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Technologies for Digitizing and Transforming Industry and Services

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[The Royal Palace And The Almudena Cathedral, Madrid, Spain - Interpixels/Shutterstock]


- The Age of New Materials 

Throughout history, materials and advances in material technology have influenced humankind. Now, we just might be on the verge of the next shift in this type of technology, enabling products and functions we never believed possible. 

Demands from industry are requiring that materials be lighter, tougher, thinner, denser, and more flexible or rigid, as well as to be heat- and wear-resistant. At the same time, researchers are pushing the boundaries of what we imagine is possible, seeking to improve and enhance existing materials, and at the same time, come up with completely new materials that, while years away from day-to-day use, take us down entirely new, technological pathways.  

- Future Compute - Beyond Moore's Law and The Future of Microelectronics 

Nearly 60 years old and Moore's Law still stands strong for many in the computing world. But the surge of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning have coincided with the breakdown of Moore’s Law, and for many thought-leaders what lies beyond is not entirely clear.  

The future of technology is uncertain as Moore’s Law comes to an end. However, while most experts agree that silicon transistors will stop shrinking around 2021, this doesn’t mean Moore’s law is dead in spirit - even though, technically, it might be. Chip makers have to find another way to increase power. For example, there are Germanium and other III-V technologies - and, at some point, carbon nanotubes - that provide new ways of increasing power. There is also gate-all-around transistor design, extreme-ultraviolet and self-directed assembly techniques, and so on. 

Progress in technologies such as photonics, micro- and nanoelectronics, smart systems and robotics is changing the way we design, produce, commercialize and generate value from products and related services. 

- Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) 

As digital computing and communication become faster, cheaper, and available in packages that are smaller and use less power, these capabilities are increasingly embedded in many objects and structures in the physical environment. Cyber-physical systems (CPS) are physical and engineered systems whose operations are monitored, coordinated, controlled, and integrated by computing and communication. Broad CPS deployment is transforming how we interact with the physical world as profoundly as the world wide web transformed how we interact with one another, and further harnessing their capabilities holds the possibility of enormous societal and economic impact. 

Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) are usually composed of a set of networked agents, including sensors, actuators, control processing units, and communication devices. While some forms of CPS are already in use, the widespread growth of wireless embedded sensors and actuators is creating several new applications in areas such as medical devices, autonomous vehicles, and smart infrastructure, and is increasing the role that the information infrastructure plays in existing control systems such as in the process control industry or the power grid. 

Many CPS applications are safety-critical: their failure can cause irreparable harm to the physical system under control, and to the people who depend, use or operate it. In particular, critical cyber-physical infrastructures such as electric power generation, transmission and distribution grids, oil and natural gas systems, water and waste-water treatment plants, and transportation networks play a fundamental and large-scale role in our society. Their disruption can have a significant impact on individuals, and nations at large. Securing these CPS infrastructures is, therefore, vitally important. 

Similarly because many CPS systems collect sensor data non-intrusively, users of these systems are often unaware of their exposure. Therefore, in addition to security, CPS systems must be designed with privacy considerations. 

Advances in CPS will enable capability, adaptability, scalability, resiliency, safety, security, and usability that will far exceed the simple embedded systems of today. CPS technology will transform the way people interact with engineered systems - just as the Internet has transformed the way people interact with information. New smart CPS will drive innovation and competition in sectors such as agriculture, energy, transportation, building design and automation, healthcare, and manufacturing. Moreover, the integration of artificial intelligence with CPS creates new research opportunities with major societal implications. 

CPS has provided an outstanding foundation to build advanced industrial systems and applications by integrating innovative functionalities through Internet of Things (IoT) and Web of Things (WoB) to enable connection of the operations of the physical reality with computing and communication infrastructures. A wide range of industrial CPS-based applications have been developed and deployed in Industry 4.0. 

Today's world is a network of interconnected, embedded computer systems with components ranging in size and complexity. Researchers and hackers have shown that networked embedded systems are vulnerable to remote attack. Technology for the construction of safe and secure cyber-physical systems is badly needed. 

- Flexible and Wearable Electronics 

Flexible and wearable electronics combines new and traditional materials with large area processes to fabricate lightweight, flexible, printed and multi-functional electronic products. 

[Stanford E-Wear]: "Wearable electronics has emerged as a new form of electronics that combines sensors and wireless communication to allow monitoring of vital information autonomously. Unlike typical sensor networks, wearable electronics need to form conformal and intimate contact with objects to be monitored. Furthermore, they have to be comfortable to wear while providing accurate information." 

Wearable electronics are smart electronic devices that can be connected to the Internet and be worn on the body as accessories. These devices are a key segment of loT devices, and they can exchange data through Internet with the user and other connected devices. Applications for wearable electronics range from health monitoring, disease detection, robotics, robotics surgery, implantable electronics, driverless cars, structural monitoring, virtual reality, augmented reality, etc.. 

Wearable devices offer benefits like optimized decision-making, ease of handling emergencies, cost cutting, enhanced quality of living, remote control access, healthy lifestyle, time management, commercial benefit, and better safety.  

Along with the explosion of interest in wearable electronics in recent years, numerous challenges nonetheless remain before wearable electronics become a truly commercializable technology. One major challenge is the highly interdisciplinary nature of the field, which mandates the convergence of many disciplines, notably from materials, devices, system integration, software and application verification. The impact is far beyond health care. It will improve everything from the environment to defense, the economy, and energy production.  

- Photonics -  An Enabling Technology 

Photonics is the technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. Photonics involves cutting-edge uses of lasers, optics, fiber-optics, and electro-optical devices in numerous and diverse fields of technology - alternate energy, manufacturing, health care, telecommunication, environmental monitoring, homeland security, aerospace, solid state lighting, and many others. 

Lasers and other light beams are the “preferred carriers” of energy and information for many applications. For example: Lasers are used for welding, drilling, and cutting of metals, fabrics, human tissue, and other materials; Coherent light beams (lasers) have a high bandwidth and can carry far more information than radio frequency and microwave signals; Fiber optics allow light to be “piped” through cables. 

Research in photonics ranges in scope from fundamentally new tools, such as small-footprint, high-throughput multiphoton microscopes, through exceptionally high-power semiconductor lasers, to components and systems for next-generation optical networks for both the Internet and data centers, and into consumer equipment like 3-D displays. New areas are constantly explored by research teams worldwide, as photonics becomes more pervasive in our lives. Communications, displays, medicine, manufacturing and imaging are just a few applications. 

- Unconventional Nanoelectronics 

Shrinking transistors have powered 50 years of advances in computing - but now other ways must be found to make computers more capable. Mobile apps, video games, spreadsheets, and accurate weather forecasts: that’s just a sampling of the life-changing things made possible by the reliable, exponential growth in the power of computer chips over the past five decades. The continual cramming of more silicon transistors onto chips has been the feedstock of exuberant innovation in computing. That could stymie future advances in electronics, unless new architectures and designs can allow progress in chip performance to continue. There are also worries about the rising cost of designing integrated circuits. Future generations of electronics will be based on new devices and circuit architectures, operating on physical principles that cannot be exploited by conventional transistors. Research scientists worldwide seek the next device that will propel computing beyond the limitations of current technology. 

[Nanoelectronics for 2020 and Beyond]: "The semiconductor industry is a major driver of the modern U.S. economy and has accounted for a large portion of the productivity gains that have characterized the global economy since the 1990s. Recent advances in this area have been fueled by what is known as Moore’s Law scaling, which has successfully predicted the exponential increase in the performance of computing devices for the last 40 years. This gain has been achieved due to ever-increasing miniaturization of semiconductor processing and memory devices (smaller and faster switches and transistors). Continuing to shrink the dimensions of electronic devices is important in order to further increase processor speed, reduce device switching energy, increase system functionality, and reduce manufacturing cost per bit. However, as the dimensions of critical elements of devices approach atomic size, quantum tunneling and other quantum effects degrade and ultimately prohibit the operations of conventional devices. Researchers are therefore pursuing more radical approaches to overcome these fundamental physics limitations.

Candidate approaches include different types of logic using cellular automata or quantum entanglement and superposition; 3D spatial architectures; and information-carrying variables other than electron charge, such as photon polarization, electron spin, and position and states of atoms and molecules. Approaches based on nanoscale science, engineering, and technology are most promising for realizing these radical changes and are expected to change the very nature of electronics and the essence of how electronic devices are manufactured. Rapidly reinforcing domestic R&D successes in these arenas could establish a U.S. domestic manufacturing base that will dominate 21st-century electronics commerce. The goal of this initiative is to accelerate the discovery and use of novel nanoscale fabrication processes and innovative concepts to produce revolutionary materials, devices, systems, and architectures to advance the field of nanoelectronics."  

- Electronic Smart Systems (ESS

The technology area Electronic Smart Systems (ESS) focuses on the challenges that the ongoing digitization of society introduces by the deep penetration of embedded sensing, acting and communicating electronics in our environment. Things become smart and connected, sensor systems and smart things provide the sensing and interacting edges that are bringing the entire world online. Embedded electronics become more pervasive and provide an opportunity for a disruptive wave of innovation of our daily living. 

Smart systems incorporate functions of sensing, actuation, and control in order to describe and analyze a situation, and make decisions based on the available data in a predictive or adaptive manner, thereby performing smart actions. In most cases the “smartness” of the system can be attributed to autonomous operation based on closed loop control, energy efficiency, and networking capabilities. A lot of smart systems evolved from microsystems. They combine technologies and components from microsystems technology (miniaturized electric, mechanical, optical, and fluidic devices) with other disciplines like biology, chemistry, nanoscience, or cognitive sciences.  

Electronic smart systems identify a broad class of intelligent and miniaturized devices that are usually energy-autonomous and ubiquitously connected. In order to support these functions like sensing, actuation, and control, electronic smart systems must include sophisticated and heterogeneous components and subsystems, such as digital signal processing devices, analog devices for RF and wireless communication, discrete elements, application-specific sensors and actuators, energy sources, and energy storage devices. These systems take advantage of the progress achieved in miniaturization of electronic systems, and are highly energy-efficient and increasingly often energy-autonomous, and can communicate with their environment. 

Thanks to their heterogeneous nature, smart embedded and cyber-physical applications are able to deliver a wide range of services, and their application may lead to provide solutions to address the grand social, economic, and environmental challenges such as environmental and pollution control, energy efficiency at various scales, aging populations and demographic change, risk of industrial decline, security from micro- to macro-level, safety in transportation, increased needs for the mobility of people and goods, health and lifestyle improvements, just to name the most relevant. 

The goals is to develop and validate a new generation of cost-effective ESS technologies integrating hardware technologies across multiple fields. This massive integration of electronics everywhere introduces challenges like: integration, miniaturization, building practice, new sensors, low energy consumption, electromagnetic interference (EMI), architectures for high performance computing, resource efficient communication and affordable components.  

- Security and Resilience for Collaborative Manufacturing Environments 

The widespread adoption by manufacturing industry around the world of ICT is now paving the way for disruptive approaches to development, production and the entire logistics chain (i.e., Industry 4.0 - digitization of industrial manufacturing). This is increasingly blurring the boundaries between the real world and the virtual world in what are known as cyber-physical production systems (CPPSs). At the same time a new operational risk for connected, smart manufacturers and digital supply networks appears, and this is cyber. The interconnected nature of Industry 4.0-driven operations and the pace of digital transformation mean that cyberattacks can have far more extensive effects than ever before. 

The technological developments which are at the base of Industry 4.0 do raise at the same time a vast number of associated of security concerns. Unfortunately, intruders will not stop trying to find new ways of breaking into business networks. Attacks specifically designed to penetrate industrial control systems present a threat to production facilities. Infected computers can be controlled remotely and their data stolen. As the malware exploits unknown security holes, firewalls and network monitoring software are unable to detect it. 

Cyber risks in the age of Industry 4.0 extend beyond the supply network and manufacturing, however, to the product itself. As products are increasingly connected – both to each other and, at times, even back to the manufacturer and supply network – cyber risk no longer ends once a product has been sold. Connected objects also have a risk level, because IoT devices often present significant cyber risks. IoT devices that perform some of the most critical and sensitive tasks in industry are often the most vulnerable devices found on a network. Therefore, an integrated approach to protecting devices must be taken. 

The nature of cyber risks in Industry 4.0 thus is largely dependent on the particular industrial portfolio and therefore requires adequate action from the concerned industrial decision making factors. However, given the fact that industrial production is governed by a number of regulations industrial cyber risks should also be a concern for regulators.  

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;New York City, NY, U.S.A. - Civil Engineering Discoveries]

- Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, and Application Areas 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is advancing at breakneck speed. Technical advances are making it possible for non-experts to apply AI in their work, accelerating the pace at which new AI solutions are deployed. The definition of AI is constantly evolving, and the term often gets mangled. 

What is AI, exactly? The question may seem basic, but the answer is kind of complicated. In the broadest sense, AI refers to machines that can learn, reason, and act for themselves. They can make their own decisions when faced with new situations, in the same way that humans and animals can. As it currently stands, the vast majority of the AI advancements and applications you hear about refer to a category of algorithms known as machine learning. 

The pace of automation that this technology is fueling will reach every corner of the global economy. While robots originated in large-scale mass manufacturing, they are now spreading to more and more application areas. In these new settings, robots are often faced with new technical and non-technical challenges. Through interdisciplinary research across technological and sector-specific fields, research scientists drive innovation and new discoveries across the robotics spectrum - from large-scale automation and autonomous vehicles to personalized robotic learning and engagement applications or systems. Intelligence is moving towards edge devices. Increased computing power and sensor data along with improved AI algorithms are driving the trend towards machine learning be run on the end device, such as smartphones or automobiles, rather than in the cloud. For example, 

Robotic process automation, alongside blockchain, AI, cognitive computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), is one of the new and emerging technologies expected to profoundly impact and transform the workforce of the future across the financial services sector. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is quickly becoming the go-to solution for financial institutions that want to improve digital speed to market and cost take outs.

  • Chatbots. These artificial intelligence (AI) programs simulate interactive human conversation using key pre-calculated user phrases and auditory or text-based signals. Chatbots have recently started to use self-created sentences in lieu of pre-calculated user phrases, providing better results. Chatbots are frequently used for basic customer service on social networking hubs and are often included in operating systems as intelligent virtual assistants. 
  • AI and robotics are transforming healthcare. AI is getting increasingly sophisticated at doing what humans do, but more efficiently, more quickly and at a lower cost. The potential for both AI and robotics in healthcare is vast. Just like in our every-day lives, AI and robotics are increasingly a part of our healthcare eco-system.
  • The food industry is being revolutionized by robotics and automation. There are real problems in modern agriculture. Traditional farming methods struggle to keep up with the efficiencies required by the market. Farmers in developed countries are suffering from a lack of workforce. The rise of automated farming is an attempt to solve these problems by using robotics and advanced sensing. Following 5 ways robotics is changing the food industry: Nursery Automation, Autonomous Precision Seeding, Crop Monitoring and Analysis, Fertilizing and Irrigation, Crop Weeding and Spraying. 
[More to come ...]
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