On the road to digital sovereignty in Europe with Fraunhofer IIS

The development of technologies, services and standards that prioritize European values is very important to us. By doing this, we make Europe more independent from other global players and strengthen European competitiveness. In addition, we ensure the resilience of critical infrastructure and give ourselves the power to act autonomously. Below, the three Institute Directors give their views on questions of digital sovereignty.

Portrait Prof. Dr. Alexander Martin
© Fraunhofer IIS/Paul Pulkert

Where do Europe’s strengths lie when it comes to digitalization?

Alexander Martin: Europe is focused on the innovative, responsible use of data for the general good – this is manifest, for instance, in the European data strategy. At Fraunhofer IIS, we develop digital technologies that are founded upon European values and regulations such as data security, transparency, sustainability and EU legal standards. Such regulations require a lot of time and careful planning at the beginning, but in the long run they increase people’s trust and confidence in digitalization.

Are digitalization and sustainability a dream team?

Alexander Martin: Of course, digitalization leads to an increase in CO2 emissions in the first instance. But digitalization can also help advance sustainability. We design the entire life cycle of our technologies so as to conserve resources and to protect the environment. For example, we develop energy-efficient electronics and computer hardware (green ICT) and carry out research into data-efficient and energy-efficient algorithms for signal processing and AI. We view data as a valuable raw material and ensure that its generation, transmission and storage can be accomplished in an energy-efficient manner (eResourcing).

Consequently, our solutions help put partners and customers in a position to provide information about their current performance indicators – for sustainability reporting, for example – at all times and become more sustainable in an economic, ecological and social sense.

© Fraunhofer IIS/Karoline Glasow

Data sovereignty is also a factor in our development work in the domain of speech technologies. What exactly is Fraunhofer IIS doing here?

Bernhard Grill: We’ve been working on speech technologies for over 20 years now. Starting from the development of the AAC communication codec and the EVS standard, the mandatory speech codec for 5G voice services, we’re currently expanding our activities in the direction of voice signal processing and voice assistance systems. One of the main prongs of our strategy is the SPEAKER project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action as part of its AI Innovation Competition. Under the leadership of Fraunhofer IIS and Fraunhofer IAIS, the consortium partners are developing a German voice assistant platform that guarantees the data sovereignty of users.

What is the goal of this German voice assistant platform?

Bernhard Grill: The goal is to provide infrastructure, technology components and standards for voice-controlled dialog systems for business-to-business (B2B) applications that comply with European data security standards. Whether in the health sector, financial services or industry, such voice assistants hold out a lot of promise for many companies in the future.

Unfortunately, if a company today invests in a standard voice assistant to ease the workload, it often gets a black box where it is completely unclear where the voice recordings are stored, how and where the data is processed and who else might have access to any sensitive information.

Building on SPEAKER, the OpenGPT-X research project is creating a large and thus high-performance AI voice model for Europe. The OpenGPT-X partners are developing intelligent voice applications that will be made available to companies across Europe via the decentralized GAIA-X cloud solution. Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, the project is headed up by Fraunhofer IAIS and Fraunhofer IIS as the lead partners. Additional voice processing components are being developed at the Center for Digital Signal Processing using Artificial Intelligence (DSAI), which is funded by the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy.

© Fraunhofer IIS/Karoline Glasow

And last but not least, it is important to make progress in the area of technological sovereignty in general, and specifically in the domain of microelectronics. What contributions are Fraunhofer IIS and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft making here?

Albert Heuberger: In microelectronics, the chief strengths of Germany and Europe are in the areas of chip design, photonics, packaging and power electronics. Fraunhofer IIS and the Research Fab Microelectronics Germany (FMD) make important contributions here in research and design as well as by supporting partners with small-volume production and the development of electronic systems. At the EU and national level, we want to help get back more sovereignty in the long term with new programs for research and infrastructure for microelectronics.

In concrete terms, how can we make it easier for industry to access microelectronics technologies?

Albert Heuberger: We provide our clients with support in the development of integrated circuits all the way through to complete electronic systems, and we supply them with chip prototypes and small batches through our virtual foundry. Our high-performance infrastructure can be used for testing and trialing. And at our High-Performance Center Electronic Systems, we make technologies directly available to our customers.

What strengths can Fraunhofer contribute here?

Albert Heuberger: The dependability of microelectronics is becoming increasingly important, since we as a society are relying on electronic systems to an ever greater extent. With different microelectronic components being manufactured in highly specialized facilities internationally, it is harder for industry to access trusted electronics. However, this access will play an important role for innovative product developments and their marketing in the future. We’re pooling the strengths of Fraunhofer in this field in the Bavarian center for trusted electronics, “Trusted Electronic Bayern” (TrEB).

What role do talented young people and training play in this context?

Albert Heuberger: Sovereignty also means the skills to master major parts of a complex technology and making these capabilities available to our clients. To do this, we need the brightest minds. For the development of semiconductor chips, for example, we are training specialists in applied chip design. They’re working at Fraunhofer IIS under very good conditions on basic technologies for digitalization such as artificial intelligence and wireless communication.

Albert Heuberger

Contact Press / Media

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Albert Heuberger

Executive Director

Fraunhofer IIS
Am Wolfsmantel 33
91058 Erlangen, Germany

Phone +49 9131 776-1000

Fax +49 9131 776-1099

Bernhard Grill

Contact Press / Media

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernhard Grill


Fraunhofer IIS
Am Wolfsmantel 33
91058 Erlangen, Germany

Phone +49 9131 776-6000

Fax +49 9131 776-6099

Alexander Martin

Contact Press / Media

Prof. Dr. Alexander Martin

Fraunhofer IIS director

Center for Applied Research on Supply Chain Services at Fraunhofer IIS
Nordostpark 84
90411 Nuremberg

Phone +49 911 58061-5000

Fax +49 911 58061-6398