CSEM Business Day 2.0
The Future Is Innovating to Zero
Swiss industry’s main actors meet for a day of pragmatic futurist thinking in Zurich. What would it mean to innovate to zero?

 

On November 15, 2016, CSEM brought its successful Business Day concept to Zurich for a day of stimulating keynote speeches, technology demonstrations, information-packed sessions on CSEM technology, workshops on key industry themes, and networking over coffee and tasty food – all while enjoying breathtaking views of the lake. CSEM employees from around Switzerland mixed with industry actors to discuss a variety of topics to find out what zero has in store for them and the future.

The opening talk by CSEM chairman, the astronaut and scientist Claude Nicollier, set the tone for a day of inspiring messages rooted in experience and pragmatism. The zero gravity veteran showed us that by aiming for zero—zero pollution, zero power, zero size, zero health issues and zero security breaches—we are in fact aiming for the infinity of the imagination. In this way we can avoid the specter of zero revenue for industries that are weathering the technological revolutions of the 21st Century.

Keynotes on the future

Calling our direction “infinity” or “zero” has us all heading nevertheless toward future, and the two keynote speakers of the day approached the topic in their own specific way.

Ismaïl Serageldin, Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt, spoke with fearless flair about both the enormous opportunities and dangerous pitfalls that the Internet revolution has brought upon society. Profoundly optimistic about the future of knowledge transmission despite the perceived threat presented by new forms of digital supports adopted by the younger generation, Serageldin’s credo of “All information to all people at all times,” ultimately entails that a book’s essence will remain—as a human record of things and ideas to be shared with others.

While author Gerd Leonhard, CEO of The Futures Agency, is equally confident about the future, he cautions us to keep a keen eye on the ethical implications of the full throttle advancement of technology. His presentation spun a complex web of references, informed suppositions and future hypotheses around the central dilemma of Digital Ethics: How we can remain human in a world that is determined by technology. In other words, “The problem is not being killed by robots in the future, but that we start thinking like them.”

Switzerland is ready for the revolution

CSEM CEO Mario El-Khoury’s vision for the future of Switzerland lays in leveraging the existing virtues of Swiss innovation to excel within the new Industry 4.0 paradigm. “In order to maintain and reinforce our country’s production capacity, we should make our factories more intelligent, more autonomous, more flexible and above all more cost effective. If we take inspiration from Industry 4.0 we can seize the opportunities offered by digitization and strengthen our position in the industrial landscape.” CSEM is among the leading technology houses in Switzerland that hold the technological keys to opening the door to the future of industry.

World Cafés: Workshops on the Future of Industry

Like last year’s Business Day in Neuchatel, this year’s point fort of the CSEM Business Day were the World Cafés, where participants broke into large groups to hear brief presentations by leading experts on a variety of targeted topics, followed by smaller group work which was then summarized for all at the end of the day.

Industry 4.0

Chairing the session:
Andreas Kunz, ETHZ, and Inspire AG
Philipp Schmid, Head of Robotics & Automation, CSEM

Industry 4.0 was by far the most popular of the three World Cafés as far as participation is concerned. The attraction of this next logical phase of manufacturing is justified, given its promise of a 21st century factory where “worker, machine and resources communicate with each other as in a social network.” (Die Welt)

While both economically and ecologically appealing in its potentially highly efficient output, there is no fully agreed upon consensus on how to make the shift to a production with predictive maintenance, full data security and rapid prototyping that takes advantage of big data and virtual reality to create a truly digital factory. Yet there is one thing everyone can agree on: Even if we don’t know where to start, the important thing is to start today.

Medical Prosthetics & implants

Chairing the session:
Claude Clément, CTO, Wyss Center
Dieter Ulrich, Head of CSEM Landquart

We have already entered an era in which humankind is being augmented by a series of expanding medical devices and options for personal medicine have become a reality for many. While there is still room for growth in this high-tech sector, the challenges for Switzerland to maintain its predominant position in Med-Tech are multiple: growing competition from Asia, increasing regulation and the persistently long delays in reaching the marketplace.

However, there is still much cause for optimism as new players enter the market, including pharmaceutical and IT companies. As the elderly become more active, the technological shift towards degradable implants, telemedicine and tissue engineering is disruptive enough to give sufficient elbowroom for new business models from both established and emerging companies. In the end, as with any technological field, it will be those companies that stay on the cusp of innovation and adapt to external competition that will succeed in the coming years.

Food & Agriculture

Chairing the session:
Thomas Anken, Head of Agricultural System Engineering, Agroscope
Peter Braun CEO, Swiss Food Research

Food production, while not the most lucrative business on the planet, is one of the most important human endeavors. For the time being, the industry continues to remain firmly planted in an analog mode of survival, not ready to accept or implement increasingly sophisticated digital technologies.

One area where technology in agriculture has room for development is with data sensing. The natural environment is extremely complex, and while data on soil and air quality could be a boon for farmers, the technology for gathering it is either too expensive or not yet available. There are, however, an increasing array of available technological solutions that could make the farmer’s life easier and more efficient, such as those created by the Swiss startup ecoRobotix that uses robots to give precise dosages of pesticides and herbicides.

Innovating to Infinity

The 2016 CSEM Business Day was greatly appreciated by participants, speakers and CSEM researchers who had a chance both to give presentations on their latest results and to show prototypes in the demonstrators’ area. In all, more than 25 demonstrators were exhibited, from haptically controlled robots and the world’s smallest micro-camera to the most advanced satellite technology. And whether CSEM’s technology will find its way into your car, your T-shirt or the earth’s orbit, researchers are always putting humans at the center of their technology—humans who have the unique ability to imagine a future of infinite possibilities.

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