Academic research is on the market

The academic world and its research is sometimes called an ivory tower. But nothing could be further from the truth, according to these academics. They develop state-of-the-art technology, but also ensure that it finds a place in the real world. They explain here how they realize that transition.

Emmanuel Vander Poorten
Professor at KU Leuven specializing in surgical robots

What kind of technology do you design?

“We develop robotic technology to help surgeons. However, few of our instruments are fully used in practice because medical technology takes a long time to develop. Something you design today takes five to ten years to get into a product. The rules are strict, and it will take some time before such instruments can be used on a large scale.One of the instruments we have designed goes into the human retina, in other words the eye, to remove clogged blood vessels there.How to Treat a Retinal Disease “We have already treated four patients with this in the trial phase, which would have been impossible at hand.”

How do you put these innovations into practice?

“After the design phase, we are already testing the instruments on patients in collaboration with the hospitals. Once that is done, we will try to license the technology through a spin-off or another company. This is how we bring the instrument to market. We have a more complex path to practice than other areas of research because the rules require us to make much higher investments. We must prove that an instrument is safe and has added value. In addition, there are complex rules regarding reimbursement, which vary from country to country. It takes time to go through it. But once it works, you can have a huge impact and also work around the world. ”

What does the future hold for your field?

“The number of robotic surgery companies has increased significantly in recent years, and interest is increasing. There used to be a suspicion of robot technology among surgeons, but it is about to ebb. Larger budgets are also being released. Another technological trend is automation. Artificial intelligence can thus automate part of the procedure, such as interpreting images or controlling the instruments. In this way, some of the surgical tasks can be taken over by AI in the near future, so that the surgeon can focus on other aspects. ”

biotechnologyRamon Ganigue
Professor at Ghent University and specialist in environmental biotechnology

What kind of technology do you design?

“With our team, we develop technologies with which, for example, we recycle waste or recycle raw materials. Our technology helps us build a circular society. We are closing the gap between our current use of raw materials and future needs. For example, we are developing bioprocesses that convert molecules from organic waste streams to chemicals that act as precursors to polymers. Today, petroleum-based processes are often needed for this. With our technology, we can also convert CO2 into these kinds of molecules. We are also working on projects to utilize waste, such as waste-based bio-oils that are useful to the chemical industry. “

How do you put these innovations into practice?

“Academic research usually takes place in the early stages of technology development, from the development of a proof-of-concept to the upscaling phase. The latter happens mainly with companies. As you get closer to the market, you end up in the ‘valley of death’ where your technology is still in its early stages but subsidies are falling and you need to show a business case. It is a difficult phase where a new concept can easily fail. The successful adoption of the technology in the private sector is therefore crucial. That is why we collaborate early in the development, so that the companies have an overview of our research. As a university, we must not be an ivory tower. ”

What does the future hold for your field?

“Today, there are mainly two approaches to bioproduction. Mixture culture biotechnology traditionally associated with ‘dirty’ biotechnology such as waste treatment and bioremediation, and pure culture biotechnology which takes place under laboratory conditions using refined substrates. In the circular economy, where waste becomes new raw materials, the separation between the two will have to be blurred. Successful bioproduction technologies that enable circularity can learn from both domains. “

researchAnn Nowe
Professor at VUB and head of the university’s AI Lab

What kind of technology do you design?

“Our AI laboratory was founded in 1983. We work on several aspects of AI, from more theoretical topics to practice, from an interdisciplinary angle. You will find philosophers and linguists with us, not just computer scientists. One of our central themes is renewable energy. We design coordination mechanisms to exchange green energy locally, which ensures that the network is not overloaded while its users are reasonably compensated. also conducts theoretical research into basic algorithms. “

How do you put these innovations into practice?

“In 2019, we established the AI ​​Experience Center. There, we show a wide range of AI applications, such as demos and educational tools. Visitors, from policy makers to the industry, can see the algorithms. We explain what you can and cannot do with AI. This is one of the big problems we see around technology.There is a lot to do around but often it is difficult to explain to non-technical people.For example, an algorithm can be very context sensitive and may or may not work well depending “Communication is therefore crucial to putting our research into practice. We need to enter into dialogue with the industry and inspire them.”

What does the future hold for your field?

“The future looks bright (laughs). There is great interest in AI and there are many possibilities. But at the same time there are also many misunderstandings. The opinions about AI are not always correct either. What we focus on today are topics such as mobility and renewable energy. AI can help tackle climate issues. Future AI systems will once again pay more attention to human interaction, on the one hand to better match users’ preferences and on the other hand ensure more transparent communication of decisions. “

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