What sorts of things are the best and brightest at Germany’s universities currently working on? What exciting tech innovations from Germany and beyond can we expect to hit the market in the near future? This summer, the new CEBIT (11–15 June) will preview a range of innovations that are technologically within reach and will soon be a reality, focusing on megatrends like humanoid robotics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

At nearly three percent of GDP, Germany leads Europe on R&D spending (Source: Eurostat – that statistical office of the European Union). CEBIT will pick up on this fact, demonstrating Germany’s world-leading research capabilities to impressive effect.

Apart from being Europe’s No. 1 business festival for digitisation and innovation, CEBIT is an important meeting place for leading researchers, visionaries and lateral thinkers. This year, most of the participating research institutions will be presenting in the “Research & Innovation” section of CEBIT’s new d!tec platform. As well as that, numerous researchers from these institutions will be speaking on stage at the d!talk conference section of the show, where they will present groundbreaking concepts that are poised at the crossover point between science, business and industry.

The sixth generation of the ARMAR family of robots from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Hall 27) is sure to cause a stir

ARMAR-6 robots with enhanced AI capabilities

The sixth generation of the ARMAR family of robots from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Hall 27) is sure to cause a stir. ARMAR-6 packs a high level of AI smarts, IT processing power and mechatronic dexterity. Developed as part of the EU’s SecondHands project, ARMAR is a humanoid robot that can learn to pick up and use tools and pass them to human coworkers. ARMAR can also recognise when a fellow technician needs help and lend him/her a hand.

Among the promising developments for the retail sector on show at CEBIT will be a secure, anonymous and convenient payment and loyalty card system called PriPay. And it certainly is convenient: During initial testing it only took about a second to process payments. CEBIT visitors will be able to try the system out for themselves. At participating locations around the show, they will be able to collect PriPay points, which they can then redeem for a giveaway. 

The House of Living Labs research environment operated by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s FZI Research Center for Information Technology is a tech-transfer hub where researchers collaborate with partners from many other sectors to develop market-ready products. At CEBIT, FZI will present an intelligent camera system for connected cars that can provide detailed information on driver fitness and alertness. It does this by monitoring and evaluating driver heart rate, blink rate, head position and emotional indicators.

3D-ARILE, a pair of AR glasses developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research are designed to assist surgeons during tumor operations

Augmented reality for the O.R.

The institutes that make up the Fraunhofer Society will be mounting a showcase themed “Sparking Your Future” that will demonstrate their wide-ranging expertise in digital transformation. The showcase (Hall 27 and open-air site) will span an array of technology areas, including AI, Industry 4.0, cyber security and the Internet of Things. Highlights include 3D-ARILE, a pair of AR glasses developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research (Fraunhofer IGD) that are designed to assist surgeons during tumor operations. Background: Malignant tumors often form metastases that spread via the body’s system of lymph nodes. Pinpointing the exact location of these nodes requires a great deal of skill on the part of the surgeon. The researchers at Fraunhofer IGD have therefore developed a navigation aid in which the exact location of lymph nodes is presented as a data overlay on the surgeon’s AR glasses.

Another featured new development from the Fraunhofer stable is aimed at tomorrow’s smartphone users. The revolutionary HawkSpex Mobile app developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (Fraunhofer IFF) enables users to scan produce for freshness and signs of chemical treatment, vehicle chassis parts for hidden repairs, and medicines for authenticity. These are just a very few of the exiting developments that the Fraunhofer researchers are planning to preview at CEBIT. 

True human-robot collaboration

Today’s industrial robots are only able to assist humans on a single-task basis. Robots won’t be fully able to relieve their human counterparts of physically demanding work – such as repetitive tasks or ergonomically suboptimal movement sequences in assembly plants – until their scope of collaboration is expanded to encompass multiple work steps. The German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) will be running a display at the Federal Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Technology (BMBF) pavilion in Hall 27, where it will demonstrate how humans and robots can collaborate efficiently and safely in tomorrow’s dynamic Industry 4.0 production environments.

DFKI researchers will also be using CEBIT to present the center’s RECUPERA-Reha project

DFKI researchers will also be using CEBIT to present the center’s RECUPERA-Reha project (Hall 27). The aim of the project is to develop an innovative, lightweight and mobile full-body exoskeleton that can support and rehabilitate people with neuromotor disorders occasioned by causes such as strokes.

Brain-computer interfaces and optimised medical treatments

Several big-name German universities and research institutions will be presenting their innovations as part of larger group pavilions staged by the governments of the federal states in which they are based. Hannover Medical School (MHH), for example, will be participating at the Lower Saxony pavilion (Hall 16). MHH is currently conducting research into a next-generation hearing-aid system, the idea being that tomorrow’s hearing aids will feature brain-computer interfaces and will be thought-controlled. To this end, the MHH researchers are currently looking at ways of tapping into hearing-aid wearers’ EEG signals. The university will also be showcasing cochlear implants with integrated AI technology.

The German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB), Hannover, will be demonstrating how big data technologies can dramatically improve the quality of information management in medicine. The aim of the TIB information management process is to model genome data and information from various medical records in databases in order to improve patient treatment. 

Neurorobotics platform

Over at Bavaria’s “Bayern Innovativ” pavilion (Hall 27), Technical University of Munich’s Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Real-time Systems unit will be profiling its contribution to the Neurorobotics Platform, an international joint project aimed at stimulating brain models which are made up of neural networks and which control an artificial body. CEBIT visitors will be able to witness the platform in action. TU Munich will also be showcasing a biometric robotic mouse that can imitate rodent locomotion.

The “Baden-Württemberg International” pavilion will comprise six exhibitors and will have a strong focus on intelligent systems and Industry 4.0

The “Baden-Württemberg International” pavilion (Hall 27) will comprise six exhibitors and will have a strong focus on intelligent systems and Industry 4.0. Highlights include Aalen University’s presentation of its Cyber-Physical Teaching Factory. The factory is a teaching and research platform that can be used both to test digital twins and applications and to manufacture small parts. The presentation at CEBIT will focus mainly on testing data security by means of factory hacking and intrusion detection systems.

Meanwhile, the state of Baden-Württemberg’s University of Stuttgart will show visitors how a flow field can be interactively visualised directly on the actual object concerned using augmented reality.

Top researchers on stage at d!talk

World-class scientists will be taking the stage at CEBIT to report on the latest technological discoveries and developments in their areas of research. Among the luminaries who have signaled their intention to participate are: Marc Raibert, the CEO and founder of Boston Dynamics, who, with the aid of his trusty dog-like high-end robot SpotMini, will be demonstrating how robotics is revolutionising our everyday lives (Tuesday, 12 June, Hall 27); psychologist and memory hacker Julia Shaw of University College London (author of bestseller “The Memory Illusion”), on Wednesday,13 June, in Hall 27; and Jaron Lanier, VR legend extraordinaire and one of the fiercest critics of the big Internet corporations and their business models (Monday, 11 June, Convention Center). The Monday Convention Center lineup also includes Fraunhofer Society President Dr.  Reimund Neugebauer, who will talk about digitization from a scientific viewpoint. And last, but by no means least, Ranga Yogeshwar, one of Germany’s best-known science journalists, will discuss the future relationship between humans and computers in a presentation titled “Who’s programming who” (Wednesday, 13 June, Hall 27).

Download PDF version

In case you missed it

What characteristics do salespeople require in the physical security industry?
What characteristics do salespeople require in the physical security industry?

A basic tenet of sales is ABC – always be closing. But it's a principle that most professional salespeople would say oversimplifies the process. Especially in a sophisticated, high-tech market such as physical security, the required sales skills are much more involved and nuanced. We asked this week's Expert Panel Roundtable: What unique characteristics are required of salespeople in the arena of physical security systems?

Can microchip implants replace plastic cards in modern access control?
Can microchip implants replace plastic cards in modern access control?

A futuristic alternative to plastic cards for access control and other applications is being considered by some corporate users in Sweden and the United Kingdom. The idea involves using a microchip device implanted into a user’s hand. About the size of a grain of rice and provided by Swedish company Biohax, the tiny device employs passive near field communication (NFC) to interface with a user’s digital environment. Access control is just one application for the device, which can be deployed in lieu of a smart card in numerous uses. Biohax says more than 4,000 individuals have implanted the device. Using the device for corporate employees Every user is given plenty of information to make an informed decision whether they want to use the deviceCurrently Biohax is having dialogue with curious corporate customers about using the device for their employees. “It’s a dialogue, not Big Brother planning to chip every employee they have,” says Jowan Österlund, CEO at Biohax. Every user is given plenty of information to make an informed decision whether they want to use the device. Data capture form to appear here! “Proof of concept” demonstrations have been conducted at several companies, including Tui, a travel company in Sweden that uses the device for access management, ID management, printing, gym access and self-checkout in the cafeteria. Biohax is also having dialogue with some big companies in the United Kingdom, including legal and financial firms. Österlund aims to have a full working system in place in the next year or so. A Swedish rail company accepts the implanted chip in lieu of a paper train ticket. They accept existing implants but are not offering to implant the chips. Österlund says his company currently has no plans to enter the U.S. market. The device is large enough to locate easily and extract if needed, and small enough to be unobtrusive Access control credential The device is inserted/injected below the skin between the index finger and the thumb. The circuitry has a 10-year lifespan. The device is large enough to locate easily and extract if needed, and small enough to be unobtrusive. The only risk is the possibility of infection, which is true anytime the skin is pierced, and the risk is mitigated by employing health professionals to inject the chip. Use of the device as an access control credential or any other function is offered as a voluntary option; any requirement by an employer to inject the device would be illegal, says Österlund. It’s a convenient choice that is made “based on a well-informed decision by the customer.” Aversion to needles, for example, would make some users squeamish to implant the device. More education of users helps to allay any concerns: Some 10% of employees typically would agree quickly to the system, but a larger group of 50% to 60% are likely to agree over time as they get more comfortable with the idea and understand the convenience, says Österlund. Protection of information The passive device does not actively send out any signals as you walk. It is only powered up by a reader if a user has access rightsIn terms of privacy concerns, information contained on the device is in physical form and is protected. The passive device does not actively send out any signals as you walk. There is no battery. It is only powered up by a reader if a user has access rights. With use of the device being discussed in the United Kingdom, there has been some backlash. For example, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), has said: “Microchipping would give bosses even more power and control over their workers.” A big misconception is that the chip is a tracking device, says Österlund. It isn’t. “We love people to get informed,” says Österlund. “If they’re scared or apprehensive, they can just read up. It’s not used to control you – it’s used to give you control.”

Ethical consumption: should you buy security products ‘Made in China’?
Ethical consumption: should you buy security products ‘Made in China’?

Should ‘Made in China’ be seen as a negative in security systems and products? It’s an important and complex issue that merits a more detailed response than my recent comment in the Expert Panel Roundtable. For me, there are two sides of the answer to this question: Buying products that have certain negative attributes that are not in alignment with some part of a belief system or company mandate. Buying products that do not perform as advertised or do something that is unacceptable. For integrators and end users making the buying decisions, the drive to purchase products may not be based on either aspect and instead on the product that can do the best job for their business. But for others, a greater emphasis on the ethical implications of purchasing decisions drives decision-making. What is ethical consumption? Ethical consumption is a type of consumer activism that is based on the concept of ‘positive buying’ in that ethical products are favouredEthical consumption — often called ethical consumerism — is a type of consumer activism that is based on the concept of ‘positive buying’ in that ethical products are favoured, and products that are ethically questionable may be met with a ‘moral boycott’. This can be as simple as only buying organic produce or as complex as boycotting products made in a totalitarian regime that doesn't offer its citizens the same freedoms that we enjoy in the United States. Consider the goals of the Boston Tea Party or the National Consumers League (NCL), which was formed to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. Some examples of considerations behind ethical consumption include fair trade, treatment of workers, genetic modification, locally made and processed goods, union-made products and services, humane animal treatment, and in general, labour issues and manufacturing practices that take these factors into account. Increase in ethical consumption The numbers show that ethical consumption is on the rise. In a 2017 study by Unilever, 33 percent of consumers reported choosing to buy and support brands that they believe are doing social or environmental good. In the same study, 53 percent of shoppers in the United Kingdom and 78 percent in the United States said they feel better when they buy products that are ‘sustainably’ produced. There’s clear evidence that products from some Chinese companies suffer from cybersecurity vulnerabilities Though the aforementioned question that sparked this conversation centres around concerns with products made in China, there are many other countries where, for example, governments/dictators are extremely repressive to all or parts of their populations, whose products, such as oil, diamonds, minerals, etc., we happily consume. There are also a number of countries that are a threat in terms of cybersecurity. It may be naive and simplistic to single out Chinese manufacturers. Impact on physical security products Product buying decisions based on factors other than product functionality, quality and price are also starting to permeate the security marketplace. While this hasn't been a large focus area from the business-to-business consumption side, it's something that should be considered for commercial security products for a variety of reasons. Hardware hacks are more difficult to pull off and potentially more devastating" There’s clear evidence that products from some Chinese companies suffer from cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Last fall, 30 U.S. companies, including Apple and Amazon, were potentially compromised when it was discovered that a tiny microchip in the motherboard of servers built in China that weren't a part of the original specification. According to a Bloomberg report, “This attack was something graver than the software-based incidents the world has grown accustomed to seeing. Hardware hacks are more difficult to pull off and potentially more devastating, promising the kind of long-term, stealth access that spy agencies are willing to invest millions of dollars and many years to get.” This, along with many other incidents, are changing the considerations behind purchasing decisions even in the physical security industry. Given that physical security products in general have been lax on cybersecurity, this is a welcome change. Combating tech-specific threats In early January, members of the U.S. Senate introduced bipartisan legislation to help combat tech-specific threats to national security posed by foreign actors and ensure U.S. technological supremacy by improving interagency coordination across the U.S. government. The bill creates the Office of Critical Technologies & Security at the White House, an indication that this issue is of critical importance to a number of players across the tech sector. Members of the U.S. Senate introduced bipartisan legislation to help combat tech-specific threats to national security posed by foreign actors To address a significant number of concerns around ethical production, there are certifications such as ISO 26000 which provides guidance on social responsibility by addressing accountability, transparency, ethical behaviour, respect for stakeholder interests, respect for rule of law, respect for international norms of behaviour and respect for human rights. While still emerging within physical security, companies that adhere to these and other standards do exist in the marketplace. Not buying products vulnerable to cyberattacks It may be counter-productive, even irresponsible, to brand all products from an entire country as unfit for purchasing. Some manufacturers’ products may be ethically questionable, or more vulnerable to cyberattacks than others; so not buying products made by those companies would make sense. The physical security industry might be playing a bit of catch up on this front, but I think we're beginning to see a shift toward this kind of responsible buying behaviour.