During Impact Week, 6 great speakers came to share their point of view on this important question: How can deep technologies impact  our future?

Part I: Green Digitization?

What is the vision of the European Commission with regards to digitization and especially the impact of deep technologies, in accordance to the European Green Deal?

Henri Rajbenbach, from the European Commission, explains that the technologies might be deep, but they are certainly very broad. What the Commission calls Key Digital Technologies (KDTs) include many topics such as Nanoelectronics, Bio-electronics, Wearables and flexible printed electronics, photonics and of course the software to run this. One of the challenges is to make the data usable, as they come in real time, as they come from the real world. They should be “good enough” to feed AI and make it as close as possible to the users for various reasons primarily privacy.

They are many shades of green, which makes it challenging to put together Green Transition and Digital transformation. There are two categories: Green KDTs and KDTs for Green.

A new holistic and agnostic approach is needed where the key approach is to start from the function. The idea is to then decide where at best we can develop. This often happens at the intersection of technologies: Post-Moore nanoelectronics; flexible and wearable electronics, and electronic smart systems.

While addressing a greener economy, it is important to bear in mind that manufacturing and use are equally energy hungry, in terms of equipment. One of the issues with this in Europe is sovereignty, and it could be clearly observed with the COVID-19 crisis.

Europe is especially strong in some sectors, many quality intensive ones. They incarnate European values: social values in health system, or human values for privacy, and technology aspect for sovereignty in particular for the defense sector. Key Digital Technologies play critical and complementary roles in digital transformation and green transition. Furthermore, access to leading-edge digital technologies is essential to achieve ambitious political priorities. The European Commission will further support that in Horizon Europe.

What is your vision and how can deep technologies impact our future positively?

Holger Meinel represents EuMa – the European microwave association. It was founded in 1998 and has 5000 representatives worldwide. 75% of those being industrials and 25% of academics. Their role is to foster the strategy of radio frequency-based research. They start to apply the same intersectionality in functional electronics as mentioned before. According to Holger Meinel the broad landscape is allowing to bridge the gap between microwave technolgies and other areas like infrared, enabling new possibilities like pollution control. This is fostered in Europe at very large scale.

Pertti Jauhiainen explains that with all the KDTs, there is a broad ecosystem and we need to make it efficient. There are green networks, and by connecting them it would be more efficient along the value chain, building amazing components, that build networks, devices and more. The use of networks or ICT in investor sectors and society is going to benefit from the green side. The other aspect is the use of ICT technology and the manufacturing of it. The use is even more energy hungry with consumers, networks and data centers.

Patrice Gamand, Business Development Manager at the cluster Alpha Route des Lasers reiterates that the 5 pillars are key: component, flexible electronics, IoT, printed electronics, photonics, and of course embedded software especially the cyber-physical systems. When it comes to green transition, integration is recommended. This means integrating more functions to save  components and power. This is a strategy to be pursued. According to him, everything is complementary so we need a global strategy.

What can you do to make the electronic world a little bit greener?

Neil Armstrong is CEO of In2tec, an SME specialising in one of the key pillars: flexible printed electronics.

In the past, the approach was “How do we reduce the energy needed to manufacture? How do we include some materials that are a little bit easier to recycle?”. Now for a real impact from deep technologies, what is needed is actually a paradigm shift, because we can only go so far down the current road given the law of diminishing returns . At the moment, on a yearly basis, 64 billion dollars’ worth of E-waste could be recycled and only 20% is actually recycled.

The idea is to look at how manufacturing is done. We create a system that is “unzippable”. We can unzip the substrate from the conductive tracks, we can unzip the inductive tracks from the components etc. The holistic approach is the trend we’re looking at here to change people’s perspective whether they are a user or manufacturer. It’s trying to take everything around us to move things ahead. It is complex because of the market’s need for catalysts such as the government or the consumers. The consumer is already going greener, there is a demand. Now, we can take a flexible material, unzip the components, and reuse them on new products. The amount of effort, power, precious metals are used is significant. Nowadays it is much easier to reuse and recycle them.

Circularity is new in the landscape. Are there any plans for the future to include circularity in the new projects from the European Commission? 

The need for circularity is increasing substantially. The first step is awareness at the business level. The reuse of material is important, especially in flexible electronics – the term plastic electronics is not used anymore since plastic isn’t as sexy as it used to be. It’s not really addressed by the projects now, but attention will be given to that in the analysis of proposals.

Part II: Can we afford the Bandwidth?

Wolfgang Templ from Nokia Bell Labs explains that mega trends are changing the world, and the ways we connect with it. There is an exponential increase in traffic, that is going to continue for the next decades. It has been triggered by certain key applications, with the era of discovery, then sharing, and now automatization. All of this needs to come at a moderate cost. There are 3 phenomena: requirement for more bandwidth, requirement for more bits per Hertz, and then to reuse the spectrum. And this is the trend that 5G is following, allied with the use of technologies for things like increasing battery lifetime and flexibility of the network.

Among the various building blocks of technologies, where do we need the most effort?

Pertti Jauhiainen thinks that it might also depend on what is more used. Now, 5G is in its development stages and it is not fully processed yet. Cybersecurity is also a challenge that is getting bigger, because of high data use and how to make it secure as much for personal matter than for industrial use.

We want to have more bandwidth, but at a lower cost. Do you think that thanks to new technologies, maybe with the use of microwaves, it is possible to have the same room for improvement for energy saving?

Holger Meinel thinks that with different materials it is possible to change the need in power consumption, and save energy. The only thing is to decide which frequency will be used for what. Patrice Gamand answers that we have to use advanced semi computer technologies for different reasons. Bandwidth is not a problem itself, it’s more about cost and power consumption. But having a good technology can optimize performance. This is software designed hardware. It allows us to think of concepts to meet the requirements.

In parallel to that, Neil Armstrong explains that the growth of 5G and the utilization to more data fuels the need for more sensors, on vehicle, on body. The consequence is that when more is needed, in the process of manufacturing they need to improve the longevity of the sensors, as well as the circularity especially for devices such as smartphones. It needs to be at the design level. This all comes with new virtualized networks, with a sort of fusion of software and network.

When trying to achieve versatility, speed, and all the other abilities that we need: does adding AI impact energy consumption? Is it possible that through software, we can optimize energy?

Software will help, but it is not the only solution. It is paramount to have an infrastructure which is by design a little bit greener. Henri Rajbenbach explains that on this topic, we should link component and architecture as explained by Wolfgang Templ since it is really at the core of the best use of bandwidth, time wise but also with space and cost.

In conclusion, the solution to achieve impact using deep technologies is through intersecting technology, while staying as close as possible to the user.