Photo: acatech/I. Magrilov


Technologies that are transforming the world we live in

Digital connectivity is one of the defining technology trends of our time. By connecting people, goods and services, it is transforming the way that we live, work and communicate. The advent of artificial intelligence and learning systems marks a new stage in the process of digitalisation, with the development of these technologies being driven by a rapid rate of innovation. acatech is involved in several projects focused on technologies that are transforming our economy and society.

Autonomous systems: flexible assistants

Connected, intelligent systems are finding their way into every area of our lives. In the healthcare sector, for instance, self-learning robots can provide support for physicians and nursing staff. Expert systems employ artificial intelligence to help them arrive at more reliable diagnoses. Intelligent, self-driving vehicles enable safer road transport and improve traffic flows. Smart buildings use autonomous systems to enhance the safety and comfort of our homes and reduce the amount of housework we have to do. At the same time, they also cut our homes’ energy consumption. Autonomous systems will even venture into hostile environments, taking over tasks from human beings in the deep sea or in the decommissioning of power plants. The ways in which autonomous systems are transforming our economy and society were investigated by the Expert Panel Autonomous Systems under the chairmanship of acatech President Henning Kagermann. Members of the Expert Panel presented their Final Report to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at CeBIT in March 2017. As well as describing learning systems’ areas of application, the report provides an overview of the technological enablers, societal challenges and regulatory and ethical frameworks, formulates recommendations and proposes funding instruments. The goal is for Germany to shape the development of autonomous systems according to human needs, in its role as a leading supplier.

The Expert Panel Autonomous Systems was one of the working groups of the Federal Government’s High-Tech Forum. As well as Henning Kagermann, its members included acatech Executive Board members Ursula Gather and Christoph M. Schmidt.

acatech President Henning Kagermann and Reimund Neugebauer, co-chair of the High-Tech Forum, present the report of the Expert Panel Autonomous Systems to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Federal Minister of E

acatech President Henning Kagermann and Reimund Neugebauer, co-chair of the High-Tech Forum, present the report of the Expert Panel Autonomous Systems to Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka at CeBIT in Hanover on 20 March 2017.

New platforms for learning systems and artificial intelligence

Based on the work of the Expert Panel Autonomous Systems, the Federal Government has established learning systems and artificial intelligence as a new strategic theme. In September 2017, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) implemented one of acatech’s recommendations by launching the strategic initiative “Lernende Systeme – Germany’s platform for artificial intelligence”.

The Plattform Lernende Systeme brings together expertise on artificial intelligence from industry, academia and civil society. Its aim is to act as a forum for dialogue and cooperation. Approximately 150 experts from academia, industry and civil society are developing application scenarios for learning systems in seven working groups. They are discussing business models, training requirements, human-machine interactions and regulatory, ethical and safety issues. The platform is co-chaired by Johanna Wanka and acatech President Dieter Spath and is coordinated from a project office at acatech. Its goal is to position Germany as a global leader in learning systems technology.

((BU)) acatech President Dieter Spath (fifth from right) co-chairs the Plattform Lernende Systeme together with Federal Minister Johanna Wanka (not pictured). Photo: BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel

Artificial intelligence (AI) has arrived in our everyday lives. It enables everything from the voice assistants on our smartphones to the autopilot functions in our cars. Artificial intelligence constitutes a paradigm shift in programming. It involves programming learning methods instead of manually coding every individual operation in the program. acatech’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on “Machine Learning” provides free basic knowledge that can be accessed at any time. A total of 38 videos featuring scientists, company representatives, developers and users present an overview of machine learning methods, areas of application and tools. Concrete use cases from sectors as diverse as the automotive, health technology and financial services industries illustrate the types of problem that can already be solved with the help of machine learning. The course was launched at CeBIT 2017.

Industrie 4.0: research transfer and international cooperation

In the space of just a few years, the concept of “Industrie 4.0” has grown from an idea in acatech’s Berlin office into a global brand. The creation of the Plattform Industrie 4.0 followed on from the work of the Industrie 4.0 Working Group. Initiated by industry associations, the platform has developed into a joint initiative between industry, academia and government in Germany. acatech coordinates the Plattform Industrie 4.0’s Scientific Advisory Board. Last year, Henning Kagermann was appointed as the platform’s Global Representative and Advisor. In this role, he represents the platform at international events and advises it on its global strategy.

The Scientific Advisory Council comprises 20 professors drawn from the fields of production and automation, information sciences, law and the sociology of work. They engage in an in-depth dialogue with the research community in order to advise the Plattform Industrie 4.0 on all scientific and programmatic research questions.

Last year, the Plattform Industrie 4.0’s Scientific Advisory Council investigated the following topics:
- Adaptable, people-centred structures in Industrie 4.0 networks and factories
- Engineering of smart products and smart services
- Industrie 4.0 and the law

The Council is also helping the Plattform Industrie 4.0’s working groups to update their research agenda. The Council works closely with all the platform’s working groups and is a permanent guest on all of its committees. 

Industrie 4.0 Maturity Index: groundbreaking and accessible

Many companies are reluctant to embrace the Industrie 4.0 revolution because they lack sound guidance. acatech addressed this issue in its Industrie 4.0 Maturity Index, produced under the direction of Executive Board member Günther Schuh. The Index was presented at the Hannover Messe in April 2017. It employs a six-stage maturity model to offer guidance to companies wishing to develop their own individual roadmap for the transformation towards smart production with real-time capability. The recently established Industrie 4.0 Maturity Center provides companies with assistance in using the Index.

The networking required to enable Industrie 4.0 calls for close cooperation between all the partners in the network. Under the direction of Axel Kuhn, the acatech project Innokey 4.0 used a proven methodology to formulate recommendations for policymakers and businesses in order to support rapid transfer of R&D results into practical business applications. An acatech position paper on this topic was published in November 2017.

A valuable needs-based guide to smart services

Users and their individual needs are at the centre of the connected economy. User and product data can be combined to configure customised services that are offered via digital platforms. Data are thus critical to success, while digital platforms are becoming the key marketplaces. In order to accelerate the development of digital platforms, companies must collaborate in digital ecosystems. This collaboration must add value for all the partners in the value chain, be they customers, smart service providers, platform operators or data providers. In April 2017, acatech presented a Guide to the Smart Service Welt at the Hannover Messe. The guide uses nine examples from practice to show how companies can shape their transformation into smart service providers.

A secure and open digital infrastructure

On 18 May, the issue of how to create systems that are both open and secure was discussed in Wiesbaden by the Hessian Minister of Justice Eva Kühne-Hörmann and Johannes Buchmann (TU Darmstadt/CRISP), Karl-Heinz Streibich (CEO of Software AG), Hauke Stars (Member of the Executive Board of Deutsche Börse AG), several members of acatech and other experts from Hesse. As one of the key requirements for a connected economy and society, the security of digital infrastructure provided the main theme of the acatech Academy Day.

Johannes Buchmann (acatech Member, TU Darmstadt), Karl-Heinz Streibich (CEO of Software AG), Eva Kühne-Hörmann (Hessian Minister of Justice), acatech President Dieter Spath and Reiner Anderl (president of the Mainz Academy of Sciences and Literature, TU Darmstadt) at the acatech Academy Day in Wiesbaden on 18 May 2017 (left to right).

Enhanced, coordinated additive manufacturing

The term additive or generative manufacturing (usually referred to as 3D printing in the public debate) denotes techniques for making objects by building up layers of material using laser sintering. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to create customised, geometrically complex items, as well as enabling rapid prototyping and delivering weight and cost savings by using fewer materials and raw materials. But how important are these techniques to industry?

Although additive manufacturing will complement conventional industrial production in many areas, further development of the technology will be required before this becomes possible. This is the conclusion drawn by the joint position paper published at the beginning of 2017 by acatech, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. The Academies’ recommendations are targeted at better research coordination, enhanced data security and improved transfer of the technology into a practical setting.

Towards a climate-friendly circular economy

acatech and its partners launched the “Deutschland entkoppelt” initiative at a side event of the UN climate conference in Bonn on 14 November. The topic of the meeting was the circular economy, a concept aimed at decoupling resource consumption and economic growth, thereby curbing climate change and reducing our dependency on raw materials. The academy is working with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and SYSTEMIQ to create a platform for fostering the dialogue between academia, industry, government and civil society on the establishment of a circular, renewable economy. 

Automated and connected modern driving

acatech President Henning Kagermann and a number of other acatech Members were involved in the Ethics Commission on Automated Driving, which formulated 20 guidelines for the use of automated and connected vehicles on our roads. Federal Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt and Udo di Fabio, a former Federal Constitutional Court judge and chairman of the Ethics Commission, presented the Commission’s final report at the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure in Berlin in June 2017.

Individualised, patient-centred medicine and medical technology

Innovations in medical technology are enabling the development of Individualised Medicine, one of the leading fields of healthcare innovation. It is hoped that a more patient-centred approach will help to prevent or cure the chronic and multiple diseases of an ageing society. Medical technology provides the technological basis for biomarker-based Individualised Medicine, enabling individual, customised therapies. It will be necessary to resolve a variety of ethical, legal, economic and regulatory issues before widespread use can be made of individualised medical products in a clinical setting.

The acatech POSITION PAPER Towards Individualised Medicine through Medical Technology was published in 2017. It provides an overview of medical technology innovations in the fields of imaging and laboratory diagnostics, precision interventions and technological and biological implants. In this paper, acatech also outlines the importance of digitalisation to these innovations and sets out the associated challenges, which include ensuring a patient-centred approach, as well as issues concerning fair access, data privacy and informational self-determination, approval and affordability.

acatech projects in the thematic field of Technologies in 2017

Completed projects  
Additive Manufacturing (in partnership with Leopoldina and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities; lead institution acatech) Feb. 2014 - Jan. 2017
Industrie 4.0 Maturity Index April 2016 - April 2017 Massive Open Online Course (Machine Learning) Nov. 2016 - April 2017
Expert Panel Autonomous Systems Jan. 2016 - June 2017
Medical Technology and Individualised Medicine Jan. 2015 - Sep. 2017
InnoKey 4.0 Jan. 2016 - Sep. 2017
Ongoing projects  
Plattform Lernende Systeme Sep. 2017 - Aug. 2022
Framework for the Future of Materials March 2016 - June 2018
Industrie 4.0 Scientific Advisory Council II March 2016 - Feb. 2019
Workshop series: Industrie 4.0 – The Future of Industrial Work Dec. 2014 - end 2018
Digital Service Platforms/MOOC Smart Service Welt Nov. 2015 - Dec. 2018
“Autonomous Systems” study for the Commission of Experts for Research and Innovation May 2017 - March 2018
The future of business processes: towards the future of office work with automation through artificial intelligence (SmartAIwork) Nov. 2017 - Oct. 2020