Foresight Fraunhofer - Future topics with relevance to application-oriented research

© Fraunhofer

On behalf of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, four institutes of the Fraunhofer Group for Innovation Research, have identified the most important future topics of applied research. In a foresight process, technological and societal developments were analysed with regard to their innovation potential and their relevance for applied research. Some spotlight topics such as geoengineering were discussed particularly controversially.

Which topics will shape research and society in the future? In order to find answers to this question, researchers from the Fraunhofer Group for Innovation Research have identified key issues for the future on the basis of broadly-based horizon scanning and evaluated them with a potential analysis. The so-called spotlights are divided into topics whose high relevance is already evident today (e.g. deep learning - artificial intelligence, biodiversity) and those which will develop dynamically out of their niches in the future (e.g. biohybrid technologies). What all 51 spotlight future topics have in common is that they are highly relevant for applied research. Some of them have the potential to create or change a new dynamic market, while others can have comprehensive social effects while the market relevance is still unclear.

A presentation on the methodical approach can be found here (in German only).

In the context of a foresight process, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has taken a systematic look into the future in order to derive strategic orientation knowledge from potential technologies and societal challenges and to foster the further development of the foresight methods at the same time. In addition to the systematic, very broad scanning of future topics, one special feature of this project is the comprehensive use of Fraunhofer expertise across all 72 research institutes. This means that it is significantly more extensive than in the case of previous foresight processes.

51 topics of high relevance to applied research in 2030 were identified.

  • We initially selected and analyzed these 51 topics through extensive research of international foresight studies.
  • Some 400 Fraunhofer experts then evaluated them in terms of their relevance to the future of research, the economy, and society.
  • The results were confirmed by 20 national and international experts from the fields of science and industry through interviews in a review process.

The survey results were used as the basis for identifying topics which will bring about fundamental changes and therefore require special attention. These topics include deep learning – AIre-economy and the use and maintenance of biodiversity. We additionally identified topics that are particularly dynamic in terms of innovation. Some of these topics, such as biohybrid,  water harvesting membranes, and pHealth, are already highly relevant to applied research today, while others are thus far niche topics that are developing dynamically and could therefore soon encounter broader interest. Many topics from this group are related to microelectronics, such as neuromorphic chips or quantum communication. The study also identified a further topic group with particular societal relevance. These topics, some of which are highly controversial, include geoengineeringcivic technologies, and  reprogramming of human cells, for instance.

Further findings concerning the perspective development of the selected 51 topics can be derived as follows on the basis of the survey results: 

  • Numerous topics with a very broad impact on entirely different research and economic sectors could develop into key technologies.
  • Topics with converging technologies could dissolve the boundaries between areas of research and thus radically change the still predominantly disciplinary character of the sciences.
  • Topics with far-reaching, sometimes controversially discussed effects on society and the environment could significantly increase the need for governance processes and societal involvement in the development and introduction of advanced technologies.

We have designed the foresight process as a broad look into the future which particularly analyzes emerging technologies but also shows societal developments and the connections between the technical topics (technology, economy, and society). The results form a sound knowledge base and numerous starting points for further projects with specific questions with cooperation partners from commerce, politics, and the public sector.