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The Warsaw Voice » Society » June 3, 2014
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Virtual Reality: An Opportunity for Poland
June 3, 2014   
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Prof. Krzysztof Kurzydłowski, director of the National Center for Research and Development, a Warsaw-based government agency tasked with subsidizing scientific research in Poland, talks to Andrzej Jonas and Danuta Górecka.

The National Center for Research and Development has several years of experience in bringing science and business together in a way that’s effective. Will 2014 see some changes in the way you operate, or will you continue to press ahead with what you have been doing so far?
The NCBiR’s work involves long-term projects and programs. At the same time, we are introducing changes where these are necessary and responding to the needs of the world around us. These changes are primarily aimed at increasing the involvement of businesses in all the projects we finance. This also applies to those projects in which businesses did not take part earlier—only universities were involved in these. Therefore, even in the case of projects focused on the initial stages of creating knowledge that is ultimately destined for the market, we have introduced specific incentives to encourage cooperation between universities and businesses. We are working to ensure that a business takes part in a project from the very beginning and that it is the party managing the project.

What percentage of projects financed by your center has been put into commercial practice?
It is still too early for a clear answer. The NCBiR has only been in operation since mid-2007, and R&D projects take a long time to complete—from three to six years. For most of these projects, we assumed a five-year monitoring period after they are completed. Currently we are trying to support projects that are closer to market launch. We assume that within two years these will be completed so they can reach the consumer. That is why we keep the doors wide open for businesses ready for substantial participation in a project. It is their participation that is a guarantee that the project will benefit the market in the near future.

Does the NCBiR use only Polish funds, or does it also use funds from EU coffers?
Our budget is based mainly on European funds. Poland’s contribution has remained more or less constant over the last three years—at zl.700 million annually. We have had EU money at our disposal since the second half of 2011. Support from these funds is growing steadily. In 2014, the NCBiR’s total budget should be around zl.5.5 billion. Under the [EU’s] ending Financial Perspective we had funds from three Operational Programmes—Innovative Economy; Human Resources; and Infrastructure and Environment.

How do you keep tabs on how the allocated funds are spent?
In most cases, in the current system of subsidies in Poland, monitoring focuses on formal compliance, for example on whether the public procurement law was respected. At the NCBiR we try to have a more business-oriented approach and change the proportions, for example to add to that solid professional supervision, based on expert opinion when it comes to reports submitted by the contractor.

Internationally, many orders for research come from the defense and national security sector. Is the NCBiR part of such projects as well?
The key issue is to identify and develop procedures that will make it possible to efficiently finance projects for the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. As shown by the examples of other countries, programs for the modernization of armed forces can be an excellent driver of growth for the science sector and the economy as a whole. But such programs are long term in nature and require level-headed debate on what we really have and on what terms we should create new technologies or develop them together with some partner.

What other areas of the economy and major government projects will the NCBiR be focusing on?
Strategic industries such as food, health and energy. Currently we are launching a large strategic program for food, forestry and sustainable agriculture, with environmental aspects. Polish health food is an important industry in which we can be successful internationally.

What about issues related to energy, environmental protection, and coal gasification?
These topics are being tackled in programs that will soon be coming to an end. We will see what has been achieved in this area. We will evaluate that when the results of the research are on the table.

Are there any initiatives from Polish scientists when it comes to shale gas? Many say that existing shale gas extraction technology is tailored to U.S. conditions.

There are already more than a dozen promising projects in which contracts have been signed. Further ones are being evaluated. They include ideas for original solutions. The most important thing, however, is the capability of experimental confirmation. Therefore, without the participation of industry, without access to real wells, none of these projects has a chance of success.

As someone with experience in three areas—science, industry and government administration—do you think Poland has reached the stage where it can be a major global player in any field?
Yes. I am more and more convinced that we can be a global player in projects related to the growing use of virtual reality technology. Of course, a virtual meal will not be a substitute for real food eaten in a pleasant atmosphere, but today the preparation of a dish can be preceded by the generation of a 3D image, which will make it possible to predict what the dish will look like when the cook takes it out of the pot. This applies to all fields—from the tools that allow a surgeon to prepare for a difficult operation, to those used by an engineer, who can enter inside his design and see how it looks from the inside, to those used by a general, who can brainstorm, together with commanding officers, the scenarios that can be adopted on the battlefield.

Anyone analyzing Poland’s prospects and chances for a national specialization must come to the conclusion that virtual reality technology is an area with a future. I think that in the coming Financial Perspective [under the EU’s next budget] the NCBiR will launch a program to support virtual reality technology.
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