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Chart the next steps in the 'technology revolution'

Padmasree Warrior, strategic advisor at Cisco

Last month, speakers from around the world came to imec's Technology Forum in Brussels to share their views on what was described as our 'collective digital future'.

According to Padmasree Warrior, a strategic advisor at Cisco: "We are currently living through what is quite possibly the most exciting time that I have experienced in the technology industry in more than 30 years. All industries are being affected and whatever vertical you are involved in, you will have to contend not only with new technologies but new competitors, new business models, the pressure for more and faster innovation – all of which are combining to provide a unique and profound moment for us all."

Warrior talked about the gigantic streams of data being generated by sensors being deployed in cars, machinery in factories and from those worn on the body as the 'next big revolution'.

According to many of the speakers, the digital revolution is still in its infancy. Smartphones, tablets, desktop computers and social media are being used to collect and share information, but this is just the start, with dumb objects from fridges to clothes and furniture becoming digitally connected.

According to Lip-Bu Tan, president and CEO of Cadence, smart applications will need to be integrated into a complete system and into a smart environment with everything converging into the cloud.

The theme of the two day forum was smart living and Amazon's Babak Parviz, the former director of the Google X labs, which pioneered the development of Google Glass, talked about the impact of wearable electronics with reference to developments in extreme miniaturisation of electronic systems and declining power consumption.

"This will enable new kinds of wearable computers with enormous computational power and data storage capability provided by the cloud," he suggested.

His reference to wearable computers was mirrored by imec and the Holst Centre, who demonstrated a smart t-shirt with a highly accurate electrocardiogram, capable of recognising activity and which could calculate energy expenditure in an unobtrusive way.

"Wearable technology that measures body parameters has become increasingly popular in recent years. Smart garments have the ability to tackle a vast range of applications from fitness tracking and healthcare monitoring to safety applications, such as firefighters working in dangerous situations. Today, on-body sensing is performed using very tight, compression garments and we wanted to extend the functionality of smart garments and deliver medical-grade data through looser, everyday clothes," said Ruben de Francisco, programme manager for wearable health solutions at imec/Holst Centre.

The t-shirt features a flexible smart fabric interconnect technology and miniaturised electronics integrated into a module of the size of an extended SD card. The device, containing a high accuracy and ultra low power multisensor data acquisition chip with embedded processing, a battery and a Bluetooth Low Energy radio, weighs just 7g.

The rise of the IoT will see an eruption of data. Philip Vandervoort, chief consumer market officer of proximus, talked of a 'traffic explosion' and the need for network providers to provide data rates considerably faster than those seen today with latency at less than 1ms.

This focus on data will mean that servers and data centres will have an increasingly important role to play being at the heart of cloud computing and, according to An Steegen, senior vice president process technology at imec, they will require the most advanced transistor technologies in order to deliver the processing capability to support the amount of data generated by the IoT.

Neil Tyler

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