Areas of Interest

Areas such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, and cognitive sciences provide the right context in which IoT concepts can be embedded and will be used to provide solutions that can benefit society at large. Therefore, SMART-ACTION encourages cross fertilization between IoT and these areas.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology researches small systems of which the size is between approx. 1 and 100 nanometers. With these small systems, quantum mechanical effects need to be considered, which make them behave differently than macroscopic systems. There are many examples in nature for nano effects, for example the lotus effect or the motion mechanism of some bacteria.

Two main approaches exist when engineering nanoscale systems. In the top-down approach, larger devices are used and/or material is removed from a larger block to create nanoscale devices. With the bottom-up approach, nanoscale devices are built from single atoms or molecules step by step.

The wide field of nanotechnology is covered by several sub-areas of research, of which we name a few. Nanomechanics studies fundamental mechanical properties of nanoscale systems, but includes also the engineering of mechanical nanoscale systems, e.g. nano-motors. Closely related are nanomaterials aiming at researching materials with nanostructures that can be used, for example, in display technology, lighting, solar cells and biological imaging. In nanoelectronics, structures of electronic components like transistors are at nanoscale, which should result in even smaller chips, but also new optoelectronic devices, displays or memory. When combining nanoelectronics with nanomechanics, i.e. nanoscale sensors and/or actuators we get nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS). Nanorobotics aims at using nanoscale components to create robots in the size of 0.1-10 micrometers (Nanobots) that are able to move, sense, actuate, compute and communicate. When this assembly happens in a self-configuring way, it is called “Claytronics”. The use of nanobots is manifold, e.g. in medicine where nanobots could be used in minimal-invasive surgery. Nanoionics studies fast ion transport in all-solid-state nanoscale systems. Finally, nanophotonics or nanooptics both looks at the optical properties of nanoscale systems and engineers optical devices at the nano scale level, e.g. optical switches.

Biotechnology

In Biotechnology, biological systems and living organisms, parts of it, or their products are used in technical processes. Some biotechnological methods are quite old, but have not been understood for long time, e.g. using yeast to produce bread, wine or beer. Biotechnology builds on many other sciences such as microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, genetics, bio informatics and process engineering.

The area of biotechnology is usually structured by application areas. Green biotechnology tries to improve plants or to use parts or ingredients of plants in new areas, for example in industry or medicine. If principles found in plants or organisms are transferred to technology, it is also called bionics. Red biotechnology aims at medical applications, which includes, for example, the development of medications, their production using genetically changed organisms or plants, gene therapy, tissue engineering, or the development of biochips for diagnostic purposes. Depending on the focus, it is also called biomedicine or biopharmacology. In white biotechnology, biotechnological methods are used in industrial production to reduce required energy, commodities, process steps and costs. Beside these three main application areas smaller and newer areas exist, for example grey biotechnology dealing with waste management. Overall, the borders between the areas are continuous, and often results obtained in one area can be used in another one.

Cognitive Science

Cognitive Science studies mental abilities and their pre-conditions, structures and processes. Cognition can be seen as processing, representing and transforming of information, which includes perception, i.e. the gathering, processing and representation of sensory information, attention, i.e. the filtering out of irrelevant information, memory, i.e. the storage and retrieval of information which can be both the performance of actions, episodic events and encyclopaedic knowledge, learning, i.e. the building or modification of memory, thinking, including inference, i.e. the process of reasoning, and problem solving, affects, i.e. emotions, feelings and moods, of which the first two are reactions to events and their representation, and motivation, i.e. the building of intentions and goals. These processes can happen consciously or unconsciously. Also language is an important research field since learning, understanding and producing speech is a very complex process.

Due to the very interdisciplinary nature of cognitive science, several other research areas contribute to it, including psychology, philosophy, linguistics, anthropology, neuroscience, biology, sociology and computer science.

Since cognitive processes can be regarded as information processing, which can be abstracted to computational procedures, it is possible to apply the concepts also both to animals and artificial systems. The latter is also called Artificial Intelligence and includes both the simulation of natural concepts and the use of new strategies not found in nature to build intelligent agents.

Strongly related to cognitive science is cognitive neuroscience which studies the biological (mainly neural) mechanisms related to cognition. Cognitive psychology is mainly an experimental science which focuses on humans in all the information processing steps. Therefore, it is sometimes used as synonym for cognitive science. Although man-machine interaction (or more specifically human-computer interaction) is not an original research area of cognitive science, it applies theories and methods of cognitive science to the interaction between humans and machines/computers.