Start-up of the Day: Vialytics quickly registers road conditions

How do self-driving cars handle potholes on the road? As just stay driving ahead or spontaneously around them aren’t an option. You have to take the bull by the horns, that’s what the founders of vialytics were thinking. They designed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to map out road conditions. This is how the road authorities can deal with the problems as quickly as possible. Danilo Jovicic, who founded the start-up together with Achim Hoth and Patrick Glaser, explains how the system works.

The founders of vialytics GmbH, (from left to right) Achim Hoth, Patrick Glaser, Danilo Jovicic ©vialytics

How did you come up with the idea of setting up vialytics?

We wanted to do business as an independent company and set up our own start-up. We got to know each other through the Activatr and Pioniergeist start-up programs. It was by coincidence that we then got together in a small group. That’s where the idea of doing something with road management took shape. We came up with a lot of wild ideas for a couple of weeks. We also had a lot of contact with municipalities who told us about problems concerning road management. The overarching issue there was autonomous traffic. We thought carefully about what you need to do in order to be able to drive safely autonomously. That invariably comes down to good roads.

What does your product look like?

Municipalities can continuously monitor their streets with our system. This is done with the help of a modified smartphone mounted on the windscreen of a municipal service vehicle. On a sweeper, for instance. These are at any rate always out and about in the city. The smartphone records the road every 4 meters.

This data is subsequently sent to us. It is then analyzed using an algorithm. Any damage to the road is automatically detected this way. The municipalities get the data back again in the form of a dynamic map. As they are better informed about the condition of the roads, they can react more quickly to any damage. This leads to a more sustainable and efficient way of road management. After all, plenty of municipalities don’t address the maintenance of their streets until it is far too late. Which means that the costs are also much higher. Current systems do not offer a proper solution. Those recordings are actually made with too great a time frame between each other. Nor are they carried out systematically.

Was there a problem you had to resolve first?

It was particularly difficult in the beginning to gain the trust of municipalities. This was mainly due to the fact that municipalities rarely cooperate with start-ups here. We set up 5 pilot projects where our system was tested. Thanks to the positive reactions we received, we have now managed to build up a customer base of 50 municipalities throughout Germany. Currently, we are also in contact with cities in other countries who are interested in our product.

What are you especially proud of?

We are especially proud of our first customers who have dispelled any preconceptions that local councils are a bit stuffy. Some of them were so enthusiastic about our solution that they bought the system before it had even been fully developed. Of course, we are also very proud of our team, which has expanded considerably over the last 6 months. Our employees are busy developing the product on a daily basis.

©vialytics

What does the future of vialytics look like?

Our goal is that of internationalization. We want road authorities all over the world to be able to maintain their road networks in an efficient and sustainable manner. Apart from that, we will continue to work on improving things so that we can keep on responding to the requests of our customers.

What tips do you have for other starters?

Do you have a good idea? Jump into the deep end and dare to make your dreams come true. And for those who have already set up a company: at some stage, take each employee along with you to a client. That’s what you’ll learn the most from.

More articles on start-ups can be found here.

 

Tomorrow is good: Is Germany lagging behind or clearly steering ahead?

By using a few clichés about Germany, I tried to explain in my very first column for IO that Germany could do so much better if it took a look in a more practical and creative way at how innovations are taken advantage of and at government intervention. This view has been bolstered by my own experiences and the countless moaning Germans around me. There is an enormous need for more momentum. And above all, for speedier government action where social innovation is concerned. The Dutch could certainly lend a helping hand with that.

My next column should have been about how the Dutch sometimes rush into things, act too often like merchants and can perhaps learn something from German solidity and desire for structure. It is very illuminating to work with Germans when it has to do with guaranteeing quality through structure and process. Then that’s it, as far as comparisons are concerned. Or so I thought.

But this was soon followed by a splendid response from Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet to my intentionally provocative stance in my introductory column. She now thinks I’m a bit of a know-it-all. I would like to respond to that in a somewhat provocative way yet again.

Classic German defense

Actually there are many things we agree on and Christiane is very good at describing what can be improved in Germany. In my first column, I touched on a number of things that I think Christiane generally acknowledges as well. But she also tends to go on the defensive. Which kind of confirms what I often see happening in Germany.

Let me start by saying that, as a resident of the German capital and a regular traveler in Germany, I am very familiar with the classic German defense.

  1. What can be done in your country in the Netherlands (or Denmark or Sweden) is out of the question here. We are so huge, we have states as big as the Netherlands – and mega-suburbs. That’s why it works differently (as in slower etc).
  2. Yet it’s not going badly at all, because we are basically an export success story export thanks to the quality of our products.

However, I am convinced that the first of these points is not true. Germany can really move faster and the government needs to be more agile and is quite capable of learning from other countries. I understand the second point and it rings true. But it does not detract from the first point. Society is not benefiting enough from the innovations that go overseas if Germany itself is still just now starting to slowly digitize. All in part due to an unwieldy government.

Hipsters in Kreuzberg

Christiane also mentions the Dutch D66 leader who recently presented Berlin as a shining example for the Netherlands. I have to admit that I didn’t know what I was seeing when I read that sentiment. (I actually burst out laughing). Previously, liberals always looked to NYC – and all of a sudden it’s now Berlin? The Berlin that I think I know quite well, that I love. But would not consider a shining example for a successful model.

I know plenty of Dutch people who base their image of the German capital on their perceptions of Mitte and Prenzlauerberg. However, you would expect that a liberal leader of a Dutch governing party would do a bit more research. A bunch of start-ups and a few hipsters in Mitte and Kreuzberg don’t necessarily turn Berlin into an innovative and open city. Berlin is much more than just the hip “core.” It is paradoxical and oftentimes very conservative. Munich is much more of a D66 city (- but that comparison should be made in another column ; ).

Go Germany!

For the record, I do feel positive about Germany. In the face of an impending crisis and with a budget surplus, a lot can be done. Moreover, Germany will really start shifting over the next few years. This will benefit innovation, even in cities and general society. At long last we are seeing some signs of change. For example, where electromobility is concerned.

The latest news this week is that Germany has turned a corner and is now fully committed to electromobility. After years of holding back, a master plan for electromobility is on its way. And 3.3 billion euros will be invested between now and 2023 (also some investment in hydrogen). There is talk of one million charging stations. 10 million electric cars should be driving on German streets by 2030. Volkswagen is going fully electric. They’ve started producing the ID.3, an affordable e-car for the masses. BMW is installing 4100 stations, although mainly for its own employees. Doesn’t this so-called German inertia eventually steer the country in a direction that ultimately leads to a competitive edge?

Risk of deferral

In the coming years, considerable investments will also be made in bicycles: transport minister Scheuer has promised an extra €900 million. Numerous cities are planning upgrades to their urban infrastructure. Yet the risk of deferral is always looming in Germany. Or as Raoul Schmidt-Lamontain, a governmental policy-maker from Dresden, recently said: “In the meantime, money has been made available for trams and cycle lanes from new subsidy programs. But if, for example, I want to convert an intersection into a bicycle-friendly one or extend a bridge for pedestrians, then I also have to invest in the roads at the same time. So, I always need money from several subsidy sources all at once. If one stimulus program fails, investments in the other areas can’t be carried out either. And that money will stay put.”

So, no jumping for joy quite yet. Let’s see the results first!

Incidentally, Christiane is right and we were in agreement on this too – collaboration is worthwhile as (international) solutions can be found together … but sometimes by looking in the mirror as well.

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

Why the tech scene in Belarus is growing

Belarus is the country where the IT-sector has been rapidly growing for the past 20 years, which has resulted in such world-famous software products as Viber or the World of Tanks game. But Belarus has much more than software to offer – it is one of the few ex-Soviet states whose economy at present looks promising when it comes to the development of innovations.

Special economic zones

Belarus is a relatively large country that borders on both the EU and Russia. This location gives the country wide-ranging opportunities for cooperation in the West as well as the East and access to the large Eurasian Economic Union market. According to the World Bank’s 2018 economic rankings, Belarus is ranked 37 (for comparison, the Netherlands is ranked 36, Germany – 24).

The Prime Minister of Belarus, Andrei Kobyakov, said in one of his interviews that in comparison to many other ex-Soviet countries, Belarus is politically stable and has a clear foreign economic policy. These serve as the right conditions for international cooperation and for the development of innovations. In addition to this, the government of Belarus encourages entrepreneurship in hi-tech. In 2006 Belarus launched the Hi-Tech Park – a special (reduced tax) economic zone for software companies. Now there are around 200 residents in the Park. More than half of those are foreign companies and joint ventures.

But Hi-Tech Park is not one of a kind in the country. Currently, Belarus is building a new, bigger special economic zone – the China-Belarus  Great Stone Industrial Park. The resident companies of this industrial site will be the manufacturers of electronics, fine chemistry, new materials and other high-tech goods.

IT companies in Belarus

Software development is currently the top-priority economic sector of Belarus. In 2017 president Lukashenko signed a ‘Development of Digital Economy’ decree that provides specific rules for the cryptocurrency sector in order to make Belarus more attractive to IT companies.

Famous IT start-ups that originated from Belarus include Viber Media (an instant messaging and VoIP app developed in Belarus and acquired by Japanese Rakuten), MSQRD camera filter app (acquired by Facebook) and countless other IT start-ups with up to 1 million audiences.

Why does Belarus succeed in IT? Perhaps it is due to the well-developed system of math and science education. Belarus inherited this system from the Soviet Union along with other ex-Soviet countries. However, the most important driving force behind the development of IT and high-tech in Belarus are industrious, entrepreneurial and well-educated Belarusian people – one of the main resources of the country.

Inspirational lectures on innovation for SMEs, ‘from theory to market’

Standing still is a step backwards. Entrepreneurs from various disciplines feel an ever-increasing need to innovate. Exactly how they should approach this often remains difficult, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). That is why the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), Fontys, MKB Eindhoven and Eindhoven Engine are attempting to inspire innovative entrepreneurs with lectures on the application of promising technologies.

A new series of lectures was launched in August under the name of HIGH5. Here, TU/e professors share their knowledge with entrepreneurs and hope to learn from them through these as well. After such a theoretical lecture, innovative SMEs (often spin-offs from the university) are able to see how that scientific knowledge is applied in their company. “For participating SMEs, it presents a low threshold for access to science and its application potential,” says Monique Greve, initiator of the lectures. The lectures are about 3D printing, photonics and data science and other subjects.

“By combining theory and practice, we want to get entrepreneurs enthusiastic about innovation and inspire them to work with it themselves,” Greve explains. It is more difficult for SMEs to find a way into a university or another knowledge institution. That’s why Greve, together with colleague Herman van Hoeven, has been organizing these low-key lectures for the past five years.

The series kicked off in August with a session on circular economy. “A subject which every entrepreneur has to deal with,” Greve states. That entrepreneurs are interested in these types of innovations was clear to see from the huge list of applicants. “We even had to move to a larger hall,” she says with pride. For the second lecture too, on 3D printing, there were far more applications than available places. “

Bringing companies and knowledge institutions together

It is very interesting for small and medium sized companies to see how a particular technology works and who is involved with it. “Large companies often know where to go for information or ask questions, but this is more difficult for smaller companies,” she explains. For instance, when it comes to robotics or photonics, SMEs are often on their own when it comes to the innovation process. “That’s why we try to provide information during the lectures that suits their needs. We then try to bring companies into contact with each other, along with the employees of the partners involved, by following up with a networking get-together.”

Building a bridge to the market

Through these lectures, the organizing parties try to bridge the gap between research and actual practice related to a particular technology. “This can be done in two ways. Sometimes a researcher is interested in bringing a technology forward to the market. Then we bring the technology from the university into the market, so to speak,” explains Greve.

“On the other hand, there may also be a market demand for a particular technology. Then we are able to establish a link which enables them to move ahead.” They may contact TU/e Innovation Lab or one of the other partners if they have any questions resulting from the lecture. “It depends on which partners are best able to help the entrepreneur,” says Greve.

As an example, the university has for this purpose De Vragenbank (The Question Bank). This is an initiative which enables SMEs to ask students questions about technology. They then provide the company with a basic report containing an answer. After that, companies and students could possibly work together in the long term in order to actually realize plans. “Students and companies are working together on innovation in this way.”

A look into how things work in practice

The lectures are not only interesting for entrepreneurs. “It is also very educational for scientists to get information in return from those in the field as to how things work in practice,” says Greve. “Technologies are being developed at the university, which means that there is an enormous amount of knowledge. The translation to companies is frequently difficult. That’s why it’s good that professors share their ideas with entrepreneurs through these kinds of lectures. These are often the ones who will ultimately apply the technology.” This is how the university aims to create support and enthusiasm for technologies that will eventually appear on the market.

There are still three lectures in the series to attend. These take place on the last Monday of the month and cover the Internet of Things/Digital Twin, Data science and Photonics. More information can be found here.

Research and development subsidies with the help of EY

It’s been in existence for 25 years. The Dutch Research and Development Promotion Act (Wet Bevordering Speur- en Ontwikkelingswerk, WBSO). Thanks to the WBSO entrepreneurs can carry out more research on innovations. This is to enable them to transform ideas into successful products and services more quickly, as can be read on the website of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland, RVO). Every entrepreneur, whether small, large or just starting out, can make use of it as long as they have staff in their employ. Ilse Jansen and Gerben Hellinga at EY know all about the scheme and they have come across all kinds of things in their dealings with it.

“Ranging from any boffin who has a brilliant idea and is working on their own, to (family) companies that have been very stable and have had an R&D (Research & Development) department for years, to the major players who have large R&D centers like so many different companies in the Eindhoven region. You really are at the forefront of developments, at the very heart of companies,” says Hellinga. He has had years of experience with the WBSO and works as senior tax manager at EY, a global concern which specializes in accountancy, tax advice and business advice. “EY has been expanding its subsidy activities for a number of years now.”

Read moreResearch and development subsidies with the help of EY

Editorial: Dear Floris Beemster (and other perpetual know-it-alls)

Kommentar-Deutschland-Hand-reichen

Whoever talks about Germany is at times quick to criticize. The country is lacking innovation. We are lagging behind in terms of digitization, 5G expansion, comprehensive WLAN coverage and so on and so forth. We are also taking our time to set up a charging infrastructure for electric cars. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, are much faster, more innovative, getting on with it, a country with an ocean full of charging stations. And in general, everything is much better there. Germany, on the other hand, is a country with just under 83 million inhabitants which is often portrayed as the unbudging giant of Europe.

The trouble with numbers

And yes, it’s true. The Dutch are fast. They are rapidly paving the way for charging stations all over the country. Almost 44,000 of them have already been built. That’s more than enough to equip the 17 million or so inhabitants with e-cars. Consequently, every Dutchie could own at least two electric cars. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The trend is clearly moving towards having a second car …

However, if you look at how electricity is generated in the Netherlands, you will soon start to wonder. Only 7.4 percent of the electricity generated in our neighboring country comes from renewable resources. Coupled with electromobility, the image of this innovative country soon begins to falter. Yes to electromobility – but at what cost? In Germany, on the other hand, the proportion of electricity generated from renewable resources is 46.7 percent. Not bad for a country that has been described as lacking innovation

Mobile in the city

Speaking of electromobility. Even though e-scooters are currently available in Germany too – we weren’t the first. But at least we did it – they still can’t be found anywhere in the Netherlands. That means you either have to walk or ride your bike. But when it comes to shared mobility services, both countries feel like they are in the same league. You can rent anything that is fun and handy, from an e-car to an e-bike. All the other conventional four- and two-wheeled vehicles are also available for hire in the cities. Great. But has this reduced the volume of traffic in both countries yet?

Payment methods in Germany

How many payment options do we actually need? Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, i.e. payment by app, debit and credit card or cash. There are also many online payment methods: Paypal, by invoice, in advance, installments and so on. You would think that this choice would be enough for everyone in Germany. Critics will say: “Yes, but in certain restaurants only cash is accepted.” Sure, that’s so true. But that rings just as true the other way in innovative Sweden nowadays. For instance, in some restaurants, cash is no longer accepted. That might also annoy some people.

Cumbersome government

Anyone talking to medium-sized companies in Germany will soon find that they are far from happy about the lack of expansion with respect to infrastructure. Many companies are progressing far too slowly. That is an irrefutable fact. Yes, they perhaps waited too long (for whatever reason). For that matter, the situation is the same in the automotive industry. Development was neglected – other nations have reacted much more quickly. Now the industry is facing a hectic state of affairs at an operational level. Better late than never. But Germany is already experiencing a gloomier economic climate. Has the whiff of innovation already slipped away?

Agile start-up branch

Absolutely not. In Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Leipzig and many other cities, bustling start-ups show where it’s at. It’s not for nothing that Rob Jetten (leader of the liberal D66 political faction currently part of the Netherlands government), looks to the German capital for inspiration and is hoping for a “Berlin on the Rhine” in the future.

The think tanks not only provide sustainable, high-tech solutions for tomorrow’s world. In fact, they are determined to successfully navigate their way through the German regulatory jungle. Other, younger entrepreneurs are much more likely to be discouraged and give up. Start-up awards in Germany are booming, take investor events or related TV formats, for example. And the trend is on the rise. The start-up industry proves that there is no lack of ideas nor is there a lack of their implementation in Germany.

And what about mid-sized businesses?

Critics might now claim: the start-up scene accounts for only a small proportion of the concentration of businesses in Germany. But even small and medium-sized businesses are not sleeping. Many companies are on the lookout for new ideas, are focusing on digitization and are coming up with promising solutions. It is not for nothing that Germany has been the world’s leading exporter for years. Obviously, there are many interested parties around the world who value German know-how and products. How else would it be possible for Germany to have generated, according to the Ifo Institute, the world’s largest energy surplus for the third time in a row at the start of this year.

There is a lot to do

Nevertheless, there is still a lot to do in Germany. But not just here in Germany. Good and bad points can be found in every European country. The key words are exchange, sharing know-how and co-working – not a know-it-all attitude. Being world champions together, as you would hope to be, dear Floris, is all about finding solutions together and not just constantly slinging comparisons back and forth.

With innovative greetings,

Christiane

 

Tomorrow is good: C’mon Germany, dare to do something!

Two weeks ago, the IFA circus landed in Berlin once more. The largest consumer electronics fair in Europe. The major internationally operating companies are bringing their latest innovations to the capital of the world’s most innovative country – at least according to the WEF (October 2018). The e-scooters raced in, as the savvy and the not-so-savvy crowd marveled at drones, smartphones, headphones and smart homes.

It would seem that Germany is a paradise for developing and marketing innovations. Yes, major global players such as BMW, MHP, Bosch, Siemens and SAP are all hard at work doing their thing. It’s full of start-ups in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt. Zalando is a global player, autonomous driving is being further developed, e-sharing  is booming, but in the meantime …

Nothing is what it seems

As is almost always the case in Germany, nothing is what it seems. The government and society are cumbersome and slow. And Germany is lagging behind many global innovative developments. Take electric driving. Most European countries, e.g. Norway and the Netherlands, are well ahead of Germany. Digitizing the government is an enormous task. A new approach to urban space which would ease traffic issues? It’s all very complicated.

On one side you have a country and a capital like Berlin full of innovative start-ups, ShareNow and WeShare – or N26 for instance, the new Berlin Fintech bank that is going completely digital. On the other side, the cities are still geared towards cars, in many places you can only pay cash, you have to pay for your debit card transaction at another bank and then it turns out that they don’t work with Tikkie. Siemens can do almost anything, except that the traffic lights in German cities belong to them and are calibrated in the same way as they were 20 years ago. And where are all the charging stations?

Where it mainly goes wrong in Germany has to do with the lack of focus on the end user. Many things are being developed with an engineering mind, but the question of whether and in what ways the citizen really wants them is of secondary importance. Top-down development is the rule, user-friendliness is the exception. Procedures are tricky and the legal reality often takes precedence. Innovation is then difficult.

Intractable innovation engine

The Netherlands is “what you see is what you get.” (And occasionally less than that, we are … ahem … gifted marketeers after all). User friendliness is our top priority. In Germany, and especially in Berlin, where I live, there are often different realities that frequently coexist completely parallel to each other. The reality of the German Innovation Engine is intractable.

The cliché associated with Germany is that it’s an industrial nation with a powerful lobby that wants to milk its own business model for as long as possible, take the automobile industry and the combustion engine as examples. It has also been quite successful economically and has provided employment for so many people. Politicians allow themselves to be swayed by this and, often under pressure from the powerful lobbies, do not come up with the innovation that e.g. German cities are in need of. According to a lot of people, the new Klimatpaket (climate policy of the Federal Government) does not go far enough.

Courage and creativity

Obviously, a lot of it works quite well, but a lack of courage and a lack of creativity are hampering Germany when it comes to innovation. The will is there, but the question that is often asked is – how? This is exactly what Dutch people in Germany have to offer in terms of a successful collaboration: understanding German Angst, coming up with cross-over user-friendly solutions. Whether it’s within electromobility, government or healthcare. Far less bothered by ‘legalese,’ accustomed to the sheer success of a service-based society without any desire to return to the predominance of industry, the Dutch in Germany are able to come up with solutions that can actually help German society and the lives of its residents to move forward and flourish.

However, make no mistake, there are a lot of self-employed people, small businesses, designers, start-ups and especially residents in Germany who are eager for more of a Dutch mentality in their approach to social challenges. They really want to work with the Dutch.

World champions together

It is the government in particular who is in a position to take action if it doesn’t want Germany to fall behind. The Dutch can give them a few pushes in the right direction. Rutte and Merkel have indicated that both countries will work more closely together on sustainability. Let that be a good start towards becoming world champions together and consequently avoiding a crisis together as well.

 

About this column:

In a weekly column, written alternately by Floris Beemster, Bert Overlack, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels en Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.

 

A public investment fund would work wonders for Germany

Germany must bid farewell to the holy grail of “being in the black” and invest more in areas such as infrastructure, renewable energies, housing and innovation. That is the advice to the Merkel government from economist Claus Michelsen of the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). He advocates a public investment fund with an annual capital expenditure of 30 billion euros or 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Michelsen does not have much hope that such a fund will be set up. There is currently a lack of urgency for this in Berlin, even though the economy is heading full steam ahead into recession. The conservative industrial employer’s federation BDI is therefore also in favour of letting go of the “in the black” stipulation – the legal obligation that Germany has imposed on itself which means that it should never spend more than it earns. Deviations from this are only permitted in exceptional circumstances.

The FDI now believes that the time has come. “As important as balancing the budget may be in times of economic prosperity, now is the time to change fiscal policy,” says BDI leader Joachim Lang.

Public investment frequently pays twice as many dividends

The DIW has long been regarded as an advocate for higher government spending. Michelsen has calculated that in the current economic situation, every additional euro in the German infrastructure pays twice as many dividends and that would impact everyone. In the DIW model, every extra euro spent by the federal government generates additional business investment of 1.1 euros over a period of five years. For €50 billion, that amounts to €55 billion. And with 100 billion euros it would be 110 billion euros.

Macro economist Claus Michelsen from DIW Berlin. Photo: BDI

It is what is known as a “multiplier effect” in the economy.

The Dogma of the Balanced Budget

Van Michelsen’s fund might have to be much larger than the 50 billion euros currently circulating in the federal government in the event that Germany actually does go into recession.

“Even if we do not end up in a real recession with several consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, the time is ripe for a change in economic policy. We believe that the Berlin government should make good use of its financial leeway and set an agenda for modernizing Germany. This would not only improve growth prospects, but business confidence as well.”

Michelsen advocates that public investment be increased not for one or two years, but for the next ten to fifteen years. Their target is one percent of the GDP, which is equivalent to 30 billion euros per year.

The only problem is that the constitution will have to be amended. We believe that this dogmatic thinking about balancing the budget needs to be thrown overboard. Politicians must seek broad support so that long-term plans will not be tampered with every time there is a new government”.

This is the third part of a series about a potential recession in Germany and the consequences for innovation and R&D spending.

Part 1 appeared on Tuesday 20 August

Part 2 on Friday 23 August

 

 

 

Interview: “German industry is already in the middle of a crisis”

“A ray of hope for German industry”, the German business newspaper Handelsblatt wrote last Tuesday when the German office for statistics announced that more orders had been placed than had been lost as of June 0.1%. However, this is by no means sufficient reason for celebration, says Professor Timo Wollmershäuser of the Munich-based Ifo economic institute in an interview with Innovation Origins. The fact is that German industry is in an abominable state, with turnover and the number of orders in its portfolio already in decline since last year.

Wollmershäuser: “Many people wonder whether Germany is in recession, but if you only look at the industry, we are already in the middle of it.”

According to Wollmershäuser, this is a small catastrophe for Germany’s innovative capability, because industry is at the heart of the economy, much more so than in other countries. International comparisons also show this. In 2018, for example, more than 23% of Germany’s gross national product (GNP) was generated by industry, while in the Netherlands and Great Britain it was only around 18%.

Professor Timo Wollmershäuser of the Ifo Institute in Munich

Bottom of the till not yet in sight

In the end, less turnover in the industry means less money for new machines, intelligent robots and other modernization such as electric cars and automated factories. “We have had one stroke of luck, and that is that companies have been thrifty in recent years and therefore have relatively deep pockets. So the loss of sales can be compensated for a while by temporary measures such as a reduction in working hours. Yet the longer the recession lasts, the greater the need for cuts in all costs. This also means that the R&D budget will undoubtedly suffer as a result.

According to Wollmershäuser, this is already evident in the downturn in investments. “There are no specific figures on which types of investments are in decline as yet. But it is certain that investments will drop. We assume that, for the time being, these are mainly postponed investments to replace, for example, old machines. Nevertheless, there will come a time when actual R&D expenditure will be involved too, and that is obviously bad for our innovative capabilities.

Will the German car industry still have enough money left to develop the car of the future?

Government spending versus lowering taxes

It is therefore high time that the government did something to boost investment and the economy in the view of Wollmershäuser. There are basically two possibilities for this. In one case, the government itself spends more on, for example, roads, building redevelopment, etc., and in so doing tries to boost the economic engine. And in the second case, by lowering taxes, the government will instead leave it up to the business community to invest more.

Wollmerhäuser clearly prefers the latter. According to him, this is the most efficient and effective way to get the industry out of the doldrums and raise the level of investment. And it could easily be done, because Germany currently has a relatively high tax burden on corporate profits at around 30%, compared to a mere 25% in France, for instance.

Berlin is slow on the uptake

Some of the plans have already been laid out on the table. The annoying thing is that Berlin requires an endless amount of time to put them into practice. A good example is the abolition of the so-called solidarity tax, a surcharge that every citizen and company must pay on top of ordinary taxes and which last year brought in €18.9 billion for the state.

The German Government wants to abolish this additional tax – which was once invented to help the new federal states of East Germany – by 2021. But why wait so long? Next year is also an option, Wollmershäuser states.

Wollmershäuser considers it a bad move because it is at the expense of investment in small and medium-sized enterprises. “Unfortunately, this affects a lot of small-scale entrepreneurs, even though it is precisely these entrepreneurs who would be helped in their investment decisions if the soli-tax were to be abolished.”

 

Fewer taxes or preferably more money for modernizing rundown roads and buildings?

More investment in infrastructure? Don’t do it

Many analysts are advising Berlin to spend more on infrastructure. However, Wollmershäuser does not agree. He concurs with the criticism that maintenance of German infrastructure is definitely overdue, but what many people forget to mention is that the government budget for this has already been drastically increased over the past few years. Subsequently, a lot of work is already being done in order to resolve the construction backlog.

Secondly, additional infrastructure investments would come at the wrong time. “The construction sector is one of the few German sectors that is still operating at full capacity. That is why they really do not need any extra work from the government and will only take it on at very high prices.”

In conclusion, infrastructural investments cannot be raised overnight. Building decisions take time to be made, worked out and implemented. “As an anti-recession measure, it is therefore pointless to raise infrastructure investments,” says Wollmershäuser. He does, however, argue in favor of setting infrastructure expenditure at a reasonable level for a longer period of time. This will prevent a repeat of the 2008-2010 situation when the construction industry collapsed as a result of the credit crisis.

 

This is the second part of a series concerning a potential recession in Germany and the consequences this will have for innovation and R&D expenditure.

Max Planck & co happy with R&D incentives from the German Government

I’m sure it hasn’t eluded many people in the last few weeks. Germany is in danger of ending up in recession, and the government in Berlin is not doing enough to prevent it. According to the critics, there is too much fixation on reducing the government’s debt, while in the meantime infrastructure is collapsing, government buildings are rotting away and the speed of the Internet is still very slow.

Berlin must take out its wallet and be quick about it too. Otherwise, Germany will become the ailing figure in Europe once again.

Savings mania

The criticism is partly justified. You can dispute the deep-seated need to not spend more than what comes in. We have done that in the Netherlands as well, and the argument that we shouldn’t live off the backs of future generations, well, there is something to that too.

But it is incredibly frustrating that plans to improve the infrastructure are in place, but they are not being implemented yet because of too many complex regulations, bureaucracy and consultation procedures.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to have the impression that Berlin is doing absolutely nothing in order to keep Germany modern and innovative. This is evident, for example, in the opinion of the so-called ‘non-university research institutes’. These are Max Planck, Fraunhofer, Helmholtz and Leibniz: four institutions, each with their own specializations, which are invaluable to Germany as a knowledge economy. Although, in a broader sense, also for global climate policy, biodiversity and disease prevention.

The non-university research institutes are spread all over Germany.

120 billion euro subsidy

The non-university institutions do not have to deal with the education sector and are able to focus entirely on basic and applied research. They are therefore a useful complement to the regular universities. They are a frequent springboard for start-ups and businesses also benefit from their expertise. Moreover, they don’t have to worry about recessions, because the funding is secured by a new ‘Forschung und Entwicklung’ ( PFI, Research and Development) pact which the government drew up a couple of weeks ago.

“As far as we are concerned, the government has sent a strong signal with this pact,” says a spokesman for the Helmoltz Association in a reaction. “The new PFI will ensure that we get 3% more per year over the coming ten years.”

The Max-Plack Society also says it is extremely satisfied. “We will be able to plan our future without any concerns with this pact.” The PFI Pact is not new. The first pact was approved by Angela Merkel’s initial cabinet in 2005. According to the institutes, what is different about this pact is its duration. Previous PFI agreements always ran for four years. Now it is ten years, and it is not dealing in peanuts.

Approximately 120 billion euros in subsidies will flow from Berlin and the federal states to Max Planck & co up until 2030. This is a source of money that many foreign universities will be jealous of and it is completely independent of the economic situation. It is long-term planning at its best.

 

This is the first part of a series about a potential recession in Germany and the consequences this will have for innovation and R&D expenditure.

Five magical medical channels on YouTube

Innovation is taking place in all kinds of sectors, some of which affect more people than others. Yet no one can avoid this sector as we all have a body that should ideally be kept in tip-top condition. Healthcare is developing at a rapid pace.  Whereas the need for hand-washing in medical procedures was disputed until the end of the 19th century, nowadays we can perform complete operations using nanorobots.

Pretty remarkable how we are now able to stay healthier longer and in improved ways. Are you interested in the latest developments in the field of healthcare and do you want quick and easy access to this information? Check out these five channels on YouTube, where medical professionals are passionate about their own very special and important field of expertise.

1. Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic‘s history dates back all the way to 1855, and this American non-profit organization employs around 63,000 people who work in hospitals, research labs and universities. Everyone can follow their work on YouTube where their channel explains the function of organs and reports on extraordinary surgical operations.

Perhaps the most well-known is their series about a facial transplant that they performed. The treatment is first explained using motion graphics and then they demonstrate how the patient was operated on. There is also room for follow-up care so you can see how the family has responded and what the result looks like after two years.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2acdLASjjM]

2. Armando Hasudungan

The Australian physician Armando Hasudungan has been making films about his profession since 2012. No moving images from the operating room for him, but a whiteboard and a pen. Hasudungan explains in an accessible way the stories behind diseases, the impact of medicines and the workings of the human body.

His own consistent visual style and accessible language guarantee that both medical professionals and people with an interest in healthcare can understand him easily. Not only is he doing well on the internet, he is doing well in universities too, where his films are often recommended to students.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnD16gwpCz8]

3. Osmosis

The Osmosis motto states that: ‘Everyone who cares for someone will learn by Osmosis!’ What is particularly striking about this channel is that it takes the viewer’s level of knowledge into account. Their videos on YouTube are aimed at mainstream audiences who want to know more about the medical world, psychology and public health.

They have a website for the real die-hards and professionals where subject matter is discussed in more detail. However, you will be able to find a lot of useful information on YouTube as well; every disorder, both physical and mental, has its own explanatory video. It may not be the best channel to watch if you have the inclination to be hypochondriac …. although they do have a film about that too.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PURvJV2SMso]

4. Medcram

The Medcram channel offers medical lectures and is based on the principle that the viewer should learn as much as possible in as little time as possible. Complex topics are explained in a visual way and sufficient frameworks are provided so as to ensure that the information is complete. Medcram is primarily a tutor who puts the emphasis on what is most crucial from a clinical point of view.

The lectures are very diverse; from simple first aid to symptoms of common injuries. The channel is specifically intended for people working within the healthcare sector and who are in the process of receiving medical training. Nevertheless, because of its public character, everyone can join this virtual lecture hall.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8snjqtrnV1I]

5. The Medical Futurist

34-year-old Dr. Bertalan Mesko is a welcome guest at international conventions on healthcare. In fact, there are few channels in which a title so clearly discloses the content. Whereas the preceding channels mainly explain the practical element of healthcare, Mesko focuses on the future and casts his expert eye on new developments in the field where he gained his PhD.

The Medical Futurist takes the viewer into … the future. The future of medication, healthcare, diseases, treatments and technologies that are await us in the upcoming years. These developments are made concrete with clear examples and personal stories. Mesko believes that progress in healthcare lies predominately in novel and far-reaching applications of technology. That’s when it’s quite OK to think big.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy5Hh_MTVRM]

Not yet done with learning? In that case, we have even more educational YouTube channels on offer. In the previous episodes of this series, technological innovation, entrepreneurship and mobility were key.

Start-up of the week: Hands free wheelchair mobility

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals  of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

Qwiek – a sensation in senior housing

Most senior housing complexes are not exactly known for their inspiring environments nor their innovative highlights. Admittedly, there are innovations, although these have more to do with the health of elderly residents when something goes wrong. After treatment with the help of hi-tech equipment, many of them will go on living monotonous lives in their cheerless rooms with few visits from their family members.

At Qwiek they thought differently about this, since the surroundings in which seniors spend the autumn of their lives could use some music and color. The team developed a pillow that makes music so that the clients are better able to sleep, and have already come up with an easy-to-use projector which is able to transform every dusty room into a multimedia adventure. The greatest challenge? Making this product as simple as possible so that everyone will be able to use it, including your computer illiterate grandmother.

Artifictial Ecosystems – Smart moss walls

Nowadays an average living room is full of houseplants. And for those of you who want even more – but have hardly any gardening skills – you could choose to cover your exterior wall with a meter-high layer of moss. The vertical gardens from the gentlemen at Artificial Ecosystems are greening up facades and roofs. Green fingers are no longer necessary because the ecosystem is able to maintains itself with rainwater and an internet connection.

No, it is not a hyper-intelligent plant species that uses the Internet for private purposes, because the moss wall is in fact connected to a software program that takes care of the maintenance. The difference when compared to other vertical gardens, is that BryoSYSTEEM moss has been specifically developed to thrive on an exterior wall. Competitive systems use species that originally ‘just’ grew in the forest, subsequently maintenance is much more difficult for those species of moss.

3DQR – Augmented Reality finally grows up?

It is common knowledge that augmented reality can trigger a lot of innovations. The problem, however, is that anyone who wants to get started with this will have to reinvent the wheel. Do you remember those incredibly lame HTML websites back in the 1990s? They didn’t look natural and were only accessible to real nerds. 3DQR is in this phase right now, according to Daniel Anderson, the founder of 3DQR, and so he thinks it could all be a lot more streamlined.

By providing a content management system (CMS), AR will become more accessible to more people as well as making it easier to create apps. The ‘difficult’ steps can be left to the automated system so that the designer’s ideas are able to be realized, regardless of any lack of of technical know-how. Not technical – and yet want to create a virtual world that will improve the world a little more? Using 3DQDR brings this dream closer by.

The possibilities are endless; positioning virtual furniture in living rooms, visualizing how devices are operated, and naturally, being able to go on a virtual holiday to a distant galaxy.

CoVince – Netflix for e-Learning

Lifelong learning is a bit of a cliché, but some clichés are also just simply true. Technological progress is accelerating faster than ever before. And doing the same job with the same level of expertise for 40 years is no longer the case for most people. How are you able to update that expertise? The team behind the Dutch start-up CoVince says that this can be done in a Netflix-like way: you decide exactly what you want to learn from what’s available in a large library and off you go.

It is no longer necessary to go to an actual school building thanks to a combination of AR, gaming, an online community with teachers and fellow students, and an avatar that has been generated especially for you. All this can provide everyone with new and useful knowledge from the comfort of their own home. You could compare it to a kind of smarter educational version of Second Life that hopefully has a slightly less miserable ending. In any case, CoVince inspires great confidence and everything looks very futuristic and impressive in the videos.

Munevo DRIVE – Hands-free wheelchair mobility

Nobody sits in a wheelchair just for fun. Mastering it takes some practice and the user is unable to use their hands freely while on the move with a conventional wheelchair. But there is another way: a team from the University of Munich has launched an app that makes it possible to operate a wheelchair using head movements and smart glasses.

Who knows best how a wheelchair works? These are generally the users themselves. Munevo DRIVE was therefore created with these experiences in mind so that the system accurately addresses the sore points that they encounter. And the concept phase is definitely over: health insurers have recently reimbursed Munevo DRIVE, rendering the obstacles that surrounded a futuristic wheelchair experience a thing of the past. Users are delighted with it.

And that is not surprising; you will only realize how important mobility is when you yourself need the equipment to get from A to B. In this respect, Munevo DRIVE opens doors for a vulnerable group and demonstrably makes their lives a little more wonderful. And that thanks to Google Glass, a product that was laughed at a few years ago because back then it had no added value to everyday life. The latter is the reason why we have selected the team for the start-up of the week award!

12 of the world’s top 20 innovative economies are in Europe; Switzerland remains on top

Switzerland is the world’s most-innovative country, followed by Sweden, the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, according to the 2019 edition of the Global Innovation Index (GII). Twelve of the top 20 GII economies are in Europe. The Netherlands lost two places (from second to fourth), Germany is stable at place 9.

Switzerland tops the GII for the ninth consecutive year. Its solid strong performance translates to excellent innovation outcomes including patent applications, IP receipts and high-tech manufacturing products. Sweden is the second-ranked economy worldwide, thanks to its developed infrastructure, an innovative business sector and outputs from knowledge and technology. The GII is initiated by the World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO.

WIPO Global Innovation Index 2019

Now in its 12th edition, the GII aims to help policymakers better understand how to stimulate and measure innovative activity, an important driver of economic and social development. The GII 2019 ranks 129 economies based on 80 indicators, from traditional measurements like research and development investments and international patent and trademark applications to newer indicators including mobile-phone app creation and high-tech exports.

The world’s top five Science and Technology clusters: Tokyo-Yokohama (Japan); Shenzhen-Hong Kong, China (China); Seoul (Republic of Korea); Beijing (China); San Jose-San Francisco (U.S.).

Francis Gurry © WIPO

The GII 2019 also looks at the economic context: Despite signs of slowing economic growth, innovation continues to blossom, particularly in Asia, but pressures are looming from trade disruptions and protectionism. Sound government planning for innovation is critical for success, the report says. “The GII shows us that countries that prioritize innovation in their policies have seen significant increases in their rankings,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. “The rise in the GII by economic powerhouses like China and India have transformed the geography of innovation and this reflects deliberate policy action when it comes to promoting innovation,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.

Among notable GII key findings:

  • The global landscape of science, innovation, and technology has undergone important shifts over the last decades. Middle-income economies, especially in Asia, are contributing more and more to global research and development (R&D) and international patenting rates via WIPO’s International Patent System;
  • The GII 2019 shows that public R&D expenditures – particularly in some high-income economies – are growing slowly or not at all. This raises concerns given the public sector’s central role in funding basic R&D and blue-sky research, which are key to future innovations;
  • Increased protectionism poses risks. If left unchecked, it will lead to a slowdown of growth in innovation productivity and diffusion across the globe;
  • Innovation inputs and outputs are still concentrated in very few economies. Divides also persist in how effectively economies obtain a return on their innovation investments. Some economies achieve more with less;
  • Most top science and technology clusters are in the U.S., China, and Germany, while Brazil, India, Iran, the Russian Federation, and Turkey also feature in the top 100 list. The top five clusters: Tokyo-Yokohama (Japan); Shenzhen-Hong Kong, China (China); Seoul (Republic of Korea); Beijing (China); San Jose-San Francisco (U.S.).

“While the Global Innovation Index ranks economies according to their innovation capacity and performance, it also provides valuable insights into the dynamics of global innovation,” said Soumitra Dutta, Former Dean and Professor of Management at Cornell University, a GII co-publisher.”It highlights economies that excel in innovation and those that are more successful in translating investments in innovation inputs into innovation outputs. Lessons from these innovation leaders provide useful guidance on innovation policy for others.”

WIPO Global Innovation Index 2019

Mobility of the future – battery or hydrogen or both? Part 3

In the third and last part of our small series about electric cars, battery or hydrogen-powered, we compare these two concepts once again, look at the respective dangers, and draw a conclusion as to which one has the best chances for the future.

HERE is part 1 of the series Mobility of the Future – Battery or hydrogen or both?
HERE is part 2 of the series Mobility of the Future – Battery or hydrogen or both?

Fuel cells are getting cheaper

Audi and Hyundai are working on the development of a production series of cars with fuel cells. “By 2025, we will have significantly more than 20 electrified models on offer: Plug-in hybrids, electric cars, and a limited series of a first model with fuel cells,” said Audi boss Bram Schot last year. “It is our goal to become the leading premium brand for electric cars by the middle of the next decade and to sell 800,000 electric cars per year.” Dr. Nikolai Ardey, head of Powertrain Development at Ingolstadt, went one step further and said that the currently still very high costs for a car with a fuel cell could be significantly reduced.

“If, after 2025, you come up with about 100,000 units per year, which is a quite achievable figure for a company like Volkswagen, you can assume that the price of a fuel cell can be reduced by about a third to a quarter,” Arday said in an interview with Springer Professional.

The Mercedes EQC © Daimler

Currently, the list price of Toyota Mirai is just under 80,000 euros, a Hyundai Nexo costs around 10,000 euros less. As for those costs, a big factor is the fuel cell, since one of the materials used is platinum, rare and therefore extremely expensive. However, according to Professor Christian Mohrdiek, Managing Director of Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell GmbH and responsible for fuel cell development witin the Daimler Group, platinum is “no longer the biggest cost factor in the development of the fuel cell”.

There is positive news in this respect from Volkswagen too. In cooperation with Stanford University, the company has developed a new process which distributes platinum atoms extremely thinly over a carbon surface. Thanks to this new process, the amount of platinum used is able to be reduced to a fraction, which in turn significantly reduces the costs.

Batteries – the longer the range, the higher the price

A buyer of an electrically powered car has to dig deeper into their pockets than a buyer of a car with a combustion engine. The main reason for this is the battery or its respective capacity. The more kilowatt/hours, the greater the range and the higher the price. Therefore, the battery for a Tesla with a range of up to 600 kilometers – as already mentioned earlier in this series – costs 20,000 euros, while a battery that just lasts half that range is half as expensive.

There are also differences in the estimated service life of 100,000 to 800,000 kilometers. Although the lithium-ion batteries hardly have any capacity loss even with frequent charging, the battery of a car loses as much charging capacity over the course of its life just as the battery of a mobile phone does. How quickly this reduction in capacity occurs depends not only on the number of charging cycles but also on how the battery is recharged, by fast charging or at normal speed. Factors such as outside temperature and driving style also play a role. After about eight to ten years, the batteries are still functional, but over time, the charging capacity drops down to 70 to 80 percent.

© Toyota

Battery recycling problem

Even batteries that are no longer used in cars are able to, for example, serve as intermediate storage for electricity from renewable energies in order to store the excess electricity produced, (for example from wind power plants), and feed it back into the grid at a later time. At some point, however, the question arises as to what to do with dead lithium-ion batteries. At present, only about 50 percent of the batteries are recycled again whereby the lithium is elaborately extracted.

However, there are already attempts to solve this problem for the long term. The US company EnZinc is developing a specialized nickel-zinc battery as an alternative to the lithium-ion battery. According to the California based company, the “3D zinc ‘sponge’ structure allows the battery to provide more than three times the energy of lead-acid batteries with two to three times the lifespan, while still costing about the same. This provides the same energy and lifespan at about half the cost compared to Li-Ion batteries.” Moreover, the battery is completely recyclable and much safer to use than either lead or lithium-based batteries.

Danger of explosions with battery and hydrogen?

A few weeks ago, a Tesla Model S apparently suddenly caught fire. This second case within a relatively short period of time started a discussion about the safety of electric cars. Another major topic was/is the question of what happens in the event of an accident. How big is the risk of a fire? According to an ADAC report, “comparatively low, since current electric cars are just as safe in an accident as conventional cars and the high-voltage system is usually switched off when the airbag is triggered as soon as an accident occurs”.

The Automobile Club has carried out a crash test comparison of the electrically powered Volkswagen e-up! and the regular VW up!, and ended up awarding 5 stars to both cars. The electrical shutdown of the high-voltage system in the e-up! reacted within milliseconds after the accident and separated the connecting cable between the battery pack and the high-voltage cables to the electric drive via a relay. “The battery did not ignite, there was no risk of fire.”

© Toyota

Consumers are also worried about the safety of hydrogen cars, especially after the explosion of a hydrogen filling station in Norway about a month ago. Manufacturers, however, claim that cars with fuel cells are no more dangerous than conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles. On the contrary. “Even if hydrogen is highly flammable, there is no increased risk in the event of an accident. Rather, hydrogen-powered vehicles are safer than conventional gasoline vehicles,” Toyota emphasizes on their website. As a test by the University of Miami has shown, hydrogen does not explode.

“The scientists set the vehicles on fire after they leaked a petrol tank and a hydrogen tank. Although a jet of flame was created on the hydrogen tank, it shot up in flames with extreme heat and went out very quickly,” the Japanese explain. “Most of the car remained undamaged. Hydrogen evaporates quickly and the vehicle cabin is also protected against hydrogen leakage. The gasoline engine, on the other hand, totally burnt out”. A leak in the hydrogen tank, which could lead to a fire, is also very unlikely. And even if a leak were to occur, the sensors would detect the leaking hydrogen and the vehicle would automatically switch off.

Conclusion: Battery or hydrogen?

What about the costs of charging batteries and refueling hydrogen? The latter costs 9.50 euros per kilogram. Consumption is around one kilo per 100 kilometers, which means that the H2 car is no cheaper than a conventional car with a combustion engine. Things are different with the battery-powered car. According to an ADAC calculation, an electric car is 30 euros cheaper per month if you take a price of 1.30 per liter of fuel and 28 euro cents per kilowatt-hour as a basis. Therefore, one more point for the battery car.

The next point goes just as assuredly to the battery car: the charging options. In Germany, there are more than 15,000 charging stations for battery cars and only 71 fuel pumps for hydrogen.

The fuel cell car, on the other hand, wins when it comes to the time spent at the fuel pump. In just three to five minutes it can be refueled almost just as quickly as a gasoline or diesel engine. Charging a battery car depends on the capacity of the battery and the type of charging. At home, it takes between eight and 14 hours, at a public fast-charging station it takes between 30 and 60 minutes if the car is fitted for these charging stations.

A solar fueling station © Fraunhofer ISE

In terms of range, the battery cars come closer to hydrogen car range of approximately 500 kilometers, or have already surpassed them. You are able to drive about 560 kilometers without having to recharge using the current Tesla Model 3, depending on your driving style. So it’s a draw.

As far as eco-friendliness is concerned, both concepts are quite similar – at least in Germany – since electricity production is equally harmful to the environment in both cases. However, when it comes to the fuel cell car, the hydrogen has to be transported to the fuel stations, which further pollutes the environment. These fuel stations also have to be set up first. Their construction costs about 1,000,000 euros each, while simply setting up additional charging stations is enough for battery-driven cars. Advantage: battery.

Finally, what about the “danger” that a changeover to e-cars would lead to the collapse of electricity grids? According to some calculations, 100 kilowatt-hours of energy is required to produce ten liters of fuel, whether diesel or petrol, from “well to wheel”, i.e. from the well to the pump. A car with a combustion engine is able to travel an average of 100 kilometers on these ten liters. With the same amount of effort, a Tesla would travel five times as far, or five electric cars could each travel 100 kilometers. And since electric cars could replace vehicles with internal combustion engines and not be added to the equation, all the energy that would no longer be needed to generate gasoline or diesel could instead be used for charging.

At the moment, the battery car is still slightly ahead, but perhaps Mercedes might have found the best solution with the GLC F-CELL, which combines fuel cell and battery technology into a plug-in hybrid, and both of these concepts definitely have a future …

More articles on electromobility and batteries HERE
More articles on electromobility and fuel cells HERE

Mobility of the future – battery or hydrogen or both? Part 2

After having dealt in part 1 of our brief series with what German car manufacturers have to offer or are planning in the field of electric cars, be it battery or hydrogen, in part 2 we take a closer look at the batteries or fuel cells and their ranges and address the topic of environmental friendliness.

HERE is part 1 of the series Mobility of the Future – Battery or hydrogen or both?

© Pixabay

Battery

The range of a battery is primarily determined by the charge capacity or rather its management system. Tesla is still the undisputed leader in this field, thanks to its sophisticated management system. The Model S can travel up to 600 kilometers using the appropriate battery without recharging. However, this version using the 100 kWh battery also costs an impressive 86,800 euros. A BMW i3s, on the other hand, can only travel around 340 kilometers with a 42.2 kWh battery charge. However, with its basic equipment it also costs less than half as much as the Tesla: 41,600 euros. A car with a fuel cell, on the other hand, has a range of about 500 km, the new Toyota FCHV-adv is supposed to reach 800 km 0n one tank of fuel.

At present, lithium-ion batteries are used almost exclusively in electric cars as they have a high energy density and can be charged frequently without significantly reducing their capacity. Tesla is again the front-runner here. Elon Musk’s company designs the engines to cover a range of around 1,6 million kilometers. A battery in the Model 3 usually lasts up to 800,000 kilometers. German manufacturers reckon on a battery life of 100,000 to 200,000 kilometers.

In order to manufacture the batteries, however, numerous raw materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese and graphite are needed, which have to be imported almost entirely from overseas. Since most of these raw materials are not infinitely available, they are expensive, which is also reflected in the price of the batteries. The battery for a small or medium-sized car costs an average of 10,000 euros, and costs 20,000 euros for a Tesla.

© Pixabay

 

CO2 Balance

And now the question arises as to whether a zero-emission car really is actually no longer a burden on the environment. The answer is simple: there is no such thing as a zero-emission car, as plenty of CO2 is released when the raw materials are extracted. The Swedish Ministry for the Environment has discovered in a study that between 150 and 200 kilos of CO2 are produced per kilowatt of storage capacity per battery.
Apart from that, the electricity needed to charge the batteries first has to be generated, which in Germany is anything but emission-free. The German “energy mix’ still draws most of its energy from coal-fired power plants, which means that a ‘locally emission-free’ electric car powered by a rechargeable battery is now polluted with 87.0 g/km CO2, according to a Daimler study.

Things seems to be a little better in countries like France, where electricity also comes from a mix, but mainly from nuclear power plants. It remains to be seen what the final environmental balance will look like in that case, when one takes into account the problem of safely storing burnt-out rods.

The best CO2 balance would of course be if the electricity came purely from renewable resources. Like in Costa Rica. Believe it or not, the small Central American country obtains more than 98 percent of its total electricity requirements from renewable resources. The largest part of the electricity (78 percent) is generated from hydropower, here around ten percent is generated using wind and geothermal energy, while solar and bio-energy account for a negligible proportion of just under one percent.

And just as battery electric cars have turned out to be less emission-free than they may seem, electric cars with a hydrogen tank are also in some ways inefficient due to how they generate electricity.

© Volkswagen

Hydrogen fuel cells

While the extraction of raw materials and the production of rechargeable batteries lead to a lot of pollutants being released into the environment, a car with a hydrogen fuel cell would only burn hydrogen, which is absolutely harmless to the climate and more environmentally friendly than a battery car. This is the argument put forward by the proponents of the hydrogen engine.

In a hydrogen fuel cell, a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen produces electricity, which then passes through to the engine. This chemical reaction produces no pollutants and the car simply releases water vapor into the environment. As a result, the hydrogen fuel cell car, like the battery car, is “locally emission-free”. There is only one small problem: you first need electricity in order to produce hydrogen.

Hydrogen is not a natural element, it cannot simply be extracted and must therefore be produced. This production takes place by a so-called “electrolysis”. Atoms of water (H2O) are split into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O) using a large amount of electrical current. Only then can electricity be generated anew in the hydrogen fuel cell, once the oxygen in the air turns the hydrogen back into water and converts the energy stored in the hydrogen into electricity.

Due to the coal-heavy energy mix in Germany, hydrogen cars would have a much worse CO2 balance than battery powered cars. Moreover, according to figures from the Transport & Environment agency, the battery-powered car converts 73 percent of the electricity originally generated into propulsion, whereas the fuel cell car converts only 22 percent. More energy is used during the transport of hydrogen as well as petrol and diesel to the fuel stations for cooling and compression. First during production and then for storage at the fuel stations. All in all, according to the latest figures, ten times as much energy is required for operating a hydrogen car as for a battery-powered car. This means that 870 grams of CO2 would have to be counted for every 100 kilometers driven.

Although It should be noted that these calculations are nevertheless based on values from the German energy mix and would look completely different for electricity from renewable sources.

© Daimler

Energy generation from exhaust, brakes and solar cells

So why not charge the battery while driving? Since the introduction of hybrid engines in 2014, Formula 1 has used a technology that does just that. The MGU-H (Motor Generator United – Heat) is an engine which is connected to the turbocharger and converts energy from exhaust fumes into electrical energy. The MGU-K (Motor Generator United – Kinetic) converts heat that is generated during braking and releases that heat again during acceleration.

In a regular car on the road, it is possible to recover kinetic energy generated by the motion of the wheel suspension. Or you do it like Toyota does in the Prius PHV, and equip the body of the vehicle with solar cells that extend the range. All good ways to further improve the CO2 balance of the “locally emission-free” car.

More articles on electromobility and batteries HERE
More articles on electromobility and fuel cells HERE

 

You Decide: Who Will be our Start-Up of the Month?

The month of June is officially over and that means that we ‘ll take a look back on what we’ve covered. Every weekday Innovation Origins publishes a Start-up of the Day and every Saturday the winner of the week is announced.

The weekly winners are determined by our editorial staff and are on their way to the Start-up of the Month vote. And the input of our readers is also taken into account, and not just a little bit, because the winner of our readers poll accounts for half of the voting results! The voting ends on Friday, 5 July 2019 at 17.00.

Vote for your favorite June Start-up of the Month now!

 

[democracy id=”3″]

 

Here is a brief introduction to the four Start-ups of the Week from June.

Week 23: Transform every Bike into an E-bike.

Why is there a separate market for ‘normal’  bicycles and e-bikes? The German Start-up Pendix tackles this problem with their easy-to-assemble engine which can be attached to any bicycle.

Saying goodbye to your analogue bike is no longer necessary as it can now be easily transformed into an electric bike. Simplicity and flexibility are fundamental.

Week 24: Customer Service for Pregnancy

Nestmedic monitors the health of unborn babies by remote. This removes the need for a pregnant woman to make an appointment with a midwife, saving both time and money.

Is there nothing wrong? A reassuring text message will be sent. But if there are any complications, appropriate medical support is called in immediately. And they already have a success story: the Polish start-up prevented a baby from suffocating itself with its own umbilical cord.

Week 25: Water treatment using Nanotechnology

Many sectors now know that nanotechnology is multi-functional. However, this is not being used in water treatment on a significant scale yet.

The Italian start-up Innovacarbon has developed tiny carbon tubes which absorb undesirable substances, making the purification of water cheaper and more efficient. Universal access to clean drinking water is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.

Week 26: Smart Solar Panels on the Roads

Usually, asphalt is not really associated with sustainability, but if it is up to Solmove GmbH, this is about to change. Following on from rooftops, these solar cells can also be used to generate clean energy on roads.

And that’s not all, with the solar cells from this start-up, our roads are also made ‘smart’ so that they can communicate with traffic lights and traffic information systems. This is where safer traffic and sustainable energy generation come together.

Start-Up of the Week: The Route to Sustainable Roads

”Your sneak preview of the future” is the slogan of Innovation Origins, and that’s just what we will highlight with our Start-up of the Week column. Over the past few days, five start-ups of the day have been featured and on Saturday we will choose the week’s winner.

Innovation Origins presents a Start-up of the Day each weekday

We shall consider various issues such as sustainability, developmental phase, practical application, simplicity, originality and to what extent they are in line with the de Sustainable Development Goals  of UNESCO. They will all pass by here and at the end of the week, the Start-Up of the Week will be announced.

Plantalux

By now, just about every living room has smart LED lighting; a light strip behind a cupboard, a HUE lamp with colors on the ceiling, and everything can be controlled by your smartphone at the push of a button. Handy! This smart lighting can also be used in horticulture. Polish father and son team Lachowski developed Plantalux for greenhouses so that crops such as tomatoes, peppers and herbs are able to grow much faster. And all of this is energy efficient too!

What makes these lamps different from the competition is that they are linked to specific programs so that light requirements and light colors can be varied according to the crop.  All of this in order to optimize the growing process and to offer tailor-made solutions for a wide range of plant species. At the moment, the Lachowski family is only focusing on horticulture. So unfortunately, it is not yet possible to buy a set for your droopy houseplants which keep dying on you in spite of all your care and dedication.

Marine Innovators

Placing a wind turbine in the sea requires quite some preparation. Work has to be carried out both underwater and above water, the building materials have to be shipped to remote places, while these types of windmills are at least 150 meters high, as well as there being a fair amount of wind on the high seas. Not exactly safe conditions! Engineer Jan Lanser thought this could be done both more safely and faster and developed a vertical system for wind turbines.

How exactly does this vertical system work? A bit like a high-tech parasol holder that you see on terraces. The turbine, including the pontoon (the part that disappears underwater and serves as a foundation), is built on land. That’s how the dangerous part of work can be sped up, then it only needs to be secured and rigged on location. In this way, an offshore wind farm can be completed up to four times as quickly.

QLayers

Modern civilization has existed for about 70,000 years and in the past millennium,we have built up an impressive CV full of innovative inventions. However, we sometimes forget that there are more animal species living on this planet who have also developed into knowledgeable specialists over millions of years of evolution. A good example of this is the shark with its remarkable skin.

This is a surface that produces electricity, heals and cleans itself, reduces friction and does not freeze – says Josefien Groot, the founder of QLayers. Do we have to hunt sharks en masse? Certainly not! With 3D printers, this material is able to be reproduced on a large scale and act as an extra layer. This makes airplanes, ships and wind turbine blades more aerodynamic, and you won’t get into an argument with Greenpeace.

Dialogue Trainer

We’ve all done some of these forced role-playing games during training or job applications. Do you really learn anything from them? That depends a bit on the acting skills that are shown of course. How handy would it be if you no longer had to perform uncomfortable scenes and, moreover, were able to train your skills in conducting bad news discussions anytime you want.

Computer games are no longer just for entertainment purposes, that’s what they say at the Utrecht start-up Dialogue Trainer. With their software, people in all kinds of different sectors, such as security, telemarketing, police, education, healthcare and government, can improve their ‘resistance discussion skills’. Dialogue Trainer is as yet only available for the business market. Unfortunately, this software won’t help you bring discussions about your relationship to a satisfactory end. Perhaps you could try The Sims for this.

Solmove GmbH

With their cocktail mix of advantages, Solmove GmbH earns the weekly trophy of Start-Up of the Week. In recent years, solar energy has become increasingly visible on the streets. More and more you see in cities solar panels on the rooftops of buildings. Yet the ‘street-scape’ consists of more than just buildings, there are streets and roads as well. The Netherlands has more than 136,000 kilometers of road surface; this asphalt can become an energy generator with the ‘solar carpet’ from the German company Solmove GmbH.

But wait – there’s more! This asphalt covering not only produces energy, but is also equipped with smart software that maps out road use. This is how road surfaces will be able to communicate with traffic lights and traffic information systems, thereby improving safety. Usually asphalt is not actually associated with sustainability, but Solmove GmbH shows that this can also be done differently.

Will the roads of the 20s and 30s of the 21st century also be our power plants? They just might be! After all, additional infrastructure no longer needs to be laid out.

Better tomorrow: Get out of the trenches!

It was another interesting week for everyone involved in the development of mobility. Our national pride the Lightyear One was unveiled, our king opened a green hydrogen plant at Veendam and BMW has indicated that it will continue to produce diesel engines for at least another 30 years. Although I find the development of combustion engines very interesting and follow it closely, an internal combustion engine is in fact unsuitable as a drive unit for cars because it is a stationary engine. Variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation, hybrid technologies, variable compression ratio etc. do not change that principle.

Fuel Cell Taxi Fleet

Because almost the entire infrastructure is built around the combustion engine and fossil energy, BMW’s forecast for 2050 is very enthusiastic. Unless BMW means inaccessible areas in Africa, but that’s not an issue because that’s what Lightyear is going to solve.

Other interesting news from The Hague. Here comes the first Dutch ‘fuel cell taxi fleet’ with 35 Toyota Mirai. Fast refueling is the deciding factor here, so that the cars are available 24/7.

And so, history is repeated again. Schiphol opted for the electric Tesla battery and The Hague partly opted for hydrogen. In 1909, the municipality of Amsterdam opted for the electric taxi on the basis of cost per kilometre calculations, while The Hague opted for the petrol taxi. In 1908, the municipality of The Hague calculated that the company’s operating costs would be much lower than if electric vehicles were used.

Arm Wrestling-Contest

With these facts we come to an interesting conclusion. Today’s time is widely praised for all the information that is real-time and usually available for free to everyone. Although a lot of information is colored, reading between the lines is a fairly good way to determine what the reality is. That makes it all the stranger that there are such contradictions when it comes to all kinds of aspects of the various powertrains. Battery-electric and hydrogen are diametrically opposed to each other, while both want to combat global warming and reduce the geopolitical risks associated with the use of fossil fuels. Thus, they have a common interest. However, our debating culture is not about looking for similarities, but about winning an arm-wrestling contest on the basis of cleverly chosen arguments. And if you are a very good debater, you can do so even without the right arguments.

The Association of Electric Drivers (VER) has made a brave attempt to bring the parties together. Poldering thus. See livestream.

During the concluding meeting, the RAI Association, among others, argued in favour of counteracting polarisation. Or roughly translated: get out of the trenches and unite!

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Eveline van Zeeland, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Peter de Kock and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working on solutions to the problems of our time in their own way. So that Tomorrow will be better. Here are all the previous episodes.

 

 

Making Virtual Reality more User-friendly

Whether virtual reality or VR work for the user must be tested. This often requires complex laboratory tests. But recently, the Göttingen computer scientist Dr. Patrick Harms presented a program with which this phase of VR development can be automated.

Use of Virtual Reality applications on the rise

Virtual reality forms a growing part of our lives. We move in complex game worlds, explore the depths of the oceans, ancient Greece or Cologne Cathedral. But VR is now also used in anxiety therapy, surgery and urban planning. This makes it all the more important for users to find their way around and interact successfully with the VR scenario.

Until now, this had to be tested in complex and lengthy trials with test persons. People try out the VR solution. Then, developers evaluate the results and improve the application. This can be time consuming and costly.

The Göttingen computer scientist Dr. Patrick Harms has developed a program with which VR scenarios can be thoroughly tested without long test series. His software tools recognize many hooks and eyes of a new VR scenario without the need for lengthy test series.

New trials software for VR applications

Harms employed getting a cup of coffee in VR as a test for his evaluation software.
Foto: Universität Göttingen/Harms

To assess MAUSI-VR, Harms used two different scenarios. In the first VR scenario, the user should fetch a cup and place it under a coffee machine. Then he should press a button to fill the cup. In the second scenario, the user had to copy a piece of paper.

Harms’ software now proceeds in three steps. In the first step, the system records all actions of the test persons. By doing that, the software generates detailed activity lists. In the second step, the program searches these activity lists for typical user behaviour. In the third step, MAUSI-VR checks its results against a set of previously defined anomalies.

“This makes it possible, among other things, to determine how well users of a VR are guided by it and whether they usually have to perform ergonomically unfavourable procedures during operation,” says Harms.

Causes for problems in Virtual Reality

In fact, design errors can cause users to experience difficulties in a VR scenario. A very elementary problem is spatial orientation. Users move in virtual reality, but not in real life. The effect is a kind of reverse seasickness. “You can see that you are moving, but you are not,” says Harms, describing the experience.

However, Harms has primarily dealt with another problem. A VR scenario has to meet the expectations of the users. Otherwise they won’t find their way around. “If a VR is not designed in such a way that the user knows what to do, he has difficulties,” says Harms.

This can be a login button that is missing or not recognizable as such. Users then have to search for the button and cannot get any further in the VR scenario. Another source of error is optical irritation, like a perfectly white wall, which does not exist in reality. Or users find it irritating when solid objects float in space around them and stop interacting with the VR.

Use beyond Virtual Reality

MAUSI-VR records this behaviour and provides hard data about how users actually use VR. The technology can not only be used in the development of VR scenarios.

Other areas of application would be product design or architectural planning. Here, one could map products in the development stage or a building in planning in VR.

The tests could then consist of using test persons with VR glasses to explore functionality and design. They could then log in from home and would not need to come to a laboratory for taking part in a test series.

MAUSI-VR is based on preliminary work carried out by Harms as a member of the research group “Software Technology for Distributed Systems” headed by Prof. Dr. Jens Grabowski of the Institute of Computer Science at the University of Göttingen. The research group investigates the user-friendliness of websites and desktop software.

VIVATOP: How Virtual Reality and 3D-printed models make surgery easier

Bildaufnahme OP-Saal mit Displaytechnink

Surgical procedures always  pose a risk. Moreover, x-ray imagery or data from CT or MRT do not reveal everything. A research project led by the Technology Centre for Computer Science and Information Technology (Technologie-Zentrum Informatik und Informationstechnik or TZI) at the University of Bremen aims to change this through new technologies such as 3D printing, virtual reality and augmented reality. These should help surgical teams to better plan their procedures and reduce the risks for the patient.

VIVATOP devises VR solutions for surgeons

Modern surgery has long been a high-tech domain. This applies not only to the operations themselves, but also to their preparation. Surgeons make use of X-ray images, computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) results and much more. Computer-generated 3D models are relatively new. But they still have to be viewed on 2D screens.

Surgeons still have to employ models made by 3D printers, such as those emerging from VIVATOP. However, there are already experiments with mixed reality applications. For instance, in the field of oral and maxillofacial surgery. VIVATOP stands for “Versatile Immersive Virtual and Augmented Tangible OP”. The project combines model organs from the 3D printer with applications from VR and augmented reality.

VR-glasses and computer simulations help preparing surgical procedures.
Foto: TZI, Universität Bremen

3D printed organ models have many advantages. You are able to touch them and look at them closely, or pass them around as instructional objects. VR glasses allow for an even more detailed display. Participants in meetings are able to hold the printed organ model in their hands and see additional information displayed on their glasses. Communication between doctors and patients is also easier. With the help of the model, doctors can explain more precisely how the upcoming surgical procedure should proceed.

VIVATOP technology facilitates surgery

VR technology and organ models support the actual operation. Because every human body is different, surgeons have to reorient themselves again and again. VIVATOP’s new technology facilitates both decisions and orientation during the operation. The operating theatre is peppered with sensor and recording technology. Depth cameras and other sensors record every movement of the surgical team and the operation on the organ itself.

Printed models such as this liver help to plan and explain a surgical procedure.
Foto: cirp GmbH

The surgical team wears VR glasses during the procedure. These VR glasses constantly display all vital information. The surgeons control their glasses via voice control. Their glasses also give them access to all planning data used in the procedure’s preparation. In addition, operations can be shown live in virtual reality.

According to project coordinator Professor Dr. Rainer Malaka, it would also be conceivable to use the system in telemedicine, for example, by involving experts from a different location. However, there would always be a doctor on site. Yet the possibility of simultaneously following and recording complex surgical procedures live, opens up new possibilities for worldwide cooperation. Experts could follow an operation and support the team without having to be on site themselves.

market introduction in the making

However, it will take some time before the solutions developed within VIVATOP reach operating theatres. “The project will run for three years, after which the industry will have to continue with it,” says Professor Rainer Malaka. In his experience, certifications for new medical devices are costly and time-consuming. Although applications for training purposes and patient education might reach the market sooner.

The Federal Ministry of Research and Education is funding VIVATOP with 2.2 million euros. In addition to Malaka’s research group, other partners are involved in TZI. Another research group is working on virtual reality and computer graphics. The Oldenburg Pius Hospital contributes medical expertise, the 3D organ models are products of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Medicine. On top of that, there are industrial partners for augmented reality and 3D printing. Malaka estimates that the first commercial AR applications could be available in 2020.