In February 2022, the White House issued an updated list of critical and emerging technologies that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), and National Security Council (NSC) have identified as being important for US national security. Numerous technology areas have been featured, including advanced manufacturing, hypersonics, biotechnologies, and artificial intelligence. Of these, IDTechEx has highlighted which areas to watch, with Technology Analysts Sona Dadhania, Sam Dale, Tess Skyrme, Brendan Beh, Andy Ko and Yulin Wang exploring why exactly the White House has shortlisted them as critical technologies.
Additive manufacturing's (AM) ability to manufacture complex objects with short lead times is quite appealing for defense applications. leading to significant interest and applied research from the US military in the past decade. One public example of the US military's 3D printing exploration is their projects with concrete 3D printing. When the military needs to assemble structures like barracks or hospitals quickly in combat zones or disaster areas, on-site concrete 3D printing offers the opportunity to quickly create those buildings. In 2018, the US Marine Corps printed a concrete barracks in 40 hours, the 1st completely on-site continuous concrete print in the world. In 2021, the US Army Corp of Engineers announced their Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures (ACES) program, which will supply concrete 3D printers that can be deployed in difficult terrain.
Outside of construction applications, 3D printing offers high value for military equipment and transportation. Complex parts that improve functionality and performance in military machinery can sometimes only be made with additive manufacturing. For example, Boeing flight-tested a flight-critical component that was made through metal 3D printing on their Chinook helicopters; the component's design and manufacturing method enabled weight reduction, which assists in fuel optimization for aircraft. These applications of AM by the military and defense contractors demonstrate the continued value of AM for future security. IDTechEx's portfolio of 3D Printing reports dives into the importance and value of additive manufacturing in many industries, including aerospace and defense.
Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) originally were largely developed from the defense industry. However, as application focus has moved towards enterprise and consumer markets, the adaptation of these off-the-shelf products for military use cases is a growing trend. For use of VR in training, this process appears relatively smooth: Lockheed Martin is reportedly using Varjo VR headsets for pilot instruction and Street Smarts VR uses the HTC Vive for training police and ground troops.
For field-deployable AR, adapting enterprise products has proved tougher. In 2021, Microsoft won a 22 billion USD contract to supply 120,000 HoloLens-based AR headsets for US Army troops - in October 2021, the rollout of this project was delayed. Reports suggest that this is partially due to software integration issues but adapting the device to a field-hardened state with minimal incursion on the user's view of the real world likely offered hardware challenges. Nonetheless, adapting consumer/enterprise devices for military applications is indicative of a broader shift in AR development methodologies. IDTechEx offers a range of reports covering AR/VR and the underlying technologies such as optics and displays.
Critical subfields identified by the White House includes 'Advanced and Networked Sensing and Signature Management', 'Quantum Information' and 'Space Technologies and Systems'. Sensors are essential components for these areas and numerous essential industries like healthcare, security, and the environment. Across all these distinct fields, there is a common need for larger sensor arrays and more expansive networks.
For example, one of the most critical sectors from a global perspective is that of environmental monitoring. Society is increasingly under threat from the effect of pollution and air quality on our health and planet. Recent years have seen gas sensor deployment in cities rapidly increase, with networks of devices measuring volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM), and greenhouse gases now installed in most major cities. Typically, these are in units mounted on lampposts, buildings, and even in trees. Networks pose an advantage over fixed monitoring stations as they can provide local and continuous measurements. This data is of high value to governing authorities seeking to form policies and mitigating solutions to reduce their environmental impact. As pressure on these authorities increases, and WHO guidance on safe gas concentrations tighten - gas sensor networks will provide a crucial role in holding governing bodies to account. Closed-loop systems are being pitched as an effective use for environmental sensor networks - and we could see them used to redirect traffic or optimize building ventilation in real time.
Looking much further into the future, advancements in gas sensor technology will see detectors reduce in size, increase in sensitivity, and be combined with AI to accurately identify signature smells. This could see the general consumer become part of an environmental monitoring network - becoming a citizen scientist through the tech integrated into their smart homes, phones, and wearables. IDTechEx has dedicated reports on a variety of sensor topics, with dedicated publications on gas sensors, wearables, and many more.
The importance of health sensor development has been brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has identified the lack of preparedness of many governments in handling infectious diseases. As the world trends towards denser urban populations and a warming planet that better accommodates tropical disease emergence, the security threat posed by pandemics and epidemics will only grow.
A critical tool for disease control that has received much attention because of the COVID-19 pandemic is the point-of-care (POC) diagnostic biosensors industry. The high demand for testing has caused several significant changes. First, large government contracts and sales have been a key booster in revenue for companies. Cue Health, who developed a molecular COVID-19 at-home test, received a $400m contract from the US Department of Defense in 2021; versus revenue of $23m the year before. Second, for POC tests requiring readers, install-base has grown massively. BD's Veritor device almost tripled its USA install base, to 70,000, between Q3 2020 and Q1 2021. Quidel's Sofia similarly installed over 75,000 units in 2021. This established user base facilitates future market expansion. Third, the COVID-19 opportunity has accelerated start-ups in the market, helping to establish a beachhead in infectious disease diagnostics, such as CRIPSR-based diagnostics from Mammoth Biosciences, the company founded by 2020 Nobel Laureate Jennifer Doudna. See the IDTechEx report on "Biomedical Diagnostics at Point-of-Care 2019-2029: Technologies, Applications, Forecasts" for more insight about this industry.
Health sensors also have a role to play in the management of chronic diseases. While recently overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a "silent pandemic" in the form of type 2 diabetes. While continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) have replaced traditional finger-prick tests for type 1 diabetics in developed countries, companies are now pushing for greater adoption by type 2 diabetics starting with greater integration of digital health and telehealth options. This takes advantage of the heightened visibility offered to these options by the pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) industry has maintained strong growth to reach an estimated total revenue of $7 BN in 2021. In IDTechEx's "Technologies for Diabetes Management 2019-2029: Technology, Players and Forecasts" report, we discuss developments of the CGM market and its effect on the overall diabetes industry.
Robotics and Autonomous Systems
In the 21st century, robotics and autonomous systems are becoming more popular in military applications. Robotics and autonomous systems have already been heavily applied in a wide variety of military uses including space exploration, deep-ocean exploration, submarines, and countermining. They are becoming the new standard approach to making the military smarter and more efficient by extending soldiers' capabilities of performing hazardous tasks.
Due to the high value of robotics and autonomous systems in multiple areas (e.g., space exploration, maritime industry, etc.), they are also becoming a competitive differentiator between high-GDP countries such as the USA, China, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, and South Korea. The latest update of critical and emerging technologies from the U.S. National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) identifies autonomous systems and robotics as one of the priorities for the United States Government Departments and Agencies. According to the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for the National Economic and Social Development of China, more resources will be put into the innovations and development of digitization and robotic systems.
With increasing attention on autonomous systems and robotics, IDTechEx has published a series of reports outlining the challenges, roadmaps, and development of robotics to help businesses better understand the trends and future of the robotics industry.