One of the tasks of the EU-Japan.AI (EUJ.AI) project is to mobilise stakeholders and target groups to identify current public perceptions, experiences, challenges, and requirements on AI and manufacturing. In the first half of 2021, EUJ.AI identified different groups of stakeholders in the EU and Japan while emphasising the importance of research funders in the AI ecosystem. Research funders play a significant role in promoting innovation and technology. Therefore, encouraging cross-border cooperation among research funders would expand research frontiers and allow researchers from different nations to work together towards the advancement of AI technology.
To allow European and Japanese research funding bodies (and some related agencies) to explain their existing funding (basic agencies) and current priorities (applied agencies) in the area of AI for Manufacturing to each other in order to identify common areas for potential collaboration.
To allow research funders to explain their mechanisms for funding collaborative research on the large scale (joint calls) and the small scale (encouraging individual researchers to make connections with each other).
Professor Takehito Higuchi, JST, Japan
Ms Beatrice Lawal, FWF, Austria
Ms Mojca Boc, ARRS, Slovenia
Professor Kikuo Kishimoto and Mr Tatsuya Tada, NEDO, Japan
Mr Chris Decubber, EFFRA, the EU
Mr Nikolaus Resch, FFG, Austria
Date and time: 21 April 2022, 9:00 Paris, Vienna, Ljubljana (16:00 Osaka, Sapporo, Tokyo)
This brief guide covers the targets of funding and innovation agencies in Japan, the EU, a number of EU member states, plus the UK, in terms of their remits to support AI for manufacturing (AI4M) and in some cases some details of previous or ongoing joint collaborations between European and Japanese agencies in relevant areas.
Japan has three main funding agencies which cover different aspects of the R&I stream from basic research on AI (some of which will be relevant for manufacturing), applied research on AI (with a focus on manufacturing) and innovation funding (to develop deployable AI for manufacturing systems and/or support deployment by end users). Japanese government ministries and prefectural/city innovation agencies also provide some support for the innovation deployment side.
JSPS (Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science)
This is Japan’s basic science research agency and as such it mostly funds individual projects proposed by researchers to develop basic AI capabilities and some low-TRL application research. It sometimes has specifically targeted calls for areas of research but has not had any relevant ones on AI4M recently. JSPS also has some targeted international collaboration mechanisms to support researchers visiting Japanese institutions for visits from a few months to two years at levels from post-docs to world leaders and for organising international seminars held in Japan. JSPS also engages in bi-lateral research calls with overseas agencies covering specific topics of joint interest. Researchers must be based at a suitable Japanese institution to receive JSPS funding (or have such a researcher as their host for funded visits). International collaborators on JSPS-funded projects may have some expenses covered by the JSPS project for research visits to the Japanese collaborators or to present joint work at international events but otherwise international researchers cannot receive direct funding from JSPS.
JST (Japan Science and Technology Agency)
This is Japan’s applied research agency mostly funding mid-to-high TRL appplications. It primarily offers funds through targetted calls, including via setting up mini-funding agencies for government priority areas. Although it administers many of the “Moonshot” (long term applications) programs set out by the Japanese government, including one on Co-evolution of AI and Robots, it has made only limited calls specifically in the areas of AI4M recently. JST has a branch office in Paris which coordinates JST’s international collaborations around Europe, including the EU level and EUMS.
JST also supports a number of Japanese research organisations directly, such as RIKEN, specifically the RIKEN Centre for Advanced Intelligence Project, and AIST, specifically the Artificial Intelligence Research Centre.
JST’s international funding of research and innovation activity is primarily carried out through bi-lateral funding calls negotiated with partner agencies. Outside these, funding is, as with JSPS, limited to Japan-based researchers with similar limitations on funding of overseas researchers.
NEDO (New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation)
This is Japan’s innovation funding agency, providing support for high-TRL innovation development and some deployment activity. It collaborates with JST on the Moonshot programs as well as the Strategic Innovation Programs which supports, among other things, the development of cyber-physical systems for industrial applications. NEDO funds almost entirely via targetted calls. Recent calls in the area of AI4M have been quite limited. NEDO collaborates with similar agencies in other countries on common areas of innovation interest. Funding on NEDO projects is generally restricted to Japan-based researchers.
Horizon Europe is the EU’s ninth major research and innovation framework and the largest single research funding bloc in the world. Japan has been gradually developing ties with the EU on these programs and in both FP7 and Horizon 2020 there were a number of joint calls specifically aimed at funding joint European-Japan research and innovation projects. The proposals were jointly evaluated and funding was provided directly in Japan for Japanese partners and via the usual EU processes for others.
In addition, some Horizon 2020 calls specifically encouraged cooperation with Japan-based researchers. In some cases this included the possibility of direct EU funding for Japan-based partners (either Japan only or in some cases other non-Horizon 2020 partner countries as well). In other cases the Japanese collaborators, although members of the project consortium did not receive funding for their activity during the project.
Such joint calls have continued at the start of Horizon Europe but may go further. In May 2022, The EU and Japan announced discussions of the possibility of full partnership in Horizon Europe for Japan. If these talks succeed, Japanese research, innovation and commercial organisations will be eligible for full funded membership in Horizon Europe calls, including the possibility of receiving funding under Horizon Europe projects which provide sub-grants (an example of this approach for the Horizon 2020 program can be seen in the AI REGIO project). Other countries such as New Zealand, Canada and South Korea are also in similar talks.
ERC (European Research Council)
The European Research Council focusses on basic and applied research and primarily funds individual researchers through fellowships (the more senior versions of which also include funding for junior associate researchers and research studentships). Researchers from anywhere are permitted to apply for such ERC fellowships although if awarded the recipient must take up the fellowship while based at an eligible European institution. The EU Delegation to Japan provides information and support to Japanese researchers wishing to apply to the ERC.
EU Member States
The EU is of course 27 member nations with a further four heavily connected through EFTA. This guide covers the research landscape in the four largest economies in the EU (Germany, France, Italy, Spain) and the largest other partner country from the EU-Japan.AI project (Austria).
Germany is a federal country and while its federal government is the core provider of research and innovation funding, the individual states also have some programs, but these are typically limited in their international impact. Federal research and innovation are funded through a single agency, the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft/German Research Foundation). In addition, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) also supports internationalisation of Germany higher education (including research) through schemes to attract international scholars to work in Germany. The DFG maintains an office in Japan and collaborates with JSPS and JST on areas of joint interest with bi-lateral calls (including in AI, but so far not including AI4M specifically). There has been a recent trend towards tri-lateral cooperation with the French ANR in addition, such as the 2019 “Trilateral call for proposals France – Germany – Japan on artificial intelligence (AI)”.
The DFG has substantial funding aimed at AI for Manufacturing. The lack of joint or tri-lateral calls in this area probably reflect the Japanese limited focus rather than any lack of interest from the DFG.
In addition the federal government and states fund the applied research and innovation labs of the Fraunhofer Society, which runs 76 institutions around Germany conducting applied research and innovation activities including innovation consulting with industry. Although it also runs a small number of institutes in other countries (the US, Singapore and the UK) the Fraunhofer Institute is primarily focussed on activity within Germany. Commercial organisations in other countries are free to engage one of the Fraunhofer Institutes to undertake research or innovation investigations for them, but their main international collaborations come through engagement as research partners in schemes funded by the DFG or the EU (they are heavily involved in EU Framework research consortia, for example). The Fraunhofer Society has an institute dedicated to “Manufacturing, Engineering and Automation” which has a significant focus on AI4M.
France’s research and innovation funding is also focussed through a single agency, the ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche). France and Japan have a long history of joint research in the ICT area and this has continued with AI research in collaboration with both JST and JSPS. As noted above in the Germany section, there has been a recent trend for ANR to work with the DFG alongside the relevant Japanese agencies (JSPS and JST particularly) to fund tri-lateral projects. Both JST and JSPS sometimes issue joint calls with ANR. ANR does not have a particular focus on AI4M, although AI more broadly is one of its current high target areas.
In addition to the ANR, France maintains a network of national laboratories similar in some ways to the Fraunhofer Institutes, but with more of a balance between applied research and innovation activity. The lab with the primary AI focus is INRIA. They have a research strand rlated to the impact of AI on work, but no specific focus on AI4M.
Italy’s research and innovation funding is mostly directly controlled by government ministries, particularly the MUR (Ministry of University and Research). A 2019 proposal to create a national research agency (ANR) has not been followed through (it would only have controlled a modest proportion of research funding anyway). There are few regular international collaborative research and innovation programs between Italy and Japan. There is no particular focus on AI4M by MUR.
The primary research and innovation funding agency in Spain is the CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas/Spanish National Research Council). As with most other research funding agencies at present, there is significant interest in various development and application areas for Artificial Intelligence, but there has been no specific focus on AI4M.
Austria has two agencies funding research and innovation activities. The FWF (Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung/Austrian Science Fund) focusses on basic and low TRL applied research. As a basic research agency, the FWF focuses more on bottom-up funding via researcher-proposals, but guides those proposals through somewhat through expressions of priority areas. The FFG (Österreichische Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft/Austrian Research Promotion Agency) focusses on high-TRL applied research and innovation. As an applied/innovation funding agency, the FFG focusses more on strategic calls than on research-initiated proposals.
Both agencies have contacts with their Japanese counterparts (primarily JSPS for the FWF and JST for the FFG) and have funded joint activities. As a medium-sized economy, Austria’s total research funding is much more limited than the other countries surveyed here, but AI4M is of particular interest to the FFG in innovation funding as part of its recent heavy focus on digitalisation (almost 60% of 2021 funding was focussed on digitalisation-related projects) The FFG is very unusual in that it allows for the direct funding of international collaborators in research projects (up to 20% of the total).
The United Kingdom
As noted above, despite its withdrawal from the EU, the UK nominally remains a partner in the Horizon Europe program. It also has long-standing research and innovation ties with Japan and so is covered here.
The UK was one of the pioneers of independent research funding agencies. The current form has a central agency UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) nominally bringing together seven councils with different research foci, a research council dedicated to the research environment in universities, and the Innovate UK innovation agency. Innovate UK focusses purely on the innovation and deployment area, with the research councils covering research from basic through applied and into the innovation phase. The AI field and AI4M comes under the Engineering and Physical Sciences primarily. From 2005 to 2020 the EPSRC had a “Manufacturing the Future” theme under which AI4M was latterly a major theme. This was recently replaced by a focus on the circular economy, which still includes AI4M as a significant driver of developments in this area. The manufacturing research and innovation activity of EPSRC is often conducted as a joint activity with Innovate UK to provide a research-innovate-deployment throughput.
All UK research councils maintain strong links with relevant Japanese agencies, particularly JSPS and JST, and have issued joint calls such as the UKRI/JST Joint call on Artificial Intelligence and Society in 2020, although no specific AI4M joint calls have been issued recently.