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"fast" Dresden: Technological Leap through Real-time Capability

Sensor systems are found everywhere today: They are an integral part of airbags and navigation systems, they have long since reached industrial production, and they pave the way for the fully integrated digital factory of tomorrow. Yet sensor and actuator systems still react with considerable delays today. The Twenty20 Project Consortium “fast – fast actuators sensors and transceivers” wants to give sensor systems real-time capability, permit minimum reaction times of only a few milliseconds and, thus, revolutionize the sectors communication, transportation, industry, and health.

The number of sensor systems built into applications will increase in leaps and bounds in the future: According to estimates made by experts of the Wireless World Research Forum, every human being will come into contact with almost one thousand sensors in 2017. 200 sensor and actuator systems will be built just into one car alone where they will enhance the level of safety, efficiency, and comfort. The industrial market researchers of Global Industry Analysts envision a market with a potential of about 80 billion US dollars.

Already today, real-time requirements are met for individual local sensor systems: For example, it takes just a few seconds from a collision to the activation of an air bag. It is, however, currently not yet or only insufficiently possible to guarantee the real-time capability of complex sensor systems which consist of numerous sensors and actuators and are integrated into a network via a central control unit – this is, in particular, the case if data are transmitted via mobile communication.

The “fast” project consortium is working on the technological leap for sensor and actuator systems. Their speed is to come as close as possible to the maximum physical velocity – to 300,000 km/s, which is actually the speed of light. This is being researched by 82 partners that include 44 small and medium-sized enterprises, 19 large corporations, eight universities, and six research institutes – most of the latter are facilities of the Fraunhofer Society. The partners include, for example, the Bosch corporation, the telecommunication company Ericsson, Europe’s largest aircraft manufacturer Airbus, and the energy and automation group ABB.

The project partners wish to attain the scientific, technological, and economic leadership in the world for highly complex, real-time capable network sensor and actuator systems. The “fast” partners use an interdisciplinary approach that encompasses the entire value creation chain ranging from materials and semiconductor technologies to software all the way to complex systems, communication systems as well as distribution and service. With such methods as, for example, more flexible and shorter data packets, optimized data routing, significantly faster and more energy efficient semiconductor technologies, and higher bandwidths, the partners want to reach reaction speeds in the milliseconds range and, thus, ring in the era of real-time capable applications.

The technologies which the “fast” partners are developing can be used in many different fields of application – above all, in the key areas identified by the consortium partners. These key areas include: Fast and fully automatic braking systems, posture-dependent airbags, intelligent emergency steering assistance as well as the integration of sensors and actuators into the car network with up to 10 gigabits per second are to make car driving safer and more comfortable. Real-time capable test and control systems for workpieces and machinery will create a significant increase in productivity. When it comes to health care, the mobility of persons with walking disabilities can be improved through interactive exoskeletons; and thanks to remote surgery, specialized surgeons will be able to operate patients from a distance in real time.

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