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Emerging technologies to drive growth identified in UK Government Foresight report

Department For Business, Innovation & Skills (UK Government) : 04 December, 2012  (Special Report)
New technologies including ′smart’ fabrics, 3D printing and energy solutions have been highlighted as some of the innovations that could drive growth over the next 20 years, according to the latest Foresight report, launched by David Willetts.

British scientists and experts have identified over 50 new and developing technologies which could generate billions for the economy in the future, provided Government and businesses seize the opportunities. These are published in the refreshed Technology and Innovation Futures report.

The Report reprises the technologies identified in the 2010 Foresight report and updates them to reflect recent changes in technology and emerging trends. Findings are based on interviews and surveys of leading members of industry and academia.

The Foresight Horizon Scanning Centre, which produced the report, helps Government to think systematically about the future by considering longer term issues across the entire public policy spectrum. Foresight is part of the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) which supports the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser in ensuring that the Government has access to, and uses, the best science and engineering advice.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: “Looking ahead to the future, far beyond the usual political cycle, is the central plank of our industrial strategy. Providing industry with greater certainty helps companies make long-term investment decisions. By helping take the ground-breaking technologies of tomorrow through to market, we can carve out a competitive advantage for the UK and meet the challenges ahead.”

Government Chief Science Adviser Sir John Beddington, who led the research, said: “It is more important than ever to invest in long-term opportunities for growth and this report provides insight into where that investment could have most impact. The Government’s core role, facilitating collaboration between industry and researchers, will be crucial to seizing opportunities for the future of the UK’s economic prosperity.”

Technologies and trends identified in the report include:

  • Smart fabrics (one of several ‘human-centred’ design innovations) – technology woven into fabric which could be used to make clothes to monitor potential falls of an elderly wearer or the heart-rate of a patient. The development of new interactive materials incorporating sensors or communications technologies will transform how everyday objects function, and produce novel medical and engineering applications.
  • 3D printing (additive layer manufacturing) - an emerging technology that has moved from the research and development environment to commercial applications; ranging from housing units to fabricating biological tissues, and could offer people the chance to manufacture their own products.
  • Energy transition - the move away from reliance on fossil fuel energy sources to a more mixed supply model. There are major challenges to overcome, such as tackling intermittent supply from renewable energy sources and making renewable energy generation more affordable.

However, there are also opportunities such as hybrid energy systems, exploiting advances in battery technology and smart grids which could use information about supplier and consumer habits to improve the efficiency and reliability of electricity production. 

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