The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Lionel Rudant, Strategic Marketing, CEA-Leti and Bernard Strée, European Research Program, CEA-Leti

The Industrial Revolution beginning in the mid-18th Century and its periodic echoes were driven by electronic miniaturisation that led to massive, low-cost production of consumer goods. From now on, new technologies will be deployed and adopted based on the universal goal of conserving finite resources and empowering individuals in their personal lives and professional pursuits.

Considered against this backdrop, the current era offers great opportunities and responsibilities. Indeed, some influential voices in government, industry and even technology questioned the pace and impact of digitising mobility, or transportation, as well as manufacturing, healthcare and other vital sectors. The shared challenge of those who are focused on research linked to mobility, therefore, is to figure out human-centric technology solutions for future mobility by anticipating their potential impacts on the economy, jobs and lifestyle transformation. Concomitantly, global digitisation, including mobility, calls for a new paradigm in technology business ecosystems beyond the consumer electronics.

Therefore, the question is, how can electronics be an inclusive driver of mobility?

Innovative electronics, key for the mobility revolution.

Today, technology presents opportunities for game-changing progress that might have been considered science fiction a couple of decades ago. These game changers will involve Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics, domains of the continuing digital-technology revolution. Several electronic roadmaps chart the course for these disruptions in a variety of sectors.

The 5G network will be the key enabler for massive adoption of smart services. The roadmap for low-cost integration of 5G systems brings disruption in the electronics value chain for future business applications of mobile communication networks. Many different applications of MEMS and photonics technology are being investigated to embed extensive sensor systems in future machines. Beyond digital CMOS, neuromorphic electronics will enable low-power implementation of AI closer to sensors.

But while mobility is expected to benefit early from AI and robotics with new autonomous vehicles, electronics must be developed according to system-driven roadmaps that call for collaboration between technology providers and the key providers of smart mobility equipment, apps and services.

Electric mobility relies on smart power electronics.

The advantages of electric mobility are offset by the fact that electric vehicles are still more expensive to purchase. Today, massive adoption of electric mobility will require low-cost, monolithic integration of power electronics and digital in one integrated component. The use of wide bandgap semiconductors, such as gallium nitride (GaN) in CMOS-compatible platforms, opens the door to smarter architecture for integrated components that will enable this co-integration. With GaN on silicon, power electronics can take advantage of a wide range of sensors, pre-drivers, short-circuit protection, etc. In addition, the next generation of GaN semiconductors supports additional functions, such as bidirectional power switching, thus simplifying the architecture even more and further reducing the complexity of power-management functions.

Electronics bridge global and individual issues.

Mobility is at the crossroad of individual and societal needs. Managing mobility is a challenge for cities considering the cost of public transportation systems and the environmental impact of individual vehicles. While policies and regulation (e.g. allowing or prohibiting certain types of vehicles) are elements setting the framework of transportation systems, understanding our behaviours and their evolution is key for inventing inclusive mobility solutions.

Tracking user feelings, motivations and preferences – the “sensorization” of the individual sphere –allows targeting and tailoring solutions for mobility. With this same individual­-sphere knowledge and through privacy protection or voluntary sharing of information, the collective experience in physical space can change significantly. Through predictive functions, collective feedback has concrete local impact, e.g. vehicle-free streets depending on pedestrian density. It also has long-term impact through rethinking urban planning with user experience indicators. The underlying technological trends are the introduction of a new-generation of sensor electronics, their embedded processing for local decision-making and for direct feedback to the user. Secure electronics cannot be avoided with respect to privacy concerns, if we expect a global information empowerment.

Electronics enable new business models that are changing the cities.

The Internet of Things (IoT) brings disruption to all business ecosystems as the information transmitted by billions of tiny devices unleashes marketing intelligence, innovative monetization models, new services of intermediation and value aggregation within platforms, etc. Smart cities address global issues with the opportunity of the IoT, but electronics can strongly impact practical deployment and operation costs of smart services in cities. Consequently, new electronics should enable each person to take advantage of affordable, if not free, digital services based on new business ecosystems.

On one hand, as city, regional and national government participation is often critical to the public/private ecosystem and citizen inclusion, the combined technology impacts should be taken into consideration when public policies are implemented. On the other hand, the IoT market growth relies on co-creation with different stakeholders at each step of the technology and innovation roadmaps, which should be created with inclusivity principles.

Europe can pioneer next-gen electronics.

Europe currently has many strengths to address these challenges. By gathering the political and research agendas – in particular COP21, Digitising European Industry, Smart Specialisation Strategy – S3, Amsterdam declaration – Europe creates the relevant regulatory, social, and innovative environments to implement today the inclusive mobility of tomorrow. Moreover, the European Union wants to deploy for its economy and society new technologies for inclusive mobility, as recently highlighted by the European Commission Expert Group on Connected and Automated Transport report.

Based on the four key messages highlighted above, we believe in this new perspective of our technology research: electronics drive inclusivity in a smart world!

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