Last week, part of the AtonRâ scientific research team travelled to Paris to attend the VivaTech 2019 conference. VivaTech is the European version of the famous Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas: a technology conference gathering big corporate groups, innovation labs, start-ups, and many renowned CEOs. This was a not-to-be-missed event for AtonRâ, which is constantly sourcing knowledge by being in contact with the leading edge of technology.
During the 2019 edition, Information Technology, Healthcare and Cleantech have been the three main themes particularly showcased through various conferences, workshops and start-ups. We picked up the best of those and we identified major trends shaping those industries.
The following paragraphs present the key takeaways from these 2 days’ event.
Information technology has taken the lion's part at Vivatec 2019. IoT, 5G and AI were everywhere during talks, conferences and start-up presentations.
Like a wish to reassure public opinion, Artificial Intelligence was mostly put back at its proper place: a technology enabling human to perform better, and not the other way around. In other words, AI will not take over the world and for people used to implement this technology in computer stack, it is obvious that the word "intelligent" in AI is an overstatement. However, the applications that AI can enable, thanks to the enhanced pattern recognition capability, are enormous and fields such as healthcare, security or IoT will greatly benefit from it.
From the other side of the spectrum, the capacity of AI to recognize patterns but also simulate (i.e. deep fake), will allow malicious people to create fake videos and audio contents at their will. In the long term, it could even become a threat to democracy. Research at BNP Paribas demonstrated how a post in a forum such as 4chan/Reddit containing fake audio of a Bank CEO saying that the bank has a serious liquidity issue, could lead to panic and collapse of the financial system. Even though this scenario is not likely to happen, the need for counter systems (detect and respond to fake news) and ethics in AI are essentials.
From a technical point of view, the biggest challenge remains data: a few years ago, lack of data was the main bottleneck for AI. Nowadays, data is considered as an unlimited resource but its quality and the proper labeling remain a performance limiter. Finally, the industrial sector, where low latency and data control are of utmost importance, is triggering the take-off of Edge Computing (as opposed to cloud computing); the next trend of AI. In other words, edge computing allows the analysis of data outside the data center. It tackles the exponential increase of data generation, real-time analysis, security, and privacy but also dependence from the network infrastructure. Companies such as Thales already offer hardware and software solutions to deploy AI as close as possible to the device, with applications in the surgical assisted robot, smart factory or retail e-shops.
Another buzzword that got a lot of attention is IoT (Internet Of Things). Indeed, the advancement in artificial intelligence, semiconductors, power supply, and 5G, enables the full extent of a world wide web of connected devices. From the retail shop of the future to connected luxury bags, consumers' willingness for such devices and the technology needed to feed such application is definitely here.
Another mainstream trend, and an important driver for IoT, 5G was also a key topic during this event. With increasing concerns and critics regarding this telecommunication infrastructure upgrade, the majority of players in this industry took some time to sort out the truth from the lies.
Often criticized for the worthless increase in mobile communication speed, 5G does not provide only that. The actual revolution comes with the increase of capacity (number of devices per square kilometre), the low communication latency and low power requirements from which IoT will greatly benefit. For instance, applications were low latency, failure resistant, and signal reliability are a must have, will be able to use a specific 5G service called CmtC. For others were low latency, low power consumption and high capacity are the must-have requirements, will benefit from its own service called MmtC. As mentioned by Ericsson's CEO, start-up and innovation always benefit from network infrastructure and we need to roll out 5G fast enough in order to not miss this boat.
Finally, an exotic topic getting more and more attention in IT is quantum computing. As for AI, a lot of myths and overstatements were deconstructed during VivaTech. The challenge with quantum computing is the infrastructure needed in order to achieve hyper conductivity and the way to communicate to the machine, which needs to be expressed (coded) within a completely different paradigm. Companies such as IBM already offer quantum computing as a service (QaaS) but such services are of very limited capability.
VivaTech 2019 showed us a glimpse of the future of health, with technologies that complement and strengthen existing treatments, with patients taking back control of their health by being better informed and better monitored. In a system where healthcare costs are accelerating, such technologies could help find out alternative solutions and alleviate healthcare inflation costs.
Big healthcare companies and start-ups showcased how digital technologies are involved in the life of a drug: from the discovery of a new molecule, to clinical trials and diagnosis in addition to overall patient care.
Ameet Nathwani - Chief Medical Officer & Chief Digital Officer of Sanofi
Modernization of preclinical and clinical trials
New digital technologies are optimizing the entire clinical R&D process. For instance, Artificial Intelligence in drug research helps to get new and better treatments faster by:
- Better understanding disease mechanisms, allowing a faster discovery of new drug targets;
- Improving the aggregation and mining of health and research data;
- Recruiting patients in a more targeted way, thus speeding up the time it takes to bring a new drug to the market.
Patient identification and recruitment are the main factors of delay and cost overruns. Digital technologies could expand the patient population identification pathways beyond traditional approaches.
Several digital and mobile technologies can be deployed to better manage adherence. A good example is the use of smartphone apps and health-tracking wearable devices that collect better quality data, even outside clinical walls, i.e. during the patient's everyday life, without manual intervention.
Health data analytics company, Evidation, partnered with big pharma groups (Eli Lilly and Sanofi) and healthcare systems to measure health outcomes with greater accuracy. The platform can process data from 100 different sources such as Apple Health or Fitbit. It can improve data quality and eliminate the time required to edit and clean all the data.
Vas Narasimhan – CEO of Novartis
Large pharmaceutical companies, through partnerships with start-ups, go beyond pills and develop tech-based treatments that doctors can prescribe to treat a wide range of diseases. They want to create alternative options to existing drug treatments.
Sanofi is partnering with Happify Health to launch a potential digital therapy for patients with multiple sclerosis and depression.
A digital therapy can be very effective when in combination with normal drug treatment. Indeed, Happify Health (4 million users) observed a 25-30% reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms. Among multiple sclerosis patients, a high rate of depression (89%) prevails and the treatment is not as effective when patients are depressed. We could easily understand why the big pharma is interested in such JV as it would drive Pharma's drug sales upward.
Patients with chronic diseases also suffer from very high levels of depression. Digital therapeutics in mental and chronic diseases have the capacity to accelerate and enhance existing treatments, whilst allowing patients to take greater accountability for their health. Last year, Novartis and Pear Therapeutics developed a similar type of prescription treatment, reSET, to treat addictions and schizophrenia. It was the first digital therapeutic to be approved by the FDA.
Click Therapeutics, another company in the digital therapeutic sector, is treating patients with major depressions. The company was acquired in January by Otsuka Pharmaceutical.
We are likely to see more and more M&A deals and partnerships between pharma and digital-therapeutics companies.
Tomer Ben-Kiki - Co-Founder & CEO of Happify with Sanofi digital team
Next to “Information Technologies” and “Healthcare”, the industry of “Clean Technologies” was also gathering a lot of attention. As expressed by French President Macron during his opening day speech: “Climate change generates business opportunities”. This year’s VivaTech conference was indeed a very good demonstration of that statement.
One of the main topics was undoubtedly Mobility. The general message was that mobility is being revolutionized and that its future will be reshaped by the growing adoption of new technologies aiming to improve convenience, safety, and environmental impact. During a talk on “The Future of Mobility”, CEOs of Citroën and Blablacar both agreed on one point: a paradigm shift is happening in transportation where several new services will emerge in order to satisfy different needs.
For instance, Citroën unveiled its new concept car: the “19_19 Concept”. A revolutionary design, fully electric, and integrating top notch technologies such as intelligent suspensions actively controlled with progressive hydraulic cushions. The car also integrates level-4 autonomous driving features.
Citroën 19_19 Concept car
For Frédéric Mazzella, founder and CEO of Blablacar, the autonomous car will be above everything a shared car. Societies have to evolve and the whole experience of urban mobility is adapting to new environmental imperatives.
Hover Taxi is a good illustration of how far the innovation in new transport modes could go. The French start-up intends to shake-up the urban transport industry by developing a 100% electric two-seater aircraft. Through a mobile app, customers would be able to book a flight, travel through cities and land on building rooftops. Hover Taxi foresees the opening of its first official line by 2022.
Hydrogen’s role in the future of transport was also discussed in various talks. A notable example is the Engie Hynovar project: a renewable hydrogen production station used to fuel hydrogen tourist & commercial cars as well as small shuttle boats in the south of France. While still considered as an early-stage technology, Engie believes in the potential of hydrogen-powered vehicles for some specific applications.
Looking at the rail industry, it would be an understatement to say that the adoption of new technologies is transforming the sector. Magnetic levitation, Hyperloop, but also digitalization and the integration of intelligent and connected sensors for enhanced control were all topics covered by many exhibitors. The SNCF (France’s national railway company) hosted several conferences and workshops through its “Open Lab Transformation”, showing to visitors that trains are not exempt from modernization while remaining the cleanest mode of transport.
Innovation in renewable energies was also showcased by several companies. Eco Wave Power, a Swedish start-up is betting on wave motion to generate electricity through their EVP wave energy converter. A technology that holds some great growth potential.
Swiss innovators were also present at VivaTech - notably Climeworks - a start-up that has developed a technology that captures carbon dioxide from the air through a special filter. Captured CO2 can then be sequestrated underground or reused as a fuel. Many experts see carbon capture and storage (CSS) as an essential technology for limiting climate change and Climeworks intends to provide an efficient & suitable solution.
Finally, Amazon Web Services (AWS) put the light on the carbon footprint of the internet. Last year, information and communication technologies accounted for 4% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the aviation sector. One way of reducing that footprint is for companies to move their on-premises storage infrastructure to cloud services which can offer environmental economies of scale. According to AWS, such strategies typically reduce carbon emissions by 88%.