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Smart systems are defined as miniaturized devices that incorporate functions of sensing, actuation and control. They are capable of describing and analyzing a situation, and taking decisions based on the available data in a predictive or adaptive manner, thereby performing smart actions. In most cases the “smartness” of the system can be attributed to autonomous operation based on closed loop control, energy efficiency and networking capabilities.
Smart systems typically consist of diverse components, such as:
A lot of smart systems evolved from microsystems. They combine technologies and components from Microsystems technology (miniaturized electric, mechanical, optical and fluidic devices) with knowledge, technology and functionality from other disciplines like biology, chemistry, nano sciences or cognitive sciences. Major application fields of smart systems are manufacturing technologies, medical technologies, automotive, aerospace, safety and security, logistics and ICT.
In an industrial context, and when emphasising the combination of components with the aim of merging their functional and technical abilities into an interoperable system, the term smart systems integration is used. This term reflects the industrial requirement and particular challenge of integrating different technologies, component sizes and materials into one system.
A major challenge in smart systems technology is the integration of a multitude of diverse components, developed and produced in very different technologies and materials. Focus is on the design and manufacturing of completely new marketable products and services for specialized applications (e.g. in medical technologies), and for mass market applications (e.g. in the automotive industries).
The systems approach calls for integrated design and manufacturing and has to bring together interdisciplinary technological approaches and solutions (converging technologies). Manufacturing companies as well as research institutes therefore face challenges in terms of specialised technological know-how, skilled labour, design tools and equipment needed for the research, design and manufacturing of integrated smart systems.
Smart systems address environmental, societal and economic challenges like limited resources, climate change, aging population, and globalization. They are for that reason increasingly used in a large number of sectors. Key sectors in this context are transportation, healthcare, energy and environment, safety and security, logistics, ICT, and manufacturing.
In terms of environmental challenges, smart solutions for energy management and distribution, smart control of electrical drives, smart logistics or energy-efficient facility management could, by 2020, reduce global emissions by 23%, with an equivalent of 9.2 Gt CO2e.
In the automotive sector, smart systems integration will be a key enabler for pre-crash systems and predictive driver assistance features to reach the goal of the Road Safety Action Plan to halve the number of traffic deaths by 2020. Furthermore, smart systems are considered fundamental for sustainable and energy-efficient mobility, e.g. hybrid and electric traction.
Smart systems also considerably contribute to the development of the future Internet of Things, in that they provide smart functionality to everyday objects, e.g. to industrial goods in the supply chain, or to food products in the food supply chain. With the help of active RFID technology, wireless sensors, real-time sense and response capability, energy efficiency, as well as networking functionality, objects will become smart objects. In the vision of the Internet of Things these smart objects could support elderly and disabled people. The close tracking and monitoring of food products could improve food supply and food quality. Smart industrial goods could store information about their origin, destination, components and use. And waste disposal could become a truly efficient individual recycling process.
In the healthcare sector, smart systems technology leads to better diagnostic tools, to better treatment and quality of life for patients by simultaneously reducing costs of public healthcare systems. Key developments in this sector are smart miniaturized devices and artificial organs like artificial pancreas or artificial cochlea. Examples of smart devices are biochemical sensors that detect specific molecular markers in small amounts of body fluids or body tissue, Lab-on-Chip systems that include multiple functionalities such as sample taking, sample preparation and sample pre-treatment, data processing and storage, implantable systems which can be reabsorbed by the body after use, non-invasive sensors based on trans-dermal principles, or devices for responsive administration of medication. In healthcare the ability of smart systems to operate autonomously and within networks is also widely used, because those systems are able to provide real-time monitoring, diagnosis, interaction with other devices, and communication with the patient, physician or a wider network.
Today, there are prototypes of smart systems as well as smart systems that have reached the state of commercial products. In this context, three generations of smart systems can be distinguished. Examples of 1st generation smart systems are object recognition devices, driver status monitoring systems and multifunctional devices for minimal invasive surgery. 2nd generation smart systems include active miniaturised artificial organs like artificial cochlea or artificial pancreas, advanced energy management systems, and environmental sensor networks. 3rd generation smart systems will combine technical “intelligence” and cognitive functions. In the context of the “Internet of Things” they will provide the indispensable interface between the virtual and the physical world.
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