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EU launches 4 testbeds to put AI tech through its paces before it goes to market

The labs will look at AI and robotics for manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, and cities

European officials – who reached political agreement on the EU's new Data Act last night – have launched four labs to test AI applications before they're released to the general public.

Under the European Commission's Digital Europe Programme, the testing and experimental facilities (or TEFs for short) will investigate the risks and impacts of new AI technologies before they hit the market.

Machine learning algorithms, robots, or self-driving cars can thus be tested in simulation and in the physical world by researchers focused on four different areas: manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and food, as well as cities and communities.

"Providers of AI-driven solutions get the opportunity to test their products in real environments to assess if they meet the customer needs," Valentina Ivanova, project coordinator of AI-Matters, the manufacturing TEF, said in a statement. "By offering access to testing and experimentation infrastructure across Europe, we aim to accelerate the uptake of these solutions in the market."

The European Commission pledged €220 million ($241 million) to fund the TEFs for five years. Member states approved the idea to support developers as new rules and regulations come into effect. Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed the AI Act regulating applications depending on their risk level. The most harmful products or services carrying unacceptable risks are banned and cannot be deployed within the EU.

TEFs support the new legislation, which called for regulatory sandboxes. Through rigorous testing, developers can ensure their technology is trustworthy and complies with laws so it can be deployed and made commercially available. Lawmakers are also interested in the results as they shape future AI policies.

The AI-Matters TEF is looking at how machine learning software and robotics can make the manufacturing industry more efficient. TEF-Health is interested in developing healthcare products that comply with the EU's laws on storing and using patient data. Meanwhile, the agrifoodTEF is focused on improving food production with robotic tractors and more. Finally, the TEF is looking at how AI can improve power and mobility in cities with self-driving cars or installing better telecommunications software.

The four testing facilities are expected to be open by January 2024, whilst some projects will start as early as next month. ®

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