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Fraunhofer frontline themes: Tomorrow’s opportunities

People need an affordable healthcare system, security, energy, communications, mobility and a clean environment.

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has identified strategic research areas in which it is seeking answers to these challenges of the future. In focusing on twelve frontline themes, Fraunhofer is pointing out particularly effective courses of action. Its objective is to employ new technologies to devise solutions that will make our life healthier, safer and simpler, and will be kinder to the environment. “The interests of ordinary people, their wishes and needs must always be a prime consideration in our research work,” says Fraunhofer President Professor Hans-Jörg Bullinger, explaining the approach taken by the research organization. “We have identified six research areas in which we believe that future technologies and products will be of the greatest benefit to mankind. People need health, an intact environment, security, communication, energy and mobility. These are the areas on which we will focus our research capacities in the years to come.” Starting with these six focal areas, Fraunhofer has conducted an intensive discourse and identified fields of research that will be as fast and effective as possible in helping to meet present-day challenges such as global warming, dwindling resources and health problems. “In pursuing these twelve frontline themes, Fraunhofer is demonstrating its active role in securing the future of Germany as an industrial location. We not only show where tomorrow’s opportunities lie, but also systematically develop innovative solutions,” states Bullinger. “In order to do this, we invest our own funds in preliminary research and pool our distributed expertise in a manageable selection of frontline themes.” Under the motto of “Fraunhofer frontline themes: Tomorrow’s opportunities”, interdisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers are working on new technologies and solutions that will help to make our life healthier, safer, simpler and more mobile. There are twelve different project: Focus on health Personal health assistant The electronic guardian angel Smart assistance systems can help even sick and elderly people to lead independent lives in their own homes. One such system is the digital health assistant. It monitors patients’ cardiovascular functions 24 hours a day, enabling them to contact medical specialists in the event of an emergency. Preventive healthcare, diagnostics, therapy and care are other areas of application for this technology. Bio-functional surfaces High tech with a sensitive skin Medical implants are intended to uphold bodily functions, monitor individual risks or facilitate long-term treatment plans. In future this will be made possible by bio-functional surfaces: The “skin” of a material, instrument or device performs a specific function when in contact with biological environments. It picks out certain molecules, receives signals or stimulates a response. Food chain management Always fresh on the table Kiwi fruits from New Zealand, mangos from Thailand, beef from Argentina – today’s shoppers can find an international selection of goods even in small supermarkets. However, globalization also poses challenges: Foodstuffs have to be produced in accordance with current food regulations, properly packaged and shipped, and finally arrive fresh on the customer’s table. Food chain management makes it possible to display and optimize the entire food production chain – from production and processing to the retailer and the end customer. Focus on the environment Decentralized integrated water management Saving precious water In Germany we consume a lot of water: over 130 liters per head dayly. If we are to continue providing high-quality drinking water at low prices in future, the water consumption must be cut. New technologies help to use drinking water economically and treat wastewater to make it suitable for domestic use. Intelligent sensors monitor the systems and report such failures as leaky water pipes. Focus on energy Energy-efficient modernization More than just a facade About one-third of the energy consumed in Germany goes into regulating the temperature in buildings. Old buildings, in particular, need a lot of energy: They eat up between three and five times as much heating energy as modern houses. Up to 80 percent of this energy could be saved by good insulation coupled with efficient heating and cooling systems. Researchers are testing multifunctional facade modules and new heat storage units for internal insulation. Planar heating and cooling systems for walls, ceilings and floors are taking shape in the laboratory. Solid-state light sources Bright and efficient illumination A light bulb converts only 5–10 percent of the invested energy into light; most of it is diffused as heat. A team of seven Fraunhofer Institutes is developing alternatives: highly efficient cold light sources made of semiconductors. The researchers’ objective is to develop new light sources that produce an effect similar to daylight, and whose form and intensity can be adapted to any desired situation. Energy storage in power grids Solar and wind-generated electricity on demand Renewable resources will play an increasingly significant role in the energy mixture of the future. But they are more difficult to calculate. The amount of current fed into the grid depends on the weather and the time of day. Fraunhofer scientists are working to make the supply of wind and solar energy as easy to plan as the production of energy at conventional power stations. For this to succeed, they need new and more efficient power storage units. Green power train technologies New impetus for eco-friendly cars Very high demands are made on tomorrow’s cars: They must use up a minimum of natural resources during manufacture, have a low fuel consumption when driving, discharge as few pollutants as possible into the atmosphere, and require very little maintenance. Researchers from seven Fraunhofer Institutes are working to improve the power train, which comprises all the components involved in generating torque and transmitting it from the engine to the wheel. They are forging ahead with the development of the low-energy engine, the lightweight gear unit and the lightweight Cardan driveshaft. Focus on security Energy self-sufficient sensors and sensor networks Vigilant clusters The sensors of the future are tiny, robust, inexpensive and can be used anywhere. They draw their energy from motion, light or temperature differences. Because these sensors are interlinked, they not only acquire highly significant and conclusive data, but also improve a system’s responsiveness and reliability. Sensors like these can be used for purposes such as the monitoring of tunnels. Focus on communication Visual analytics A clear overview in the data jungle The Internet, company networks, sensors, simulations and electronic processes deliver a wealth of information. But how can you filter out just the precise information that really matters from this huge mass of data? “Visual analytics” provides a solution, making the best possible use of the different abilities of humans and computers. The computer processes large quantities of data and converts them into a visual display that people can understand. The user can concentrate on pattern recognition and the evaluation and analysis of the data studied. Focus on mobility Hybrid material structures Combining the best of the best The demands made on products and their properties are steadily becoming greater and more complex. Products are expected to offer a wealth of functions, weigh as little as possible, be easy to handle, and cost as little as possible to buy and maintain. This cannot always be achieved to the desired extent using conventional materials. One solution is to use composite materials, which combine different materials and their most useful properties. The researchers see the greatest market potential for hybrid materials in the vehicle and machine construction industry. Integrated localization technology On the move – quick and safe Fraunhofer researchers are working on a unified technology for locating people and goods. Designed to benefit industry and commerce, transportation and mobility, it is based on global satellite navigation systems (GNSS) such as Galileo, which – unlike GPS – is not subject to military control. One of its objectives is to keep a constant watch on goods being unloaded in ports and transferred to rail or road vehicles. The new platform also offers numerous advantages for passenger transportation: Integrated navigation even for pedestrians, and parking without searching, are just two examples. These twelve frontline themes will be systematically further developed by Fraunhofer researchers in the coming years and translated into practical day-to-day solutions. They will open up new opportunities for the German economy, which can only maintain its competitive edge through constant innovations.