What are the future topics of applied research?

12.8.2019

On behalf of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Fraunhofer ISI, together with other institutes of the Fraunhofer Group for Innovation Research, has 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.

Elna Schirrmeister, Deputy Head of the Competence Center Foresight at Fraunhofer ISI, explains: “We have analysed many highly interesting topics, including examples such as artificial brain, global protein supply and transient materials. With some of the spotlights, there was a great deal of agreement among the experts on their relevance, while for others, such as geoengineering, our discussions were very controversial, for example, in connection with climate change. One example is the attempt to counter the effects of climate change by geoengineering glaciers and thus via geological landscape design. Even though the economic relevance of geoengineering is initially only indirectly apparent, special attention should nevertheless be paid to the topic, since the societal effects of technology require particularly deliberated action in research.“

Extensive Fraunhofer expertise from all 72 research institutes

Cornelia Reimoser, Research Coordinator of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, emphasises another special feature of the project in addition to the systematic, very broad scanning of future topics: “The Fraunhofer Foresight Process uses the comprehensive Fraunhofer expertise across all 72 research institutes for its systematic look into the future. It identifies future topics for applied research that could have a decisive impact on economic and societal developments.“

The now published interim results in German and English herald the second project phase: With the aim of further optimising the methodological approach, new digital information sources and evaluation options will be used and a dialogue initiated with the researchers of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI analyzes the origins and impacts of innovations. We research the short- and long-term developments of innovation processes and the impacts of new technologies and services on society. On this basis, we are able to provide our clients from industry, politics and science with recommendations for action and perspectives for key decisions. Our expertise is founded on our scientific competence as well as an interdisciplinary and systemic research approach.