Digital revolution: The path to innovation is opened by disruption

By Michaël Tchagaspanian, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Leti

Digital disruption begets innovation. Challenges equal opportunities. Those were clear messages during Leti Innovation Days recently in Grenoble, France. Over two days at the annual event, which this year coincided with Leti’s 50th anniversary, speakers and exhibitions highlighted challenges of the digital revolution and presented specific current-and-anticipated solutions for industry, healthcare and energy and the environment.

Coinciding with the launch of the administration of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has already talked of France becoming “a start-up nation”, Leti also noted the importance of creating and supporting startups that will help consumers, companies and countries address the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution.

Citing challenges in the energy sector, Thierry Lepercq, executive vice president of research, technology and innovation at the international French energy company ENGIE, warned of potential energy blackouts and financial problems for traditional energy providers due to the growing penetration of alternative energy sources, the switch from fossil fuels – and energy sharing by households.

These developments, which ENGIE calls “Full 3D” – decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization – have destabilized traditional power systems and providers.

For example, a German residential battery-storage supplier allows residents to store energy at home and swap it on the grid, cutting out traditional electricity providers. Lepercq also noted that the rapid growth in the use of electric vehicles can load the grid with demand that was not anticipated even a few years ago. But the digital revolution also has prompted entrepreneurial responses. EV-Box, the Dutch company that has deployed more than 40,000 vehicle-charging stations in 20 countries, is gathering usage data, which will help officials understand the vehicles’ demands on the grid.

ENGIE acquired EV-Box this year as a strategic step towards operating in a completely new global energy paradigm.

Driving toward a new economy

Last month, Intel released a study that predicted autonomous vehicles will create a “Passenger Economy” – with mobility-as-a-service – that could grow to $800 billion in 2035 and to $7 trillion by 2050.

With autonomous vehicles, the car will no longer be a “stand-alone vehicle”, but “something that reacts with the environment”, said Mike Mayberry, corporate vice president and managing director of Intel Labs. Intel has opened advanced vehicle labs in the U.S. and Germany to explore the various requirements related to self-driving vehicles and the future of transportation. That includes sensing, in-vehicle computing, artificial intelligence, connectivity, and supporting cloud technologies and services.

When a panel discussion on driverless cars was asked when these vehicles will be in general use, Jean-François Tarabbia, CTO of Valeo, the automotive supplier to automakers worldwide, said “the better question is ‘why’”. And that depends in part on the industry’s ability to demonstrate vehicle safety. He said that traffic jams could be reduced by 30 percent with autonomous cars. Still, the cars will require a driver inside who will do something other than driving until he or she is needed to operate the vehicle.

Pierrick Cornet, brand incubator at Renault Nissan, said autonomous cars also will have to accommodate owners who occasionally want to drive their vehicles. For carmakers like Renault Nissan, the challenges are managing the cost and weight of the vehicles, which are loaded with batteries, as well as computing and sensing gear – and making them able to charge quickly.

Fabio Marchiò, automotive digital general manager at STMicroelectronics, noted that cars are the least-used appliance/machine in the household. He agreed with Tarabbia that safety and consumer resistance are primary roadblocks for the vehicles, but added that government regulations could slow down their widespread use.

Moore’s Law obtains

Outlining some of Intel’s R&D programs, Mayberry brushed aside frequent predictions that Moore’s Law has run its course. He said Intel expects Moore’s Law to be in effect at least through the next decade, because of the industry’s continued evolution to smaller technology nodes with new IC technologies.

In addition to focusing on enabling Moore’s Law going forward, Intel’s research on components and hardware includes developing novel integration techniques. But Intel Labs also is focused on enabling future product capabilities and “imagining what’s next”.

As part of that effort, Intel Labs has partnered with Princeton University to decode digital brain data, which is scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The goal is to reveal how neural activity gives rise to learning, memory and other cognitive functions such as human attention, control and decision-making.

Leti and Intel agreed last year to collaborate on strategic research programs, including the Internet of Things, high-speed wireless communication, security technologies and 3D displays.

Quantum computing

Also peering into the more-distant future, Leti CEO Marie Semeria noted development of Leti’s Si-CMOS quantum-technology platform.

“The quantum topic has recently become central, thanks to the huge advances made in solid-state implementation, both in superconducting systems and in silicon technologies,” she said. “Interest in silicon-based technologies is huge because of their reliability and their capability to reproduce industrial standards along with the low-noise characteristics and low variability of CMOS devices.”

Noting that the University of New South Wales recently demonstrated a promising two-qubit logic gate based on the silicon-28 isotope, Semeria said Leti had demonstrated the compatibility of such circuits with state-of-the-art CMOS processes.

“From an architectural point of view, it is clear that the future quantum computer will be hybrid. It will combine a quantum engine with a classical digital computer,” she explained. “The program that will run on such a machine will need to combine at least two computing models: a classical part, to prepare data and process results, and a quantum one. A tight connection between the two programming models will be necessary.”

With its history of pioneering in technology and its culture of spinning out new companies to further develop and commercialize innovative technologies, Leti is poised to help France achieve Macron’s goal: “I want France to be a ‘start-up nation’, meaning both a nation that works with and for the start-ups, but also a nation that thinks and moves like a start-up.”

Leti has launched 64 startups, including 13 in the past four years.

Digital innovations in healthcare

Jai Hakhu, president & CEO of HORIBA International Corporation (U.S.), explained how the digital revolution is creating in vitro diagnostics business potential by enabling delivery of preventive healthcare services in even remote regions of the world. In one of HORIBA and Leti’s joint projects, they are developing a hematology, microfluidics-based, lensfree, point-of-care and home-testing system that can be used in underdeveloped countries.

The collaboration is helping realize HORIBA’s vision of providing preventive self-testing anywhere in the world.

Leti’s start-up Avalun has developed a portable medical device for multiple-measurement capabilities using point-of-care testing. Other recent healthcare-related startups include Diabeloop, which is in the final stages of testing an artificial pancreas, and Aryballe Technologies, which is developing olfactory and gustatory sensors.

Routes to innovation

Those new companies were among the presenters at Leti’s immersive exhibition, “Routes to Innovation”, which was the focus of day two of the event. Entrepreneurs and Leti scientists offered more than 60 demonstrations of patented technologies, to show with concrete examples how Leti’s technological know-how and industrial transfer expertise can help French and international companies innovate and become more competitive.

The three “Digital Revolution” topics included “Micro-Nano Pathfinding”, showing how the diversity of Leti’s digital technologies are available to all economic sectors; “Cyber Physical Systems”, and “Business-Model Disruption”.

The “Environmental Transition” demos covered “Sustainable Activities”, “Monitoring Our World’ and “More with Less”. The “New Frontiers for Healthcare” demos covered “Prevention, Independence, Well Being”, “New Therapies” and “Analysis & Diagnosis”. 

Collaborating for technological sovereignty

During the event, Semeria and Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics Chairman Hubert Lakner announced a wide-ranging collaboration to develop innovative, next-generation microelectronics technologies to spur innovation in their countries and strengthen European strategic and economic sovereignty.

The two institutes will initially focus on extending CMOS and More-than-Moore technologies to enable next-generation components for applications in the Internet of Things, augmented reality, automotive, health, aeronautics and other sectors, as well as systems to support French and German industries.

‘Smart everything everywhere’

Over the two days, a record number of guests, including CEOs, CTOs, journalists and special guests and speakers heard and saw examples of Leti’s advanced technology platforms, its commitment to research excellence and its vision for applying innovative technologies to challenges of the digital era.

Max Lemke, head of the Components and Systems Unit at the European Commission, noted that Leti’s contributions extend beyond microelectronics to cyber-physical systems, 5G, the Internet of Things, photonics and post-CMOS technologies. By supporting the digital transformation of industry, Leti plays a leading role in “smart everything everywhere”, Lemke said.

“Leti is excellently positioned to continue doing forward-looking research” on components and systems to build the foundation for Europe’s future competitiveness, and to play an instrumental role in supporting French and European industry in their digital transformation, he said.

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