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Robotics Series – 6 – Terminators of the world factory?

Business October 23rd, 2014, Fangru YANG / Executive Editor of Modern Weekly Business Page, Taiwan high-tech industry observer

You may not know Hon Hai, but it is to produce 70% of all iPhones 6. It also operates the largest factories on Earth. Terry Gou, founder and chairman, based his success on cheap labor costs as well as audacious merging strategies. Will the rise of automated factories mean the end of this success story, and more broadly the end of China as the world factory? As a matter of fact, Mr. Gou is fond of robots, and he won't be the last to launch an automated factory. But he may need Chinese arms for a while. Here is why.

As artificial intelligence takes hold, what will it take to be an effective executive?

With the rapid advances in information technology, a new approach to knowledge is emerging which changes the very idea of skillfulness: what employees know matters less than what they are able to find, and, more relevantly, what they are able to share. Working alone creates less value than teamwork. Hierarchies tend to fade out, while collaboration becomes paramount. In these circumstances, the employees cease to be seen only as a productivity lever. Their personal performance continues to count, but now companies are also interested, and perhaps even more, in their ability to enter a dynamic and to nurture it. The employees can be valued for their creativity, capacity to innovate, their empathy and their intellectual curiosity.

There is a merciless war ongoing now in companies round the world to reduce production costs. Some have a major advantage when they can display improved energy efficiency of their commercial vans and trucks. The energy efficiency factor is now increasingly integrated in the augmented performance assessment that the brands emphasize for their shareholders, their customers, their suppliers, analysts and notation agencies. Some companies have moved faster than others to fight energy waste. The USA, with its huge, continental dimensions, lends itself well to energy scales of economy. Major transport companies, such as UPS or FedEx, are making remarkable progress, but the prime interest goes to the distributor Wal-Mart Stores Inc. On several occasions, President Obama singled out Wal-Mart as a model in terms of energy savings.

The world market for service robots will represent 25 billion euros in 2015 and could well be 100 billion euros by 2018 and 200 billion in 2023, according to the International Federation of Robotics. If we can assert that this entire high growth sector is emerging, there are, nonetheless, variations to be considered: some robots are close to industrial maturity, while others are still in experimental assessment phases. But the growth trend is now well established. It may not necessarily be spectacular but will affect considerably both developed societies and their economies.

Faced with consumers who can search for information, form groups and publicly express their opinion through electronic media and social networking, goods producers and services providers will inevitably have to step down from their comfortable heights and start thinking in terms of coproduction with a customer who will become a prosumer.

Come year 2030, what will business enterprises look like? Almost every qualified answer points in the same direction, or at least provides a foreseeable trend: if as predicted instability becomes the rule and not the exception, and in a context of an entirely new ecosystem stemming from pervasive digital technologies, business enterprises will have to evolve quite considerably if they wish to remain efficient, sustainable and resilient. What factors come to bear here?

To stay competitive, companies must stop experimenting with digital and commit to transforming themselves into full digital businesses. Here are seven traits that successful digital enterprises share.

Robots will soon be able to read texts for us, engage in conversations, clean our windows, deliver packets and parcels, prepare our pill-boxes and even help us get back on our feet should we fall, or have difficulty just getting up. We had them first in the military sector, then carrying out industrial chores, now we see a new generation coming, prepared to do household chores, maintenance work, leisure activities or engage in educational activities. Whether they be macro-, or nano-, humanoid or dronoid, these robots are about to become our future companions. So, where do we stand today?

Long-term prospects and short-term contracts: physics research at a crossroad

Science and Technology September 1st, 2014, Serge Haroche / Professor, Collège de France, Nobel Prize laureate in physics, 2012

Today's researchers are enduring a tough period compared to other scientists throughout history. Due to funding and institutional constraints, they have to work on short-term contracts serving commercial interests and must make promises that they can hardly live up to. One example involves quantum computers. Scientists should devote themselves to basic research crucial to tackling long-term world issues, says Nobel Prize Serge Haroche. This does not prevent him from advocating a strong sense of humanity among scientists. He supports an ideal education and research system combining science and humanity that stokes people's curiosity and enthusiasm for science, while at the same time cultivating an atmosphere encouraging imagination and innovation.

MOOCs: a disruptive revolution to China’s education system

Society August 26th, 2014, Zhen HUANG / Vice President of Shanghai Jiaotong University, Chinese Dean of ParisTech SJTU Elite Institute of Technology

The irreversible momentum of MOOCs is penetrating all levels of China's education system, providing students with unprecedented freedom to select courses and access the best educational recourses at home and abroad. Some institutions have taken the lead, but the question is not just one of strategy for universities. In a nation where education reform is imperative, it is MOOCs that are forcing the Chinese education system to move.

The fight for digital sovereignty: industrial factors

Society June 30th, 2014, Nicolas Colin & Henri Verdier / Co-founder & Partner, TheFamily & Director, Etalab

The question addresses Europe, as well as emerging countries: how can we ever hope to have an influence on Internet governance if there is no strong, industrial power operating in the digital field?

The energy mix can be defined as the distribution of primary energy sources consumed to produce various types of energy used in a given country. For different reasons, running from availability of the resources to policies enacted in the fight against global warming, national energy mixes will necessarily evolve over the coming decades. However, the natural inertia of history and the political and economic costs make the changes difficult. What are the most promising routes to transition?

Electronic devices have become pervasive in our household equipment, our cars, our communication tools and indeed in almost every object that surrounds us in our private and professional spheres. Not only do they multiply, but they continue to decrease in size, to use less energy and cost less. To assemble such devices, the semi-conductor industries have perfected silicon-based technologies. However, they will soon be approaching the physical limits of solid state physics. To go beyond this barrier, they are already working on new approaches for nanometric level electronics.

Robots are machines capable of endlessly repeating the same operation, without fatigue or making mistakes. With such qualities, they are now quietly moving into many areas of our socio-economic world, replacing human operators deemed less reliable and more expensive. Medicine, especially surgery, is a prime demand field for robots. The latter can carry out very precise operations, in a cluttered environment, reducing the risks for both the surgeon and the patient.

In recent years, the massive and controversial use of drones in U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has fueled an intense debate. But this controversy is only the tip of the iceberg: the development of standalone and remote-controlled machines is but the prelude to the rise of military robotics, a field that involves all industries. It is already used in logistics, communications and training, with expected effects on number of staff and productivity. The gradual integration of robotics will affect the safety of operational troops and combat on the battlefield. It will also raise many ethical questions.

The next automobile revolution will be the driverless car. Ever since the automobile industry was born, it has continuously represented a clear-cut vector for technological progress and societal transformation. Driverless cars, with general roadworthy models running by 2030, promise to bring sizeable changes to the way we live, to the environment, to our health, the economy and industry at large. Market potential is already visible but many questions still remain to be answered.

Energy transition: the issue of power grids

Industries May 31st, 2014, Dominique Maillard / CEO, RTE (France’s national electricity network)

The electricity transmission network is the backbone of the electrical system, a key asset in the energy transition. It must both adapt to new means of production and meet changing consumption needs. Today, the rise of renewable electricity and solidarity between territories are the main drivers of the evolution of this electricity network. The stakes are high.

Offshoring strategies: what’s on with cultural institutions?

Society May 30th, 2014, François Chaubet & Laurent Martin / Professors of Contemporary History, University Paris 10 Nanterre & University Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3

Following suit to the Guggenheim Museum, a number of Western cultural institutions have launched a series of spectacular offshoring operations, exporting their trademarks and their specific know-how. Playing somewhere between influence diplomacy and cultural marketing, museums and universities in the Western world are trying their luck in the new Paradises of the Middle East or Asia. What are the expected benefits and what are their strategies?

Sustainable development, emerging technologies: can international standards make a difference?

Business May 29th, 2014, Alan Bryden / General Mining Engineer, former Secretary General of ISO, the International Organization for Standardization (2003-2009)

Sustainable development mantras are all over the world, but change is slow to come. While the international negotiations in the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change have not shown much progress, international standards suggest a less visible, more influential and pragmatic way to impulse change. In recent years a set of tools has been developed to address the interrelated challenges of climate change, energy, water and nutrition. In an increasingly global economy, could they make a difference?

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