Cybersecurity in the maritime sector is of critical importance as sea routes accounted for about three-fourths of the EU’s imports and exports in 2022. The new Network and Information Systems Security Directive (“NIS2 Directive”) aiming to strengthen cybersecurity is expected to enter into force from October 2024 and will impact maritime companies with more than 50 employees or an annual revenue of over €10 million. The NIS2 directive, which will replace and repeal the NIS directive, expands the scope to cover a larger number of companies in the sector as it includes both medium and large-size companies.
Companies may feel burdened by strict NIS2 requirements
To comply with the new requirements, the companies would need to make cyber risk management a focal point for every business strategy and make cybersecurity measures a part of day-to-day operations. NIS2 adoption will not only demand additional investment but also change the way the business is done.
Increase in cybersecurity investments
A total of 156 entities in the water transport sector were subject to the NIS directive in July 2016, as it focused mainly on large enterprises. Under NIS2, this number is likely to increase to 380. In particular, the number of port and terminal operators covered in NIS2 will increase significantly. A senior IT executive from Port of Rotterdam indicated that while NIS covered only a few port stakeholders (~5 companies), more than a hundred companies would need to comply with NIS2.
European Commission indicated that the companies already covered under the NIS directive would need to increase their IT security spending by 12%, while for the companies that were not covered previously but would be covered under the NIS2 framework, the IT security spending would need to be increased by up to 22%.
Frontier Economics, a consultancy firm based in Europe, estimated that the costs of implementing the NIS2 regulation in medium and large enterprises across the water transport sector would be about 0.5% of the total annual revenue across the medium and large water transport companies, which amounts to more than €225 million per year.
Enhancement of OT security
The advent of digitization has resulted in rapid convergence of operational technology (OT) with IT systems, leaving critical OT infrastructure vulnerable to cyberattacks. OT helps to monitor and control mechanical processes, making them particularly important for the safe operation of ports as well as other aspects of the maritime sector.
ENISA, the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity, indicated that from January 2021 to October 2022, ransomware attacks on IT systems were the most prominent cyber threat facing the transport sector and warned that ransomware groups are likely to target OT systems in the near future. NIS2 imposes stringent requirements for critical infrastructure entities, including maritime companies, to beef up cybersecurity from the perspective of both IT and OT.
Traditionally, maritime companies have considered cyber security primarily in the context of IT systems, but now there is a higher focus on OT cybersecurity, and the NIS2 is going to ensure investment momentum in this space. For instance, the Maritime Cyber Priority 2023 report indicated that over three-fourths of the respondents suggested that OT cyber security is a significantly higher priority compared to two years ago.
While NIS2 adoption may seem taxing, benefits are likely to follow
Like any new regulation, the adoption of NIS2 comes with additional costs and implementation hurdles, however, the consequent benefits are likely to outweigh the challenges.
Harmonization of cybersecurity requirements
In August 2023, a senior executive from Mission Secure, an OT cyber security solutions provider, indicated that maritime operators would welcome stringent cybersecurity standards. The maritime industry operates on thin profit margins, making it difficult for companies to invest more in cybersecurity than competitors. Implementation of NIS2 would set cybersecurity standards harmonized across the EU and thus level the playing field in terms of spending on cybersecurity while reducing the risks and losses associated with cyberattacks.
A 2020 study by ENISA suggested that the EU organizations’ cybersecurity spending is, on average, 41% lower than of their US counterparts. NIS2 is expected to drive the necessary investments in cybersecurity.
Moreover, given the international nature of the maritime industry, the adoption of the NIS2 directive will help the operators keep up with similar cybersecurity regulations around the world. For instance, Australia reformed the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act in 2022 to address the evolving cyber threat landscape. The UK, while no longer part of the EU, is in the process of revising the cybersecurity regulation for critical infrastructure operators in line with NIS2.
Upon implementation of NIS2, maritime operators will need to invest in more effective cybersecurity requirements, potentially increasing costs in the short term. Despite this, the increased investment will result in a more secure and resilient industry in the long run, and companies that are able to invest heavily in security are going to gain a competitive advantage over those that are not able to do so.
Digitization and connected technology in the maritime sector are evolving faster than its ability to regulate it. Hence, the maritime sector should view NIS2 as just another measure to elevate the cybersecurity framework. Companies need to be agile and flexible to adapt to the evolving cyber threat landscape.
Nuclear fusion has recently gained attention as a potential source of clean energy. It was a result of the US National Ignition Facility in California achieving a major milestone in December 2022 in which researchers were able to produce more energy than was used to ignite it for the first time. Several countries are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment project called ITER, focused on the construction and operation of an experimental fusion reactor located in France. Large cap companies such as Google and the ministries regulating energy policies across the globe are also investing in fusion energy projects and start-ups to promote fusion energy generation. Despite huge investments, commercializing fusion energy still has a long way to go due to certain technological and operational challenges associated with generation of this type of energy.
Ever-increasing carbon emissions due to the ongoing rise in energy consumption are driving the need for accelerating energy generation from renewable sources. As of October 2022, over 40% of global carbon emissions were caused by power generation. As per the International Energy Agency, carbon emissions from energy generation increased by 0.9% in 2022 in comparison with 2021, to reach 36.8GT.
Additionally, the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, particularly in Europe further augmented the need for energy generation using renewable sources. The surge in energy demand from households and industries is putting pressure on the existing energy supplies, thus resulting in high energy prices.
So far, solar and wind energy sources have been prominently used across countries to meet the rapidly increasing energy demand. Nuclear fusion is another alternative renewable source as it does not emit carbon emissions or produce long-lived radioactive waste products, unlike nuclear fission.
Nuclear fusion is an energy-intensive process and requires high temperatures for fusion reaction. In nuclear fusion process energy is released by combining two atomic nuclei into one heavier nucleus. The released energy is then captured and converted into electricity by a fusion machine. This process is also the key source of energy in the sun and other stars.
Nuclear fusion releases around four million times more energy as compared to coal, gas, or oil, and four times more than nuclear fission technology. Nuclear fusion can provide energy to an extent that can power up homes, cities, and whole countries.
Current state of the nuclear fusion energy
The potential of generating nuclear fusion energy has been recognized since the 1950s. Countries across geographies have been involved in nuclear fusion research, led by the EU, USA, Russia, and Japan along with vigorous programs underway in China, Brazil, Korea, and Canada. Various experimental fusion devices have been designed and constructed to advance and transform the way fusion energy is generated. These includes tokamaks, stellarators, and laser-based technology devices. Tokamaks and stellarators have been used more commonly for fusion energy research experiments.
Some of the tokamaks and stellarators built across countries for generating fusion energy include the Joint European Torus (JET) started in the UK in 1978, Wendelstein 7-X stellarator started in Germany in 1994, Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) started in South Korea in 1995, the Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak- (MAST) initially started in the UK in 1997 and further upgraded to MAST-U in 2013, and Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) started in China in 2000, among others. Six countries including China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, the USA, as well as the EU are cooperating in the world’s largest fusion experiment, ITER, an experimental fusion reactor currently under construction in France through EURATOM, the European Atomic Energy Community. ITER idea was first launched in 1985 and established in 2007. Its first experiment was scheduled to start in 2025 but is delayed due to Covid-19 disruptions. It is aimed at producing 500MW of fusion power from 50MW of input heating power.
Further, in 2017, China launched the China Fusion Engineering Test Reactor (CFETR) project as a follow-up to the ITER. This tokamak device is aimed at producing an extremely powerful magnetic field to confine plasma and generate fusion energy. This magnetic field can contain and control hydrogen gas ten times hotter than the core of the sun. CFETR is aimed at producing a peak power output of 2GW once completed in 2035, bridging the gap between scientific experiments and commercial use.
Extensive progress has been noticed in studying laser-based technology for fusion energy generation. Some of the facilities that use laser technology to produce fusion energy include the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the USA and the Laser Mégajoule (LMJ) in France.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also supports its member states in research activities related to fusion energy generation. It also organizes various workshops on fusion power plant concepts demonstration, technical meetings, and coordinates research activities.
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Some of the breakthroughs achieved in fusion energy experiments to date
There has been significant progress in the research and development activities focused on nuclear fusion energy generation. Researchers are continuously emphasizing optimizing the condition of plasma through changes in density, temperature, and confinement time to achieve the required level of performance for a power plant. Several nuclear reactors were able to sustain high temperatures during the fusion process. For instance, in January 2022, the EAST reactor in China sustained temperatures of 126 million degrees Fahrenheit, which is nearly five times hotter than the sun, for 17 minutes, and thus, broke the record for longest sustained nuclear fusion.
In February 2022, the Joint European Torus (JET) achieved a record performance for sustained fusion energy of 59MJ over five seconds.
Also, in September 2022, the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) experiment achieved plasma temperatures of 120 million kelvins for up to 20 seconds, a key demonstration of simultaneous high temperatures and plasma stability.
Recently in December 2022, a major breakthrough was achieved at the US National Ignition Facility in California by using inertial confinement fusion which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers for the first time in the world. The laser shot released 3.15MJ of energy in comparison with the 2.05MJ pumped to the hydrogen isotope pellet by lasers. This breakthrough is likely to pave the way for the abundant clean energy in the future.
Breakthroughs driving further investment in fusion energy R&D
Breakthroughs achieved over the past years in various projects have attracted significant investment by both government and private sector in the research and development of fusion energy. For instance, in February 2023, Israel’s Ministry of Energy (MoE) proposed to provide US$11.5 million to establish a national nuclear fusion institute in Israel. This initiative includes major universities of Israel namely the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Technion and Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, as well as NT-Tao, an Israel-based start-up which is engaged in the development of a compact system for nuclear fusion.
Similarly, in October 2022, the UK government announced to provide US$249.6 million of funding for the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) project’s first phase which will include concept design by the UK Atomic Energy Authority by 2024. STEP is a program aimed at designing and constructing a prototype fusion energy plant by 2040.
In March 2022, the US Department of Energy (DOE) proposed to provide around US$50 million of federal funding to support US scientists involved in conducting experimental research in fusion energy science. Of this, US$20 million was to support tokamak facilities and US$30 million to support fusion research to improve the performance of fusion and increase the duration of burning plasma. In addition to this, the US government’s budget for the financial year 2023 included US$723 million for the Office of Science Fusion Energy Sciences research in enabling technologies, materials, advanced computing and simulation, and new partnerships with private fusion efforts. This amount included US$240 million for the ongoing construction of ITER tokamak. Also, the budget for the financial year 2024 includes US$16.5 billion to support climate science and clean energy innovation including US$1 billion to advance fusion energy technology.
Private funding in fusion companies has also increased significantly in the recent past. As per the Fusion Industry Association Report 2022 published in July, private sector funding amounted to about US$4.8 billion in total, witnessing an increase of 139% since 2021. Fusion companies also received an additional US$117 million in grants and other funding from governments. Big resource groups such as Equinor based in Norway, Google and Chevron based in the USA have also invested in fusion energy research. For instance, in July 2022, Chevron together with Google and Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation invested in TAE Technologies, a US-based nuclear fusion start-up, in a US$250 million fundraising round to build its next-generation fusion machine.
In addition to this, entrepreneurs including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are also providing financial support. In December 2021, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) raised around US$1.8 billion in series B funding from various key investors including Bill Gates, DFJ Growth, and Emerson Collective among others, to commercialize fusion energy.
Companies engaged in nuclear fusion energy generation
More than 35 companies are engaged in fusion energy generation for commercial use, such as Tokamak Energy, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Helion Energy, Zap Energy, and TAE Technologies, among others. These fusion companies are increasingly emphasizing collaborations and experimenting with new technologies to produce fusion energy and make it available for commercial use.
In March 2023, Eni, an energy group based in Italy, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) based in the USA, a spin-out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), signed a collaboration agreement aimed at accelerating the industrialization of fusion energy.
In February 2023, TAE Technologies achieved a breakthrough in its hydrogen-boron fusion experiment in magnetically confined fusion plasma. This experiment was a collaboration between Japan’s National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFT) and TAE Technologies.
Also in February 2023, Tokamak energy proposed to build new fusion energy advanced prototype at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham Campus, UK, using power plant-relevant magnet technology. It also built the first set of high-temperature superconducting magnets for testing nuclear fusion power plants. This super magnet can confine and control extremely hot plasma created during the fusion process.
Certain breakthroughs achieved over the years in the nuclear fusion energy field have encouraged the entry of various start-ups across geographies. For instance, Princeton Stellarators, a US-based start-up focused on building modular, utility-scale fusion power, was founded in 2022. Another start-up named Focused Energy, a Germany-based fusion company was founded in 2021 to develop a fusion power plant based on laser and target technology. In September 2021, the company raised US$15 million in seed funding led by Prime Movers Lab along with additional investment from various entrepreneurs.
Start-ups are also emphasizing raising funds to create new fusion technologies and make a significant impact on the industry. In February 2023, NT-Tao, an Israel-based nuclear fusion start-up founded in 2019 raised US$22 million in a series A funding round aimed at developing a high-density, compact fusion reactor to provide clean energy.
Additionally, in January 2023, Renaissance Fusion, a France-based start-up founded in 2020, raised US$16.4 million in a seed funding round led by Lowercarbon Capital. The company is engaged in the development of a stellarator reactor for fusion energy generation.
Challenges to nuclear fusion energy generation
Although a lot of companies and governments across geographies are investing in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments, building full-scale fusion generating facilities requires advanced engineering, advanced vacuum systems, and superconducting magnets. One of the key challenges in fusion process is the requirement of extremely high temperature to produce energy. Also, it becomes difficult to control plasma at such high temperatures.
Additionally, lack of availability of materials that can extract heat more effectively while withstanding their mechanical properties for a longer duration is another challenge affecting the fusion energy generation process.
Moreover, fusion research projects are also facing capital and financing challenges due to high upfront costs, return uncertainty, and long project duration. Capital investment involved in building and operating a fusion reactor is high due to complex technology that requires significant investment in R&D, high energy requirement, use of advanced materials, and regulatory requirements aimed at ensuring the safety and low environmental impact of the fusion reactor. The cost of building a fusion reactor ranges between tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. It can vary depending on various factors such as size, design, location, materials, and technology used.
Since fusion energy is a new technology, there is uncertainty about when nuclear fusion will become a viable and cost-effective energy source such as other energy sources including wind and solar. This makes it difficult for investors to invest in fusion projects and predict the return on investment.
However, ongoing research and development activities aimed at building advanced, highly efficient, and cost-effective fusion reactors, and commercializing fusion energy generation at a large scale are likely to overcome these challenges in the long term.
Accelerating climate crisis is driving the investment in nuclear fusion research and development as it does not create carbon emissions and long-lasting nuclear waste products. Over the past several years, various fusion research projects, university programs, and start-ups have achieved breakthroughs in the fusion energy field. The most recent breakthrough at US National Ignition Facility in California, which released more energy than was pumped in by the lasers, has paved the way to the nuclear fusion gold rush and sparked excitement among investors, companies, and researchers.
Many fusion companies such as Commonwealth Fusion Systems and TAE Technologies are claiming to exceed breakeven by 2025 and commercialize fusion energy by 2030. Billions of dollars have been invested in nuclear fusion energy generation experiments but no company or projects have been able to achieve breakeven yet.
Several new fusion projects are planning on using advanced materials and putting a new generation of supercomputers to tweak the performance of ultrahigh-temperature plasma, but commercializing fusion energy is still far from reality. Moreover, the fusion process is very complex, requires extreme temperature for fusion reactions, and involves huge energy costs. Thus, other alternative clean energy sources such as wind and solar are likely to remain the near-term methods to meet sustainable energy demand. At the same time, it should be expected that the increasing government support and investment by large cap organizations and entrepreneurs are likely to help set up viable fusion power plants in the future.
Gaming industry is booming, with a significant surge in growth occurring during the 2020-2021 pandemic, when millions of people turned to games during lockdowns. The industry is currently worth US$184 billion and is expected to reach over US$200 billion by 2025. The market is very competitive with a need for a considerable investment and time for publishers to create successful games and for companies to develop consoles that offer advanced features and an attractive catalogue of games. This is pushing players towards increased consolidation to achieve economies of scale and lower risks, and to strengthen their position in the market. More than 650 gaming M&A or investment deals were announced or closed in the first six months of 2022.
Out of the numerous M&As that have recently occurred in the industry, Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the maker of the world’s most popular games such as Call of Duty, Warcraft, and Candy Crush, is anticipated to make a substantial impact on the market. Microsoft announced its intent to acquire Activision for US$68.7 billion in January 2022, which was going to be the largest acquisition in the gaming industry to date. The consolidation of two strong players in the industry – Microsoft being the manufacturer of the Xbox gaming console and Activision being the publisher of many popular games – could offer users a large catalogue of games and improve gaming experience and cloud-gaming services. However, it has also raised a concern that this could suppress the competition in the market of consoles, gaming subscriptions, and cloud-gaming. Many regulators across the world have blocked the deal including the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Microsoft is currently trying to get approval from the regulators.
How does the deal benefit Microsoft?
If the deal gets approved, it will turn Microsoft into one of the top three video game publishers, right behind its rival Sony. This would enhance Microsoft’s games catalogue with Activision’s games, making Xbox’s choice more attractive than Sony’s PlayStation. Microsoft would also be able to enter the mobile-gaming market, with Activision’s mobile games such as Candy Crush and King. This opens a large market segment, previously unaddressed by Microsoft, a segment that accounts for 50% of the total gaming market. Microsoft is planning to open Xbox’s mobile game store to compete with Apple and Google game stores.
As users are increasingly preferring gaming subscriptions and cloud gaming services over physical DVDs, it gives an added advantage for Microsoft to own some of the most popular gaming titles and offer attractive subscriptions on its own platform. Currently, Microsoft holds 60-70% of the global cloud gaming services market and could further squeeze into the shares of other companies such as Google to dominate the market.
The company would also be able to venture into metaverse and Non-Fungible Token (NFT) games using technological and newly acquired game development capabilities.
What does this deal mean for gamers?
The Xbox Game Pass subscribers would benefit from the added list of Activision Blizzard games which would be incorporated into the existing catalogue. However, it is unclear whether Microsoft could make future games developed by Activision unavailable on other consoles such as Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. There is also a possibility for Microsoft to increase the subscription prices if gamers are highly reliant on Xbox-exclusive games.
Cloud gaming technologies are likely to improve in the future to overcome high latency and lost frames issues faced currently. However, if Microsoft dominates the cloud gaming space, it may reduce the gaming choices for gamers.
What are the concerns over the deal?
The major concern put forth by the regulators is whether the deal could negatively impact the competitive landscape of the market. For example, Sony currently owns 21 in-house game studios and Microsoft owns 23. If Microsoft manages to get the deal, the company will have 30 in-house game studios, making Microsoft’s Xbox a much better choice and also giving the power to decide where these games are to be played. If Microsoft makes Activision’s future games exclusive on its platforms, it will dominate the console, mobile, and cloud platforms, killing the competition. This can discourage competitors from developing high-quality games. It can also enable Microsoft to decide to reduce the quality of its games or increase the prices when it dominates the market. Even if the company makes these games available on other platforms, competitors fear that the company may offer low-quality versions or remove their marketing rights or support for other console features.
The biggest concern is over one particular game – Activision’s Call of Duty, the most-played video game in the world. Microsoft has already agreed to offer a 10-year licensing deal to console manufacturer Nintendo, however, Sony has refused to accept the offer. When Microsoft purchased Bethesda game studio in 2021, the company made its highly anticipated sci-fi game Starfield into an X-box and PC exclusive. This is one of the reasons why regulators are concerned about Microsoft’s promises to make its games available on other platforms.
The regulators also raised concerns on how the company could completely sabotage the cloud-gaming market by withholding Activision’s games from rival cloud-gaming services.
Status of the lawsuits
Microsoft is yet to receive approval from US FTC and UK CMA. The company attempted to convince the CMA by entering into agreements with cloud gaming competitors to provide access to Xbox games. CMA remains unconvinced, which appears to be a major block for this deal. However, the company’s agreements with Nintendo and NVIDIA on providing a 10-year licensing deal for the Call of Duty game have convinced the EU regulators and the company has won the EU antitrust approval. Regulators in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Chile, Serbia, Japan, and South Africa have also approved the deal.
The case filed by FTC is still in the document discovery stage and an evidentiary hearing is scheduled for August 2023. Even though the company has won FTC lawsuits before, it is to be seen if it can win the approval for this massive acquisition deal.
Considering how Nintendo managed to acquire a 30% market share in the video gaming console industry by owning just 2 studios compared to Microsoft’s 25% share with 23 owned studios, it might not be very concerning that Microsoft owning 7 more studios through the Activision deal could sabotage the competition in the market. The deal can make the rivals more competitive to develop better console generations and games.
However, it can be anticipated that Sony might lose some of its market share to Microsoft right after the deal. It can also affect Sony’s profit if the company will have to take paid licenses of games owned by Microsoft. However, on the other hand, if Microsoft goes against its promises and makes the games exclusive on its platforms or does not support the other platforms’ gaming experience, it could seriously damage the competitors’ businesses. Looking at the brighter side, the marriage between two superpowers in the gaming industry could significantly transform the gaming experience for the users, open new possibilities such as Xbox mobile-game subscriptions or metaverse games, or improve cloud-gaming services.
Africa carries the world’s highest burden of disease and experiences a severe shortage of healthcare workers. Across the continent, accessibility to primary healthcare remains to be a major challenge. During the COVID-19 pandemic, several health tech companies emerged and offered new possibilities for improving healthcare access. Among these, telemedicine and drug distribution services were able to address the shortage of health workers and healthcare facilities across many countries. New health tech solutions such as remote health monitoring, hospital automation, and virtual health assistance that are backed by AI, IoT, and predictive analytics are proving to further improve the health systems in terms of costs, access, and workload on health workers. Given the diversity in per capita income, infrastructure, and policies among African countries, it remains to be seen if health tech companies can overcome these challenges and expand their reach across the continent.
Africa is the second most populated continent with population of 1.4 billion, growing three times faster than the global average. Amid the high population growth, Africa suffers from a high prevalence of diseases. Infectious diseases such as malaria and respiratory infections contribute to 80% of the total infectious disease burden, which indicates the sum of morbidity and mortality in the world. Non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes accounted for about 50% of total deaths in 2022. High rates of urbanization also pose the threat of spreading communicable diseases such as COVID-19, Ebola, and monkey fever.
A region where healthcare must be well-accessible is indeed ill-equipped due to limited healthcare infrastructure and the shortage of healthcare workers. According to WHO, the average doctor-to-population ratio in Africa is about two doctors to 10,000 people, compared with 35.5 doctors to 10,000 people in the USA.
Poor infrastructure and lack of investments worsen the health systems. Healthcare expenditure (aggregate public healthcare spending) in African countries is 20-25 times lower than the healthcare expenditure in European countries. Governments here typically spend about 5% of GDP on healthcare, compared with 10% of GDP spent by European countries. Private investment in Africa is less than 25% of the total healthcare investments.
Further, healthcare infrastructure is unevenly distributed. Professional healthcare services are concentrated in urban areas, leaving 56% of the rural population unable to access proper healthcare. There are severe gaps in the number of healthcare units, diagnostic centers, and the supply of medical devices and drugs. Countries such as Zambia, Malawi, and Angola are placed below the rank of 180 among 190 countries ranked by the WHO in terms of health systems. Low spending power and poor national health insurance schemes discourage people to use healthcare services.
Health tech solutions’ potential to fill the healthcare system gaps
As the prevailing health systems are inadequate, there is a strong need for digital solutions to address these gaps. Health tech solutions can significantly improve the access to healthcare services (consultation, diagnosis, and treatment) and supply of medical devices and drugs.
Health tech solutions can significantly improve the access to healthcare services (consultation, diagnosis, and treatment) and supply of medical devices and drugs.
For instance, Mobihealth, a UK-based digital health platform founded in 2017, is revolutionizing access to healthcare across Africa through its telemedicine app, which connects patients to over 100,000 physicians from various parts of the world for video consultations. The app has significantly (by over 60%) reduced hospital congestion.
Another example is the use of drones in Malawi to monitor mosquito breeding grounds and deliver urgent medical supplies. This project, which was introduced by UNICEF in 2017, has helped to curb the spread of malaria, which typically affects the people living in such areas at least 2-3 times a year.
MomConnect, a platform launched in 2014 by the department of health in South Africa is helping millions of expectant mothers by providing essential information through a digital health desk.
While these are some of the pioneers in the health-tech industry, new companies such as Zuri Health, a telemedicine company founded in Kenya in 2020 and Ingress Healthcare, a doctor appointment booking platform launched in South Africa in 2019 are also strengthening the healthcare sector. A study published by WHO in 2020 indicated that telemedicine could reduce the mortality rates by about 30% in Africa.
The rapid rise of health tech transforming the African healthcare landscape
Digital health solutions started to emerge during the late 2000’s in Africa. Wisepill, a South African smart pill box manufacturing company, established in 2007, is one of the earliest African health tech success stories. The company developed smart storage containers that alert users on their mobile devices when they forget to take their medication. The product is widely used in South Africa and Uganda.
The industry gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the emergence of several health tech companies offering remote health services. The market experienced about 300% increase in demand for remote healthcare services such as telemedicine, health monitoring, and medicine distribution.
According to WHO, the COVID pandemic resulted in the development of over 120 health tech innovations in Africa. Some of the health tech start-ups that emerged during the pandemic include Zuri Health (Kenya), Waspito (Cameroon), and Ilara Health (Kenya). Several established companies also developed specific solutions to tackle the spread of COVID-19 and increase their user base. For instance, Redbird, a Ghanaian health monitoring company founded in 2018, gained user attention by launching a COVID symptom tracker during the pandemic. The company continues to provide remote health monitoring services for other ailments such as diabetes and hypertension which require regular health check-ups. Patients can visit the nearest pharmacy instead of a far-away hospital to conduct tests, and results will be regularly updated on their platform to track changes.
Scarcity Breeds Innovation – The Rising Adoption of Health Tech in Africa by EOS Intelligence
Start-ups offering advanced solutions based on AI and IoT have been also emerging successfully in the recent years. For instance, Ilara Health, a Kenya-based company, founded during the COVID-19 pandemic, is providing affordable diagnostic services to rural population using AI-powered diagnostic devices.
With growing internet penetration (40% across Africa as of 2022) and a rise in investments, tech entrepreneurs are now able to develop solutions and expand its reach. For instance, mPharma, a Ghana-based pharmacy stock management company founded in 2013, is improving medicine supply by making prescription drugs easily accessible and affordable across nine countries in Africa. The company raised US$35 million investment in January 2022 and is building a network of pharmacies and virtual clinics across the continent.
Currently, 42 out of 54 African countries have national eHealth strategies to support digital health initiatives. However, maximum number of health tech companies are concentrated in countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya, which have the highest per capita pharma spending in the continent. Nigeria and South Africa jointly account for 46% of health tech start-ups in Africa. Telemedicine is the most offered service by start-ups founded in the past five years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the most popular telemedicine start-ups include Babylon Health (Rwanda), Vezeeta (Egypt), DRO Health (Nigeria), and Zuri Health (Kenya).
Other most offered services include medicine distribution, hospital/pharmacy management, and online booking and appointments. Medicine distribution start-ups have an immense impact on minimizing the prevalence of counterfeit medication by offering tech-enabled alternatives to sourcing medication from open drug markets. Many physical retail pharmacy chains such as Goodlife Pharmacy (Kenya), HealthPlus (Nigeria), and MedPlus (Nigeria) are launching online pharmacy operations leveraging their established logistics infrastructure. Hospitals are increasingly adopting automation tools to streamline their operations. Electronic Medical Record (EMR) management tools offered by Helium Health, a provider of hospital automation tools based in Nigeria are widely adopted in six African countries.
Medicine distribution start-ups have an immense impact on minimizing the prevalence of counterfeit medication by offering tech-enabled alternatives to sourcing medication from open drug markets.
For any start-up in Africa, the key to success is to provide scalable, affordable, and accessible digital health solutions. Low-cost subscription plans offered by Mobihealth (a UK-based telehealth company founded in 2018) and Cardo Health (a Sweden-based telehealth company founded in 2021) are at least 50% more affordable than the average doctor consultation fee of US$25 in Africa. Telemedicine platforms such as Reliance HMO (Nigeria) and Rocket Health (Uganda) offer affordable health insurance that covers all medical expenses. Some governments have also taken initiatives in partnering with health tech companies to provide affordable healthcare to their people. For instance, Rwandan government partnered with a digital health platform called Babylon Health in 2018 to deliver low-cost healthcare to the population of Rwanda. Babylon Health is able to reach majority of the population through simple SMS codes.
Government support and Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs)
With a mission to have a digital-first universal primary care (a nation-wide program which provides primary care through digital tools), the Rwandan government is setting an example by collaborating with Babylon Health, a telemedicine service that offers online consultations, appointments, and treatments.
As part of nationwide digitization efforts, the government has established broadband infrastructure that reaches 90% population of the country. Apart from this, the country has a robust health insurance named Mutuelle de Santé, which reaches more than 90% of the population. In December 2022, the government of Ghana launched a nationwide e-pharmacy platform to regulate and support digital pharmacies. Similarly in Uganda, the government implemented a national e-health policy that recognizes the potential of technology in the healthcare sector.
MomConnect, a mobile initiative launched by the South African government with the support of Johnson and Johnson in 2014 for educating expectant and new mothers is another example of a successful PPP. However, apart from a few countries in the region, there are not enough initiatives undertaken by the governments to improve health systems.
Private and foreign investments
In 2021, health tech start-ups in Africa raised US$392 million. The sustainability of investments became a concern when the investments dropped to US$189 million in 2022, amid the global decline in start-up funding.
However, experts predict that the investment flow will improve in 2023. Recently, in March 2023, South African e-health startup, Envisionit Deep AI, raised US$1.65 million from New GX Ventures SA, a South African-based venture capital company. Nigerian e-health company, Famasi, is also amongst the start-ups that raised investments during the first quarter of 2023. The company offers door-step delivery of medicines and flexible payment plans for medicine bills.
The companies that have raised investments in recent years offer mostly telemedicine and distribution services and are based in South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, and Kenya. That being said, start-ups in the space of wearable devices, AI, and IoT are also gaining attention of investors. Vitls, a South African-based wearable device developer, raised US$1.3 million funding in November 2022.
Africa-based incubators and accelerators, such as Villgro, The Baobab Network, and GrowthAfrica Accelerator, are also supporting e-health start-ups with funding and technical guidance. Villgro has launched a US$30 million fund for health tech start-ups in March 2023. Google has also committed US$4 million to fund health tech start-ups in Africa in 2023.
Digital future for healthcare in Africa
There were over 1,700 health tech start-ups in Africa as of January 2023, compared with about 1,200 start-ups in 2020. The rapid emergence of health tech companies is addressing long-running challenges of health systems and are offering tailored solutions to meet the specific needs of the African market.
Mobile penetration is higher than internet penetration, and health tech companies are encouraged to use SMS messaging to promote healthcare access. However, Africa is expected to have at least 65% internet penetration by 2025. With growing awareness of the benefits of health tech solutions, tech companies would be able to address new markets, especially in rural areas.
Companies that offer new technologies such as AI chatbots, drones, wearable devices for remote patient monitoring, hospital automation systems, e-learning platforms for health workers, the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), and predictive analytics are expected to gain more attention in the coming years. Digitally enabled, locally-led innovations will have a huge impact on tackling the availability, affordability, and quality of health products and services.
Digitally enabled, locally-led innovations will have a huge impact on tackling the availability, affordability, and quality of health products and services.
Challenges faced by the health tech sector
While the African health tech industry has significantly evolved over the last few years, there are still significant challenges with regards to infrastructure, computer literacy, costs, and adaptability.
For instance, in Africa, only private hospitals have switched to digital records. Many hospitals still operate without computer systems or internet connection. About 40% of the population are internet users, with countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, Kenya, and Algeria being the ones with the highest number of internet users (60-80% of the population). However, 23 countries in Africa still have low internet penetration (less than 25%). This is the major reason why tech companies concentrate in the continent’s largest tech hubs.
On the other hand, majority of the rural population prefers face-to-face contact, due to the lack of digital literacy. Electricity and internet connectivity are yet to reach all parts of the region and the cost of the internet is a burden for many people. Low-spending power is a challenge, as people refuse to undergo medical treatment due to lack of insurance schemes to cover their medical expenses. Insurance schemes provided in Africa only cover 60% of their healthcare expenses. Even though health tech solutions bring medical costs down, these services still remain unaffordable for people in low-income countries. Therefore, start-ups do not prefer to establish or expand their services in such regions.
Another hurdle tech companies face is the diversity of languages in Africa. Africa is home to one-third of the world’s languages and has over 1,000 languages. This makes it difficult for companies to customize content to reach all populations.
Amidst all these challenges, there is very little support from the governments. The companies face unfavorable policies and regulations that hinder the implementation of digital solutions. Only 8% of African countries have online pharmacy regulations. In Nigeria, regulatory guidelines for online pharmacies only came into effect in January 2022, and there are still unresolved concerns around its implementation.
Lack of public investment and comprehensive government support also discourage the local players. Public initiatives are rare in providing funding, research support, and regulatory approval for technology innovations in the health sector. Private investment flow is low for start-ups in this sector, compared to other industries. Health tech start-ups raised a total investment of US$189 million in 2022, which is not even 10% of the total investments raised by start-ups in other sectors in Africa. Also, funding is favored towards the ones established in high-income countries. Founders who don’t have ties to high-income countries struggle to raise funds.
The emergence of tech health can be referred to as a necessary rise to deal with perennial gaps in the African healthcare system. Undoubtedly, many of these successful companies could transform the health sector, making quality health services available to the mass population. The pandemic has spurred the adoption of digital health, and the trend experienced during the pandemic continues to grow with the developments in the use of advanced technologies such as AI and IoT. Telemedicine and distribution have been the fastest-growing sectors driven by the demand for remote healthcare services during the pandemic. Home-based care is likely to keep gaining momentum with the development of advanced solutions for remote health monitoring and diagnostic services.
Home-based care is likely to keep gaining momentum with the development of advanced solutions for remote health monitoring and diagnostic services.
With the increasing internet penetration and acceptance for digital healthcare, health tech companies are likely to be able to expand their reach to rural areas. Right policies, PPPs, and infrastructure development are expected to catalyze the health tech adoption in Africa. Companies that offer advanced technologies such as IoT-enabled integrated medical devices, AI chatbots, drones, wearable devices for remote patient monitoring, hospital automation systems, e-learning platforms for health workers, and predictive analytics for health monitoring are expected to emerge successfully in the coming years.
ChatGPT, a revolutionary AI-based conversational chatbot has been making headlines around the world. The AI-based tool can answer user queries and generate new content in a human-like way. By automating tasks such as customer support and content creation, ChatGPT has the potential to revolutionize many industries, resulting in a more efficient digital landscape and an enhanced user experience. However, the technology is not without its risks and poses a number of issues such as creating malicious content, copyright infringement, and other moral issues. Despite these challenges, the possibilities for ChatGPT are infinite, and with the advancement of technology, the opportunities it presents will only continue to expand.
ChatGPT is an AI-based question-and-answer chatbot that responds to user queries in a conversational way, just like how humans respond. OpenAI, a US-based research and development company, launched ChatGPT in November 2022. Since then, ChatGPT has garnered increased attention and popularity worldwide. The tool surpassed over 1 million users within five days and 100 million users within two months of launch.
ChatGPT has become popular due to its capability of answering queries in a simple and conversational manner. The tool can perform various functions such as generating content for marketing campaigns, writing emails, blogs, and essays, debugging code, and even solving mathematics questions.
OpenAI’s ChatGPT works on the concept of generative AI and uses a language model called GPT3 – a third-generation Generative Pre-trained Transformer. The AI chatbot has been fed with about 45 terabytes of text data on a diverse range of topics from sources such as books, websites, and articles and has been trained on a set of algorithms to understand relationships between words and phrases and how it is used in context. This way, the model is able to develop an understanding of languages and generate answers. ChatGPT uses a dialog format, asks follow-up questions for clarification, admits mistakes, and is capable of dismissing inappropriate or dangerous requests.
ChatGPT also has a simple user interface allowing communication through a plain textbox just like a messaging app, thus making it easy to use. Currently, ChatGPT is in beta testing, and users can use it for free to try and provide feedback. However, the free version is often inaccessible and out of capacity due to the increasing traffic.
In February 2023, OpenAI launched a pilot subscription plan named ChatGPT Plus, starting at US$20 per month, which is available to its customers in the USA. The subscription plan provides access to ChatGPT even during peak times and provides prior access to any new features. OpenAI is also testing ChatGPT to generate videos and pictures using its DALLE image-generating software, which is another AI tool developed by OpenAI to create art and images from text prompts. OpenAI also plans to launch a ChatGPT mobile app soon.
How could ChatGPT help businesses?
One of the most impactful areas where ChatGPT can make a difference is customer support. The AI tool can handle a large volume of consumer queries within a short time frame and give accurate responses, which can boost work efficiency and reduce employees’ workload.
In addition, the tool can also be employed to answer sales-related queries. By training ChatGPT to understand product information, pricing, and other details, businesses can provide a seamless sales experience for customers. ChatGPT can also analyze user data and behavior and can assist customers to find the products they are looking for, and give product recommendations leading to a more tailored and enjoyable shopping experience. ChatGPT can be incorporated into websites to engage visitors and help them find the information they need, which can help in lead generation.
Another potential benefit of ChatGPT is its ability to automate content generation. ChatGPT can generate unique and original content quickly, making it an effective tool for creating marketing materials such as email campaigns, blogs, newsletters, etc.
In healthcare, the tool can be used in scheduling appointments, summarizing patient’s health information based on previous history, assisting in diagnostics, and for telemedicine services.
In the education sector, ChatGPT can be used to prepare teaching materials and lessons and for providing personalized tutoring classes.
These are just a few applications of ChatGPT. As the generative technology continues to evolve, there may be many other potential applications that can help businesses achieve their goals more efficiently and effectively.
Is ChatGPT Just Another Tech Innovation or A Game Changer by EOS Intelligence
ChatGPT’s output may not be always accurate
While ChatGPT offers several benefits and advantages, the tool is not without limitations. ChatGPT works on pre-trained data that cannot handle nuances or other ambiguities and thus may generate answers which are incorrect, biased, or inappropriate.
Moreover, ChatGPT is not connected to the internet and cannot refer to an external link to respond to queries that are not part of its training. It also does not cover the news and events after 2021 and cannot provide real-time information.
Another major limitation is that the tool is often out of capacity due to the high traffic, which makes it inaccessible. There are also other potential risks associated with these generative AI tools. Some of the threats include writing phishing emails, copyright infringement, generating abusive content or malicious software, plagiarism, and much more.
ChatGPT is not the first or only AI chatbot
While ChatGPT has garnered most of the attention in the last few months, it is neither the first nor the only AI-based chatbot in the market. There are many AI-based writers and AI chatbots in the market-already. These tools vary in their applications and have their own strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, ChatSonic, first released in 2020, is an AI writing assistant touted as the top ChatGPT alternative. This AI chatbot is supported by Google, has voice dictation capabilities, can generate up-to-date content, and can also generate images based on text prompts. However, ChatSonic has word limits in its free as well as paid versions, which makes it difficult for users who need to generate large pieces of text.
Similarly, Jasper is another AI tool launched in 2021, which works based on the language model (GPT-3) similar to ChatGPT. Jasper can write and generate content for blogs, videos, Twitter threads, etc., in over 50 language templates and can also check for grammar and plagiarism. Jasper AI is specifically built for dealing with business use cases and is also faster and more efficient and generates more accurate results than ChatGPT.
YouChat is another example, developed in 2022 by You.com, and running on OpenAI GPT-3. It performs similar functions as ChatGPT – responding to queries, solving math equations, coding, translating, and writing content. This chatbot cites source links of the information and acts more like an AI-powered search engine. However, YouChat lacks an aesthetic appeal and may generate results that are outdated at times.
ChatGPT-styled chatbots to power search engines
While a lot of buzz has been created about this technology, the impact of AI-based conversational chatbots is yet to be seen on a large-scale. Many proclaim that tools such as ChatGPT will replace the traditional search method of using Google to obtain information.
However, experts argue that it is highly unlikely. While AI chatbots can mimic human-like conversation, they need to be trained on massive amount of data to generate any kind of answers. These tools work on pre-trained models that were fed with large amounts of data sourced from books, articles, websites, and many more resources to generate content. Hence, real-time learning and answering would be cost-intensive in the long run.
Moreover, ChatGPT’s answers may not always be comprehensive or accurate, requiring human supervision. ChatGPT may also not be very good at solving logical questions. For instance, when asked to solve a simple problem – “RQP, ONM, _, IHG, FED, find the missing letters”, ChatGPT answered incorrectly as “LKI”. Similarly, when provided a text prompt “The odd numbers in the group 17, 32, 3, 15, 82, 9, 1 add up to an even number”, the chatbot affirmed it, which is false. Moreover, the AI chatbot does not cover news after 2021, and when asked “Who won the 2022 world cup?” ChatGPT said the event has not taken place.
On the other hand, Google uses several algorithms to rank web pages and gives the most relevant web results and comprehensive information. Google has access to a much larger pool of data and the ability to analyze it in real-time. Additionally, Google’s ranking algorithms have been developed over years of research and refinement, making them incredibly efficient and effective at delivering high-quality results. Therefore, while AI chatbots can be useful in certain contexts, they are unlikely to replace traditional search methods, such as Google.
However, leading search engines are looking to incorporate ChatGPT into their search tools. For instance, Microsoft is planning to incorporate ChatGPT 4, a faster version of the current ChatGPT version into its Bing Search engine. Since 2019, the company has invested about US$13 billion in OpenAI, the parent company of ChatGPT.
In February 2023, Microsoft also incorporated ChatGPT into its popular office software Teams. With this, users with Teams premium accounts will able to generate meeting notes, access recommended tasks, and would be able to see personalized highlights of the meeting using ChatGPT. These add immense value to the user.
In February 2023, China-based e-commerce company, Alibaba also announced its plan to launch its own AI chatbot similar to ChatGPT. Similarly, Baidu, a China-based internet service provider, launched a chatbot named “Ernie” in its search engine in March 2023.
Amidst the increasing popularity of ChatGPT, Google has also started working on a chatbot named “Bard” based on its own language model, Lambda. The company is planning to launch more than 20 new AI-based products in 2023. In February 2023, Google invested about US$400 million in Anthropic AI, a US-based artificial intelligence startup, which is testing a new chatbot named Claude. Thus, the race of building an effective AI-enabled search engine has just begun and things have to unfold a bit to know more about how chatbots can modify web search.
On the other hand, AI technologies such as ChatGPT are sure to leave an impact on how businesses operate. With the global economy slowing down, resulting in low business margins, many businesses are looking to cut down costs to increase profitability.
ChatGPT could be extremely beneficial to companies looking to automate various business tasks such as customer support and content generation. The tool can be integrated into channels, including websites and voice assistants. While this sounds beneficial, there is also a likelihood of the technology displacing some jobs such as customer service representatives, copywriters, research analysts, etc.
However, ChatGPT will not be replacing the human workforce completely since many business tasks require creative and critical thinking skills and other traits such as empathy and emotional intelligence that only humans have. This technology is expected to pave way for new opportunities in various fields such as software engineering and data analysis and allow employees to focus on more value-added tasks instead of routine, mundane tasks, ultimately boosting productivity.
With their remarkable ability to generate human-like conversations and high-quality content, generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, are sure to be touted as a game-changer for many businesses. The advancements in generative AI are expected to have a significant impact on various business tasks such as customer support, content creation, data analysis, marketing and sales, and even decision-making.
Investors are slowly taking note of the immense potential the technology holds. It is estimated that generative AI start-ups received equity funding totaling about US$2.6 billion across 110 deals in 2022, which echoes an increasing interest in the technology.
The adoption of generative AI technologies is poised to increase, especially in business processes where a human-like conversation is desirable. Industries such as e-commerce, retail, and travel are likely to embrace this technology to automate customer service tasks, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. In addition, generative AI is likely become an indispensable part of industries such as finance and logistics, where high levels of accuracy and precision are required. Media and entertainment companies can also benefit from this technology to quickly generate content such as articles, videos, and audio.
That being said, generative AI is not without its risks and the technology could be used to create fake and other discriminatory information. Hence, there is an inevitable need to ensure that generative AI models are trained and deployed in an ethical and responsible manner. Despite these challenges, there is increased research and significant activity going on in the field of generative AI, especially with regards to combining the capabilities of chatbots and traditional search engines.
The current chatbots will continue to evolve and will lead to the creation of even more advanced and sophisticated models. The popularity of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT is unlikely to wane, and the technology is here to stay, with the potential to create better prospects for business and a brighter future for society.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has become an integral part of almost every industry and the automotive sector is no exception. From self-driving cars to predictive maintenance, AI is evolving as a major disruptor in the auto industry, slowly transforming how automobiles are designed, manufactured, and sold. This digital swing is driven mainly by an increased competition, consumer preferences for smart mobility, and benefits of AI. However, AI adoption in the automotive industry is not mainstream yet, with the technology deployed only at the pilot level and in selective business segments. As the world gears toward an era of digital transformation and automation, AI is expected to be part of various business processes in the automotive industry in the coming years.
Artificial intelligence in the auto industry is typically associated with autonomous and self-driving cars. However, the technology has increasingly found its way into other applications over the last few years. Leading auto OEMs are showing an interest in deploying AI-driven innovations across the value chain, investing in tech start-ups, partnering with software providers, and building new business entities.
For instance, a venture capital fund owned by Japanese automaker Toyota, Toyota AI Ventures (rebranded as Toyota Ventures now) with US$200 million in assets under management, invested in almost 35 early-age startups that focus on AI, autonomy, mobility, and robotics between 2017 and 2020. Similarly, in 2022, South Korean automotive manufacturer Hyundai invested US$424 million to build an AI research center in the USA to advance research in AI and robotics. In the same year, CARIAD, software division of the Germany-based Volkswagen Group, acquired Paragon Semvox GmbH, a Germany-based company, that develops AI-based voice control and smart assistance systems, for US$42 million.
Changing consumer preferences, competitive pressures, and various advantages of AI are driving this transformation. According to a 2019 Capgemini research study, nearly 25% of auto manufacturers in the USA implemented AI solutions at scale, followed by the UK (14%), and Germany (12%) by the end of 2019.
There are numerous applications of AI in the automotive industry. Some of the more common and innovative uses of AI include virtual simulation models, inventory management, quality control of parts and finished goods, automated driver assistance systems (ADAS), predictive maintenance, and personalized vehicles, to name a few.
Automotive Industry Gearing towards Digital Transformation with AI by EOS Intelligence
AI-based virtual simulation models used for effective R&D processes
Due to changing customer preferences, increasing regulations concerning safety and fuel emissions, and technological disruption, OEMs are finding it more expensive to make cars nowadays. A 2020 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers says that conceptualization and product development account for 77% of the cost and 65% of the time spent in a typical automotive manufacturing process.
To make R&D cost-effective and more efficient, some auto manufacturers and tier-I suppliers are turning to AI. AI enables simulation of digital prototypes eliminating a lot of physical prototypes, thus reducing the costs and time for product development. One interesting concept that is emerging and catching attention in this area is the “digital twin”. The concept employs a virtual model mimicking an entire process or environment, and its physical behavior. There are numerous uses of digital twins – in vehicle design and development, factory and supply chain simulations, autonomous driving simulations, etc. In vehicle design and development, digital twins make simulations easier, validate each step of the development in order to predict outcomes, improve performance, and identify possible failures before the product enters the production line.
For instance, in 2019, Continental, a Germany-based automotive parts manufacturing company, entered into a collaboration with a Germany-based start-up, Automotive Artificial Intelligence (AAI), to develop a modular virtual simulation program for its Automated Driver Assistance System (ADAS) application, and also invested an undisclosed amount in the company. The virtual simulation program could generate phenomenal vehicle test data of 5,000 miles per hour compared to 6,500 miles of physical test driving per month, reducing both time and costs.
Many leading automotive companies are also looking to utilize this innovative concept in streamlining the entire manufacturing operations. For example, in early 2023, Mercedes-Benz announced that the company is partnering with Nvidia technologies, a US-based technology company specializing in AI-based hardware and software, to build a digital twin of one of its automotive plants in Germany. Mercedes-Benz is hoping that the digital twin can help them monitor the entire plant, and make quick changes in their production processes without interruptions.
General Motors, Volkswagen, and Hyundai use AI for smart manufacturing
Automation processes and industrial robots have been in automotive manufacturing for a long time. However, these systems can perform only programmed routine and repetitive tasks and cannot act on complex real-life scenarios.
The use of AI in automotive manufacturing makes these production processes smarter and more efficient. Some of the applications of AI in manufacturing include forecasting component failures, predicting demand for components and managing inventory, using collaborative robots for heavy material handling, etc.
For instance, General Motors, a US-based automotive manufacturing company, has been using AI-based design strategies since 2018 to manufacture lightweight vehicles. In 2019, the company also deployed an AI-based image classification tool in its robots to detect equipment failures on a pilot-level experimentation.
Similarly, a Germany-based luxury car manufacturer, Audi, has been using AI to monitor the quality of spot welds since 2021 and is also planning to use AI in its wheel design process starting in 2023. In 2021, Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, also invested about US$1 billion to bring technologies such as cloud-based industrial software, intelligent robotics, and AI into its factory operations. With this, the company aims to drive a 30% increase in manufacturing performance in its plants in the USA and Mexico by 2025.
In another instance, South Korean automotive manufacturer Hyundai uses AI to improve the well-being of its employees. In 2018, the company developed wearable robots for its workers who spend most of their time in assembly lines. These robots can sense the type of work of employees, adjust their motions, and boost load support and mobility, preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Thus, AI is transforming every facet of automobile manufacturing from designing to improving the well-being of employees.
Companies provide more ADAS features amidst increasing competition
Automated Driver Assistance System (ADAS) is one of the powerful applications of AI in the automotive industry. ADAS are intelligent systems that aim to make driving safer and more efficient. ADAS primarily uses cameras and Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors to generate a high-resolution 360-degree view of the car and assists the driver or enables cars to take autonomous actions. Demand for ADAS is growing globally due to consumers’ rising preference for luxury, better safety, and comfort. It is estimated that by 2025, ADAS will become a default feature of nearly every new vehicle sold worldwide. ADAS is classified into 6 levels:
Driver assistance: the vehicle has at least a single automation system
Partial driving automation: the vehicle has more than one automated system; the driver has to be on alert at all times
Conditional driving automation: the vehicle has multiple driver assistance functions that control most driving tasks; the driver has to be present to take over if anything goes wrong
High driving automation: the vehicle can make decisions itself in most circumstances; the driver has the option to manually control the car
Full driving automation: the vehicle can do everything on its own without the presence of a driver
At present, cars from level 0 to level 2 are on the market. To meet the growing competitive edge, several auto manufacturers are adding more automation features to the level 2 type. Companies have also been making significant strides toward developing autonomous vehicles. For instance, auto manufacturers such as Mercedes, BMW, and Hyundai are testing level 3 autonomous vehicles, and Toyota and Honda are testing and trialing level 4 vehicles. This indicates that the future of mobility will be highly automated relying upon technologies such as AI.
Volkswagen and Porsche use AI in automotive marketing and sales
There are various applications of AI in marketing and sales operations – in sales forecasting and planning, personalized marketing, AI-assisted virtual assistants, etc. According to a May 2022 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report, auto OEMs can gain faster returns with lower investments by deploying AI in their marketing and sales operations.
Some automotive companies have already started to deploy AI in sales and marketing. For instance, since 2019, Volkswagen has been leveraging AI to create precise market forecasts based on certain variables and uses the data for its sales planning. Similarly, in 2021, a Germany-based luxury car manufacturer, Porsche, launched an AI tool that suggests various vehicle options and their prices based on the customer’s preferences.
Automakers integrate AI-assisted voice assistants into cars
Cars nowadays are not only perceived as a means of transportation but consumers also expect sophisticated features, convenience, comfort, and an enriching experience during their journey. AI enhances every aspect of the cockpit and deploys personalized infotainment systems that learn from user preferences and habits over time. Many automakers are integrating AI-based voice assistants to help drivers navigate through traffic, change the temperature, make calls, play their favorite music, and more.
For instance, in 2018, Mercedes-Benz introduced the Mercedes Benz User Experience (MBUX) voice-assisted infotainment system which gets activated with the keyword “Hey Mercedes”. Amazon, Apple, and Google are also planning to get carmakers to integrate their technologies into in-car infotainment systems. It is expected that 90% of new vehicles sold globally will have voice assistants by 2028.
Integration and technological challenges hamper the adoption of AI
The adoption of AI in the automotive industry is still at a nascent stage. Several OEM manufacturers in the automotive industry are leveraging various AI solutions only at the pilot level and scaling up is slow due to the various challenges associated with AI.
At the technology level, the creation of AI algorithms remains the main challenge requiring extensive training of neural networks that rely on large data sets. Organizations lack the skills and expertise in AI-related tools to successfully build and test AI models, which is time-consuming and expensive. AI technology also uses a variety of high-priced advanced sensors and microprocessors thus hindering the technology to be economically feasible.
Moreover, AI acts more or less like a black box and it remains difficult to determine how AI models make decisions. This obscurity remains a big problem, especially for autonomous vehicles.
At the organizational level, integration challenges make it difficult to implement the technology with existing infrastructure, tools, and systems. Lack of knowledge of selecting and investing in the right AI application and lack of information on potential economic returns are other biggest organizational hurdles.
The applications of AI in the automotive industry are broad and many are yet to be envisioned. There is an upswing in the number of automotive AI patents since 2015 with an average of 3,700 patents granted every year. It is evident that many disrupting high-value automotive applications of AI are likely to be deployed in the coming decade. Automotive organizations are bolstering their AI skills and capabilities by investing in AI-led start-ups. These companies together already invested about US$11.2 billion in these startups from 2014 to 2019.
There is also an increase in the hiring pattern of AI-related roles in the industry. Many automotive industry leaders are optimistic that AI technology can bring significant economic and operational benefits to their businesses. AI can turn out to be a powerful steering wheel to drive growth in the industry. The future of many industries will be digital, and so will be for the automotive sector. Hence, for automotive businesses that are yet to make strides toward this digital transformation, it is better to get into this trend before it gets too late to keep up with the competition.
Globally, electronics are discarded at alarming rates, generating unprecedented amounts of e-waste. On the other side, finite resources such as minerals and metals, which are used to make these electronics, are getting depleted. To foster sustainability across the electronics value chain, many tech companies are adopting strategies such as incorporating long-lasting product design, using recyclable and biodegradable materials, using clean energy for power generation, etc. However, sustainable electronics concept is still in a nascent stage of adoption and a lot of work needs to be done. Strict legislations, cross-sectoral collaborations, organizations facilitating networking and knowledge sharing, and changes in business models are needed to implement sustainability across various business units in the electronics industry.
Growing need for sustainability in electronics
Global consumption of electronics is rising exponentially and is expected to double by 2050. This increase is set to adversely affect the environment leading to more mining of raw materials, an unprecedented increase in e-waste, and increased carbon emissions during manufacturing.
Globally, people are discarding electronics sooner than before due to availability of new electronics, owning outdated models, obsolescence, etc. Over the last few years, nearly 50 million tons of e-waste has been generated annually. Only 17% of this e-waste is recycled globally, and the rest is transported and dumped in developing countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and India, which do not have adequate facilities for processing and handling e-waste. This e-waste ends up in landfills accounting for approximately 70% of hazardous chemicals and pollutes the air and water streams. Moreover, e-waste generated globally contains recyclable or reusable raw materials, scrap rare earth metals, plastics, and valuable elements, which are valued at US$62.5 billion per year.
Given the economic and environmental cost of e-waste as well as responding to growing consumer preference for sustainable products, several companies are looking to transition to sustainable electronics. Sustainable electronics are products that are made using recycled or reusable and biodegradable materials as well as products that generate low carbon emissions during manufacturing and distribution.
Sustainable electronics transforming consumer tech companies by EOS Intelligence
Recycling, clean energy power, and modular design for sustainable electronics
Over the last few years, consumer tech companies have been adopting many strategies for manufacturing electronics sustainably. In 2021, tech giants, Cisco, Dell, Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, and many others, together formed a “Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP)” to accelerate the circular economy for electronics by 2030, and to help businesses and organizations overcome barriers to sustainable electronics.
Several companies are looking to increase the life span of their smart phones to make them more sustainable. Increasing the phone’s life span by two years can reduce carbon emissions to a great extent, as 80% of the carbon emissions come during manufacturing, shipping, and the first year of phone usage. Fairphone, a Dutch-based smart phone manufacturer, has introduced smart phones with a lifespan of approximately 5 years, higher than the average lifespan of 2.5 years. Similarly, Teracube, a US-based sustainable smart phone manufacturer has launched phones that can last up to 4 years.
Many companies are also designing their products with modularity, which allows users to repair, upgrade, customize, and disassemble their gadgets easily. For instance, Framework Computer, a US-based laptop manufacturer, sells laptops that can be upgraded. The company offers upgrading kits that contain laptop main boards and top covers, to customize the device as per the user’s need. Similarly, Fairphone manufactures modular smart phones, which are easy to repair and upgrade. These kinds of gadgets eliminate the user’s need to buy new ones, saving both costs and wastage.
There is also an increased interest among consumer electronics companies to use recycled materials in various products. Sony, a Japan-based multinational corporation, has developed a recycled plastic, SORPLAS, and is using it in a range of its products such as audio systems, and televisions since 2011. In 2022, Logitech, a Swiss-American manufacturer of computer peripherals and software, used recycled plastic in 65% of its mice and keyboards. Similarly, in 2021, Acer, a Taiwan-based electronics corporation, launched a series of PCs named Vero, which uses recycled plastics for the chassis and keycaps. Acer also launched the Earthion program, an eco-friendly initiative, in the same year and started working closely with suppliers and partners to bring various sustainability measures in product design, packaging design, and production. Tech giant, Apple, stopped selling chargers and headphones along with the iPhone in 2020 to cut e-waste. The company used 20% of recycled material in all its products in 2021 and uses robots to disassemble or separate metals from e-waste. There is 40% recycled content in MacBook Air with Retina display and 99% recycled tungsten is used for iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series. Samsung, a multinational electronics corporation, is using recycled plastics in refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, TVs, monitors, and mobile phone chargers.
Due to this increased demand for recycled materials, recycling companies are receiving investments to a significant extent. In 2021, Closed Loop Partners, a US-based investment firm, invested an undisclosed amount in ERI, a US-based electronics recycler that supplies materials to companies such as Best Buy, Target, and Amazon, to extend the capacity for the collection and processing of electronics. Similarly, in 2022, Australian Business Growth Fund (ABGF), an investment fund focused on small to medium-sized Australian businesses, invested US$7.5 million in Scipher, an Australia-based urban mining and e-waste recycling business.
Significant activity has been happening in the refurbished electronics market as well due to the rising consumer awareness of sustainability. Trade-in and refurbishment reduce e-waste piling up at landfills, as it limits buying newer gadgets and thereby paves way for greater sustainability across the electronics industry. Back Market, a France-based marketplace of renewed devices (which provides refurbished devices with a one-year warranty), has raised over US$1 billion since its launch in 2014. In 2022, Verdane, European specialist growth equity investment firm, announced an investment worth US$124 million in Finland-based Swappie, a re-commerce company that sells previously owned, new, or used smart phones. Vodafone too announced a major initiative to extend the life of new mobile phones and to encourage customers to trade in or recycle their old devices. The company is planning to provide customers in European markets with a suite of services, including insurance, support, and repairs for their devices in 2022. Samsung collaborated with iFixit, online repair community for its self-repair program in 2022. The company said that under this program, Galaxy device owners in the USA can make their own repairs to the Galaxy Tab S7+, Galaxy S20, and S21 products using easy-to-repair tools available from iFixit.
Tech companies have also started transitioning to renewable energy and looking for ways to reduce their carbon emissions. Intel, a US-based technology company, uses green energy of up to 3,100,000 MWh annually in the manufacturing of processors and computer accessories. Samsung’s facility operations in the USA and China switched to 100% renewable energy in 2019. In 2021, Microsoft entered into a partnership with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, to reduce carbon emissions in the organization’s supply chain. IFC is said to work with selected Microsoft suppliers in emerging markets, primarily in Asia, to identify technical solutions and financing opportunities to reduce emissions in the production process.
Legislation to aid the shift toward the circular economy in electronics
For years, many countries did not have appropriate policies enforcing sustainability across the electronics industry. Nevertheless, the trend is reversing with several countries adopting legislation for the circular economy. For instance, in 2020 the European Commission announced a circular electronics initiative that would promote eco-design (a design that considers environmental aspects at all stages of the product development), right-to-repair rules, including a right to update obsolete software, and regulatory measures on universal chargers, to name a few. France became the first European country to pass the Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy Act (AGEC) in 2020, which requires producers of electronic devices to provide details on how repairable their products are. According to AGEC, manufacturers are required to scale their products at a rate of 1-10 based on the reparability index. France also plans to introduce a durability index by 2024, whereby manufacturers would be asked to describe the full lifecycle of their products. Moreover, the US government passed an order in 2021 to draft regulations that protect the consumer’s right to repair electronic devices and other tools.
It is not easy to manufacture sustainable electronics
While sustainable electronics are the need of the hour and several leading players have already started promoting and investing in this space, the sector faces many challenges. Currently, there are no established standards, concepts, or definitions concerning sustainable electronics and there is no strict legislation to enforce sustainability practices in the electronics industry. There are some rating systems that identify energy-efficient products followed in USA and Europe (for example, USA’s ENERGY STAR program). However, registering and complying with the ratings and their requirements is up to the manufacturer and is not mandatory. Moreover, e-waste regulations in several countries are poorly enforced due to low financing, and illegal practices such as dumping e-waste, and incineration by the informal sector still persist.
Most electronics companies are also not transparent about their environmental performance, and impact is often hidden. The term ‘sustainable’ is widely misused as a promotional tactic by companies targeting environmentally conscious consumers.
The electronic industry also operates on a linear established model, wherein products are manufactured (with planned obsolescence) and sold to consumers. Incorporating circular strategies for recycling and reuse requires a lot of remodeling and reconfigurations across the supply chain and the rising consumption of electronic devices makes it difficult to adapt to any new changes. Challenges, such as complex recycling process, costs of recycling, and consumer perception of green electronics also hamper sustainability development. Most electronics are not designed for recycling and are made of a complex mixture of materials such as heavy metals, highly toxic compounds, glass, plastics, ferrous and nonferrous materials, etc. Recycling these materials is tedious and involves several steps such as dismantling, removing the hazardous waste, shredding into fine materials, and sorting the materials into various types. The process is also resource and cost-intensive requiring human labor, more processing time, and requires adequate infrastructure such as various material screening types of equipment. Recycling e-waste could also be polluting, with potential exposure to toxic metal fumes.
Finally, the perception of consumers about sustainable electronics also needs to be changed, which is challenging. There is a notion among customers that the use of recycled, sustainable materials in electronics means products would be of lower quality. A lot of investment would be required to educate and convince consumers about the benefits of sustainable electronics and to address any concerns about quality. In most cases, it is difficult to pass on these costs to the consumers as they are unlikely to accept higher prices. Thus, this cost would be required to be absorbed by the companies themselves. Due to this, most current initiatives toward sustainable electronics can be best described as half measures.
The economic benefits of sustainable electronics are enormous. The resource scarcity and the price fluctuation of various minerals and metals make them necessary to recycle, recover, and reuse in the circular economy. Over the last few years, consumer electronics manufacturers have taken many sustainability initiatives such as reducing energy consumption, eliminating hazardous chemicals, introducing biodegradable packaging, incorporating recycled and recyclable materials in products and investing in renewable energy projects. Also, refurbished electronics segment is growing fast, while interest is surging in introducing devices with built-in reparability. While several small initiatives are being taken by leading players, electronics manufacturers mainly do not know how to introduce sustainability across their products in a mainstream fashion.
Sustainability in electronics has still a long way to go. Several legislative initiatives are underway toward a circular (sustainable) electronics economy and it is high time for electronics manufacturers to be proactive and rethink their business models. A complete business model transformation is required to integrate sustainability across every unit. Cross-sector collaborations with stakeholders such as product designers, manufacturers, investors, raw material producers, and consumers are crucial to understanding the technical know-how. It is essential to analyze the entire life cycle of products from choosing raw materials to their disposal and to prioritize circular strategies for such products. Electronic manufacturers also need to come up with creative and rewarding ways for consumers to be willing to choose sustainable products as in the end, the industry cannot flourish without consumer acceptability. The future of sustainable electronics can be bright and manufacturers who see this as a potential business opportunity rather than a problem will benefit in the long term.
First conceptualized over 40 years ago, 3D printing is still rapidly developing. The technology has been used in various industries ranging from 3D-printed human organs for implants to printing numerous customized products as per the customers’ requirement. There are several interesting applications of this technology in the Food & Beverage (F&B) industry as well. While currently they mostly pertain to creating visually complex geometrical food structures, there are also ongoing innovations with regard to using 3D printing for nutritional controllability and sustainability. However, most of these projects are one-off and 3D printing still remains a niche application in the F&B space.
3D printing is an evolving technology, offering F&B industry players benefits such as efficiency and customization. 3D printers are mostly used by F&B producers to make foods using the extrusion technique. In this method, the edible is in the form of a paste and is extruded from syringe-like containers onto a plate based on a 3D computer model. The process is similar to icing a cake using a piping bag, except with robotic precision, as the printer layers edible filament in desired shapes.
Traditionally, 3D food printing has been used to architect intricate shapes and designs that are difficult to achieve manually. It has been mostly confined to desserts such as chocolates and sweets as 3D printing offers huge potential for customization.
That being said, there is a gradual shift to adopt this technology in preparing more complex foods such as 3D-printed pizzas, spaghetti, burgers, and meat alternatives. For instance, since January 2022, BBB, an Israeli food chain has been serving 3D-printed burgers prepared from a mix of potato, chickpea, and pea protein. Similarly, since 2021, companies such as Spain-based Novameat and Israel-based Redefine Meat have been preparing 3D-printed beef steaks and other products using unique plant-based compounds that taste like blood, fat, and muscle that make up traditional meat flavors.
Printing beyond customization
While currently the main advantage of 3D printing in food is its ability to customize complex shapes and designs (thereby making it popular for creating chocolates, cakes, and cookies), it is also extending to customizing the level of nutrients in a meal. 3D printing offers the possibility to produce high-quality food concepts such as developing personalized meals by adding specific nutrients or flavors, ultimately giving more control over the food’s nutritional and flavor value.
With this idea in mind, a Netherland-based Digital Food Processing Initiative (DFPI) is testing this concept and trying to come up with a flexible food production system using 3D printing technology that will allow personalizing food at any time based on individual dietary choices. The collaboration is an ongoing project between the Dutch institution, Wageningen University & Research (WUR), global food and beverage companies GEA Group, General Mills, Tate & Lyle, and pharmaceutical company Solipharma B.V., together with Ministerie van Defensie, and a Netherland-based research organization, TNO, whose aim is to bring commercially viable personalized food products to the market, especially for military personnel and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) patients.
Another potential use of 3D printers is to reduce food wastage. The Netherland-based food-tech startup, Upprinting Food, which specializes in recycling organic food waste through 3D printing, has offered design services to various chefs and is also training restaurants to utilize their 3D printers to reduce food wastage. The company specializes in creating dishes out of any food left at restaurants and currently focuses only on high-end restaurants. They plan to expand their work towards retail and wholesalers in the future to reduce food wastage on a larger scale.
While 3D food printing seems to have a lot of unique uses, commercializing 3D-printed foods on a large scale has always been a challenge. For instance, printing a small piece (5x5x5 centimeter) of a food item takes around four to five minutes. Thinking about producing large-scale printed food would be difficult at this rate. In 2015, a project called the PERFORMANCE project (PERsonalized FOod using Rapid MAnufacturing for the Nutrition of elderly ConsumErs ) was shut down because it could not produce at a scale large enough to provide meals at nursing homes. The project focused on creating customizable meals for the elderly who had difficulties in chewing and swallowing. Thus, while customization of food products has immense use and strong growth potential in theory, it still needs a lot of work on improving speed and costs to facilitate its commercialization and feasibility.
Despite several advantages and functionalities, the market does not seem to use 3D printers for printing food as much as it could. It is mostly limited to confectionaries and very high-profile restaurants where quantities are small and prices are high. For instance, Natural Machines 3D printer, Foodini, is being used at Spain-based Michelin-star restaurant, La Enoteca, to prepare seafood, where food puree is printed into a flower-like shape, topped with caviar, sea urchins, hollandaise sauce, and carrot foam.
As per industry experts, 3D printing in F&B is still at an initial stage of development and will be more accepted once people see it being extensively adopted at restaurants. For now, 3D printing can be used to produce food with unique functionalities related to shape, taste, and texture such as printed pasta shapes of unique designs as offered by Italian food giant Barilla, through its spinoff business BluRhapsody as well as 3D-printed candy selfies by Magic Candy Factory, a spinoff of German candy manufacturer Katjes.
At present, 3D printing in food is largely limited to confectionaries. It is an evolving technology that offers considerable benefits of saving time and improving efficiency. It can potentially bring other advantages to the table, including reduction of food wastage, but such applications still require more research, investment, and trials, as well as attempts of expansion across food service formats, including small eateries and larger restaurants.
A 3D printing machine requires skill and appropriate training to print a meal. 3D food printing machines may not seem attractive for personal usage at this point but several food and beverage industry players have already moved in to adopt and exploit this innovative technology for various customized and attractive food options, although still largely at a pilot or experimental scale.
Most 3D food printers currently only cater to single restaurants or personal kitchens and are not very popular. For the technology to enter mainstream use and become attractive to broader audience, the printers need to be able print at large volumes. At the moment, there is a huge gap between what could be achieved with 3D printers in the F&B space and what has been actually tested and implemented. While several companies are working towards using this technology in innovative ways, there is a large space open for market disruption.