involved in another sensor technology research project focused on developing highly sensitive, low-cost and portable photonic biosensors for detecting chemicals and biological substances. The primary aim of the P3SENS (6) initiative is to develop and demonstrate a low-cost emergency medicine diagnostic device for detecting strokes, although the system, which incorporates highly sensitive photonic crystals and a panel of clinically proven bio-recognition elements, could potentially be used to test for a range of other diseases or for food or pollution control.
Meanwhile, another body of the Hungarian Academy of Science, the Computer and Automation Research Institute, is working in the increasingly complex and competitive field of logistics, particularly on how to manage and take advantage of the mountains of data being generated by logistics companies as they move goods around the world. The institute is coordinating the Advance (7) project, in which teams of researchers from across Europe are using powerful data analysis, data mining and machine learning technology as the basis for an innovative predictive-analysis-based decision-support platform for logistics operators.
The system has the capacity to analyse massive data sets for long-term planning and rapidly process huge amounts of new data in real time, enabling companies to better organise their fleets, deliver goods more quickly, save money and reduce energy consumption.
Another project involving Hungarian researchers - which promises to have a big impact on energy consumption, energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions - is Earth (8). Coordinated by Alcatel-Lucent in Germany and involving the Budapest University of Technology and Economics as well as Ericsson's Hungarian unit, the project aims to greatly improve the energy efficiency of mobile broadband networks. By changing deployment strategies for 3G and 4G mobile base stations, developing energy efficient network architectures and implementing adaptive network resource protocols, the researchers hope to reduce network energy consumption by as much as 50 %.
Earth, which won the 2012 'Future Internet Award', is expected to lead to commercial products within the next two years.