RIBRI – Radical Innovation Breakthrough Inquirer

Horizon scanning for radical innovation breakthroughs

The Radical Innovation Breakthrough Inquirer (RIBRI) report identified 100 potential innovation breakthroughs in fields such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics or biomedicine, and indicates how the EU can prepare for them. The project team developed a semi-automated process to search for radical innovations and applied this at EU level for the first time.

The 100 Radical Innovation Breakthroughs (RIBs) include technical developments, for example biodegradable sensors and 4D printing, as well as societal concepts such as basic income or car-free cities. Make your own analysis here.

An innovative, semi-automated process was used to identify and analyze the RIBs. A learning language-analysis algorithm (NLP Natural Language Processing) analyzed the contents of around 500 000 news items on scientific and technical platforms. Topics were filtered out that appeared for the first time during the period of investigation. These topics and any related patents and publications were evaluated by scientists from the respective field. The evaluation was carried out in relation to the degree of maturity, the probability of widespread use in 20 years time and Europe’s position.

The core concept of the project was to identify 100 innovations for Europe and the world and to match them with future Global Value Networks (GVN, the areas where new value is created).

Targets and steps were set for this purpose:

  1. to collect and systematise up-to-date information on the main future radical (technological and societal) innovation breakthroughs (RIBs) from sources around the world,
  2. assess the potential of these major breakthroughs as emerging new developments or game changers and their strategic importance for Europe, taking into account their scientific basis and technical feasibility, their relevance to existing economic structures in Europe, and the strategic potential and risks related to potential future global challenges, both within and outside Europe,
  3. identifying Europe's strengths and weaknesses in exploiting the 100 most significant breakthroughs and aligning them with future global value networks,
  4. produce a report suitable for policy makers describing the 100 most technically and socially significant radical innovation breakthroughs, underpinned by a structured analysis and a data set describing all the promising candidates identified as potentially feasible in the next 5 to 20 years

In addition, however, we aim at two more far-reaching aims directed at underpinning a European future orientation in a more general way:

  1. To initiate a community of actors committed to engage into a Pan-European dialogue on radical innovation breakthroughs that may form the nucleus of wider future oriented debate in Europe and thereby strengthen European futures orientation and resilience.
  2. To pave the way for an ongoing exploration of radical innovation breakthroughs combining human judgement and automated analysis in a fruitful way.


07/2017 − 08/2018


European Commission, Directorate-General Research & Innovation, Directorate A Policy Development and Coordination, Unit A.6 – Data, Open Access and Foresight


  • Institutul de Prospectiva, Bucharest, Romania
  • Finland Futures Research Centre, University of Turku, Finland

The RIBRI study draws the following conclusions for European research and innovation policy:

  1. A large proportion of the RIBs has strong links to Artificial Intelligence (AI). Innovations such as emotion recognition, swarm intelligence, speech recognition and computational creativity will bring about drastic changes in every economic field – from agriculture through health to the creative industry. Europe should therefore be in a strong position for the expected wave of AI-based innovations and look for ways early on to exploit the resulting potentials and counteract the risks at the same time.
  2. More than 40 technologies that are at a low level of maturity today will be used in a significant number of applications by 2038. Examples include neuromorphic chips, 4D printing and hyperspectral imaging. A critical analysis of the possible applications of these technologies is important, for example, military drones and methane hydrate mining. Policymakers should also be aware of the possible associated disruptions in value creation. While Europe holds a strong position in some of these highly dynamic fields, such as bioplastics and technologies using marine and tidal power, it lags behind in others, such as the use of bioluminescence and energy harvesting.
  3. A new wave of change with unclear contours is emerging in the wake of digitalization around biotechnology, health and sustainability. The global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are important drivers here. It will be essential to understand this next wave of change and ensure that suitable framework conditions and accompanying social innovations are in place in good time.  
  4. Future value chains will be equally influenced by technical and social innovations, for example, the development of alternative currencies, gamification, local food circles, and different variants of an unconditional basic income.
  5. Several of the radical innovations such as bioelectronics, plant communication and artificial photosynthesis are still very immature. At the same time, some of the more mature technologies like hydrogels and carbon nanotubes may turn out to be more disruptive than expected. This calls for a coordinated approach of innovation and industry policy.