EC funds France to build Google rival


BRUSSELS -- France has been given the green light by the European Commission for a $152 million government grant for a consortium building a European rival to U.S. internet search giant Google.

The Quaero project is being developed by companies including France Telecom and television manufacturer Thomson. Half bankrolled by the French state, it aims to develop the world's most advanced multimedia search engine, creating a set of tools for translating, identifying and indexing images, sound and text.

Although national aid for research is strictly vetted, the Commission said the grant would benefit the public by creating new technologies and putting more cultural material onto the Internet. "We are confident that the positive contribution the program will make to European research will outweigh any distortion of competition caused by the aid," said EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes.

The project would also help overcome coordination problems traditionally faced by the EU's fragmented research and development activities, which currently lag far behind the U.S. on cutting-edge information technology. It will focus on technologies for the automatic processing of words, language, music, images and video. "Quaero will create new or much higher-performing solutions for carrying out automatic searches and interpreting digital multimedia and multilingual information in various different formats," the Commission said.

Its "query image" search engine aims to use techniques for recognizing, transcribing, indexing, and automatic translation of audiovisual documents and it will operate in several languages.

There is also mention of automatic recognition and indexing of images. Quaero will ultimately enable Thomson to enhance its commercial range of Internet protocol audiovisual content distribution platforms such as IPTV and video-on-demand, and of digital multimedia content management systems. The clients targeted by Thomson will be IP network operators, content distributors and film production studios.

The project was unveiled with great fanfare in 2005 by then French president Jacques Chirac as a Franco-German attempt to come up with a competitor to Google. Germany then split from the project and developed Theseus, involving companies including media giant Bertelsmann, engineering company Siemens, and business software producer SAP.