In between the inspiring talks, there was time to discover the large demo floor. From biometric scanners, sleep monitoring, thin film technology, to collaborative robots. The demo topics could hardly have been more diverse. From this fascinating mix of over 55 demonstrators, we managed to select five trends that are due to shape the future.
1) Artificial intelligence is everywhere
Never before was machine learning so omnipresent. Artificial intelligence finally seems ready for its big breakthrough, not just in Industry 4.0, but in almost every domain.
Equipped with a neural network, this robot can learn to grasp the right object – regardless of its precise location – after just a single demonstration, a big step forward for collaborative robots.
Machine learning can even help doctors predict preterm birth risk, so they can start the right treatment in time.
AI also plays an important role in autonomous vehicles. This demo illustrates a new method to combine the input of several types of sensors (like radar and video). This cooperative method exchanges information at an earlier stage – before object recognition – so ambiguities are detected faster.
2) Playtime is over for virtual and augmented reality
For a long time, most VR and AR applications remained limited to the realm of video games and entertainment. Now this has clearly become a thing of the past.
The first practical applications for VR and AR have entered the medical field. VR, for instance, is used to treat patients struggling with certain psychological problems, such as phobia, chronic anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder. At FutureSummits, imec researchers demonstrated a new headset that monitors how patients respond to this virtual environment: by tracking brain activity, eye movements and facial expressions, scientists can ‘measure’ emotions.
At FutureSummits, you could also discover the imec.icon project SARA. They developed the first fully functional prototype to assist neuro- and orthopedic surgeons with augmented reality during surgery.
And VR has also made its way into education. Our own learning institute, imec.academy, has gotten on board. Soon our operators will get the opportunity to prepare for high-risk situations in a virtual replica of the cleanroom.
3) A doctor on your wrist: ready for personalized healthcare
We’re all different, so it’s no surprise that there is no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to medicine either.
As part of the imec.ichange program, imec researchers developed a platform that combines different kinds of data. What makes the platform unique is the fact that the physiological data (cf. skin conductance, movement, heart rate, etc.) is presented on the same time line as contextual information (cf. mobile phone data, GPS, self-reported information, etc.). In this way, changes in stress level can be linked to contextual events, making it possible to give personalized real-time advice to prevent burn-outs and depressions.
Wearable technology, which allows you to track your health at home, is also an emerging field. Think of tools to detect epilepsy in real-time (Seize-it and Epihunter), a new comfortable solution for sleep studies, which ‑ in the long term – could also be used outside the clinical context, and imec's compact health patch that allows you to monitor vital functions from home.
That big data is becoming increasingly important in the medical world, is also clear from research like the imec.icon project GAP, which has made it truly affordable and efficient to map everyone’s DNA.
4) High-tech is coming within citizen’s reach
Big data, the internet of things, tiny sensors. Advanced technology – in all shapes and sizes – is no longer unknown to the man in the street.
At FutureSummits, this trend was especially clear on the City of Things booth, where visitors could discover several demo’s with technology that aim to make city life more pleasant.
Think of smart traffic infrastructure that takes into account even unpredictable events, such as accidents, road works, or a moving van blocking the street, etc. Does the speed limit have to be adapted? Should the traffic lights stay green longer? Or shorter? And if pedestrians have to wait near the red light, how do make sure that they actually wait to cross safely?
Or what if – as a citizen – you want to prove to policymakers that people drive too fast in your street? The Hackable City of Things platform helps citizens collect relevant data to make their point, for instance by offering a DIY-radar kit.
5) Tackling climate change with technology
The last trend that was clearly reflected on the demo floor is the growing concern regarding global warming. Innovation and sustainability increasingly go hand in hand.
Researchers are working on solar cells that can become part of a building’s architecture, e.g. silicon photonics integrated into the walls or semi-transparent thin-film solar cells that cover entire windows.
One of the stumbling blocks in the shift towards renewable energy is its volatility. After all, if there is no sun, there is no solar energy. A possible solution is to develop better methods for energy storage. At EnergyVille, the consortium that brings together KU Leuven, VITO, Hasselt University and imec, imec researchers developed a new patented electrolyte for solid-state batteries to enable a safer and more powerful Li-ion battery.