Innovation and Future Research

Foresight Fraunhofer – Future topics for applied research

The requirements on the strategic management of organisations have risen sharply due to societal and macroeconomic development dynamics. Foresighted actions to set the right course at the given time are based on well-founded visions of the future and are one of the greatest challenges that organisations must face.

In the context of a foresight process, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has taken a systematic look into the future in order to derive strategic orientation knowledge from potential technologies and societal challenges and to foster the further development of the foresight methods at the same time. In addition to the systematic, very broad scanning of future topics, one special feature of this project is the comprehensive use of Fraunhofer expertise across all 72 research institutes. This means that it is significantly more extensive than in the case of previous foresight processes.

51 topics of high relevance to applied research in 2030 were identified.

  • We initially selected and analysed these 51 topics through extensive research of international foresight studies.
  • Some 400 Fraunhofer experts then evaluated them in terms of their relevance to the future of research, the economy and society. 
  • The results were confirmed by 20 national and international experts from the fields of science and industry through interviews in a review process.

The survey results were used as the basis for identifying topics which will bring about fundamental changes and therefore require special attention. These topics include deep learning – AI, reconomy and the use and maintenance of biodiversity. We additionally identified topics that are particularly dynamic in terms of innovation. Some of these topics, such as biohybrid, water harvesting membranes and pHealth, are already highly relevant to applied research today, while others are thus far niche topics that are developing dynamically and could therefore soon encounter broader interest. Many topics from this group are related to microelectronics, such as neuromorphic chips or quantum communication. The study also identified a further topic group with particular societal relevance. These topics, some of which are highly controversial, include geoengineering, civic technologies and reprogramming of human cells, for instance.

Further findings concerning the perspective development of the selected 51 topics can be derived as follows on the basis of the survey results:

  • Numerous topics with a very broad impact on entirely different research and economic sectors could develop into key technologies.
  • Topics with converging technologies could dissolve the boundaries between areas of research and thus radically change the still predominantly disciplinary character of the sciences.
  • Topics with farreaching, sometimes controversially discussed effects on society and the environment could significantly increase the need for governance processes and societal involvement in the development and introduction of advanced technologies.

We have designed the foresight process as a broad look into the future which particularly analyses emerging technologies but also shows societal developments and the connections between the technical topics (technology, economy and society). The results form a sound knowledge base and numerous starting points for further projects with specific questions with cooperation partners from commerce, politics and the public sector.