AsianScientist (Jan. 21, 2021) – 2020 was a year unlike any other. But amid the disruption, opportunities abounded. Pharmaceutical and biotech firms raced to invent vaccines, with the most successful ones minting new billionaires. Elsewhere, innovators were at work in areas ranging from materials and chemicals to health and personal care, busy harnessing opportunities brought about by the pandemic.
In unprecedented times, the ability of individuals and organizations to adapt and innovate becomes a crucial determinant of future success. To accelerate innovation, firms and investors alike can look to IPI’s Innovation Marketplace for promising technologies and potential collaborators across the globe. As we enter 2021, take a look back at the 10 Tech Offers that were most popular in 2020.
Safeguarding surfaces against pathogens
Industry area: Chemicals
With COVID-19 in the spotlight, demand for antimicrobial coatings that can eradicate potentially harmful microorganisms has grown. To meet this need, researchers have developed a novel and transparent antimicrobial coating. Using a photocatalytic reaction that forms oxygen radicals harmful to microbes, the technology can exterminate both microorganisms on applied surfaces and in the surrounding air. With a wide range of applicability on different surfaces, the coating can be used in both residential and public spaces—including supermarkets, hospitals, offices—providing much-needed protection against harmful pathogens.
A power-packed low-power AI sensor
Industry area: Electronics
Combining an ultralow-power image sensor with a custom computer vision circuit, an Israeli firm has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) visual sensor that consumes minimal amounts of power. The technology’s efficient machine learning algorithms allow for AI image processing on the edge and do not require images to be streamed to the cloud, enabling quicker response times and privacy protection. Suitable for use in next-generation, battery-operated smart camera systems, the sensor can be widely applied in areas including camera enhancement, motion detection, access control and security.
Replacing plastic beads with plant-based ones
Industry area: Chemicals & personal care
Commonly used as abrasives in detergents, exfoliants in cosmetics and additives in lubricants for the oil and gas industry, plastic microbeads are unfortunately ubiquitous as pollutants too. Every year, more than 250,000 tons of plastic microbeads end up in our oceans. This worrying trend has pushed countries including the UK, US and Canada to ban plastic microbead use in rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products. A solution to produce plant-based biodegradable beads has been developed as a result. The technology is targeted at cosmetic ingredients, chemical and cellulose manufacturers who are interested in producing eco-friendly products.
Turning water into hand sanitizer
Industry area: Personal care
The humble hand sanitizer was one of the world’s most sought-after resources when COVID-19 infiltrated the world, with surging sales that led to extensive price hikes. Consumers and businesses alike looked to stock up on it to cope with this sudden need, with the latter limited by inventory and shelf space. With the development of fast-dissolving concentrated tablets, sellers can now transform ordinary water into alcohol-free hand or surface sanitizers, overcoming spatial constraints. Buyers benefit too: in tablet form and individually packaged, the product can be produced and shipped more easily, making it as much as 85% cheaper.
Breathing new life into lithium-ion batteries
Industry area: Energy, waste management & recycling
Our world is generating ever more electronic waste, making it remiss to overlook the valuable resources hidden within our used devices, including precious metals and batteries. To address this issue, a Japanese start-up has developed a novel battery management system that enables users to refurbish small lithium-ion batteries used in personal devices. From wheelchairs and laptops to power tools and drones, the technology supports different types of batteries from various manufacturers and results in cost savings of up to 30%, besides being a more environmentally-friendly solution.
A tiny spectrometer with a big impact
Industry area: Electronics & healthcare
As developed nations worldwide face silver tsunamis, continuous health monitoring for disease prevention has never been more crucial. To this end, non-invasive and accurate vital measurements are essential—an area where optical spectrometers shine. Unfortunately, traditional spectrometers are usually too bulky, expensive and difficult for use in consumer devices. To overcome this challenge, a Korean start-up has developed a spectrometer-on-a-chip that is tiny, affordable and easy to use. At only 1% the size of conventional solutions, it can be incorporated into consumer devices and smart appliances including mobile phones and wearables, potentially ushering in a new age of personalized medicine.
Making alternative meat affordable
Industry area: Foods
Globally, the plant-based protein market is flourishing, with animal welfare, sustainability and health concerns all contributing to the growing demand for alternative meat. Accordingly, plant-based meat production technologies have also advanced—but the process is still relatively expensive, making it difficult for plant-based products to be cost competitive. Now, researchers have engineered a new production method that allows them to create textured protein fibers without using conventional and costly extrusion processes. The technology can further be customized for each client based on their starting material in food preparation.
Deploying drones to speed up stocktaking
Industry area: Logistics
With physical storefronts closed and citizens placed on lockdown, e-commerce has taken off all over the world. Online retailers today have to deliver mountains of products while maintaining or even cutting down on fulfilment times. To facilitate the inventory management process, a drone-based warehouse solution that allows for autonomous cycle counting and stock taking has been developed. While traditional inventory management methods can take two to eight hours to cover a single warehouse aisle, the technology promises to achieve the same within 15 minutes without human intervention.
Inspecting underground infrastructure with drones
Industry area: Electronics, environment, clean air & water
Beneath Singapore’s glittering cityscape is a decades-old, sprawling subterranean network of tunnels and pipes. As our nation’s physical infrastructure ages, the need for timely inspections also increases—currently a daunting and expensive task due to the inaccessibility of these structures. Now, a drone solution has been developed that can survey these underground spaces using just a fraction of the time and cost needed in conventional inspections. Fully autonomous with no operating crew required, the technology is ideal for critical infrastructure owners including authorities and contractors.
Harnessing photonic sensors in hazardous environments
Industry area: Electronics
Sensors deployed in explosive environments often have to meet a demanding list of standards, and are hence few and far between. Now, researchers have developed a novel photonic sensor that can measure vibrations, electric fields, temperature and other qualities using only light. The completely passive chips are immune to electromagnetic interference and intrinsically safe for high voltages, with the ability to withstand harsh environments including extreme temperatures and radiation. Coupled with a full edge-to-cloud analytics solution that enables data to be securely collected, transmitted and then processed using proprietary machine learning technology, these sensors allow actionable insights to be generated in even the most hazardous environments.
Asian Scientist Magazine is a content partner of IPI.