A team of top scientists and engineers at Battelle have compiled a list of the ten most important technological challenges facing industry over the next decade. Here they are:

1. Affordable Home-Based Health Care. Market forces are shifting health care from hospitals and HMOs to private homes. Increasing home health care will help contain rising costs while serving an aging population and will provide people with the convenience and privacy of taking care of themselves and their loved ones in their own homes. Home health monitors and treatments and linkages to professional care centers present a huge challenge, and an enormous business opportunity, for the health care industry.

2. Personalized Consumer Products. Many mass-produced products for mass markets will not be competitive in the 21st century. Consumers are increasingly better informed and harder to please. They will buy products that satisfy their own tastes rather than accept whatever stores present. Products in the future will have to be almost as varied as individual customers. This market driver will force companies to be even more consumer-driven in designing and marketing their products. It will also require the sensors, controls, and computers to achieve highly flexible manufacturing of customized products.

3. Convergence of Technology in the Home. In the past, we separated our home life from work and from shopping. In the next ten years, the home will be the place of convergence for private and public lives. Increasingly, the home will be a place for us to work, shop, get an education, and enjoy entertainment. The biggest technological change occurring in our personal lives will be the convergence of telecommunications, entertainment, networking, education information access, and computing power into the home. The technology challenge is how to empower and protect individuals in their own homes.

4. Protecting the Environment and Natural Resources. Much of the economic growth of the Industrial Revolution was fueled by the easy exploitation of our rich natural resources. Those easily accessible resources are now largely tapped out, so further growth will come from the smart management of remaining resources and our ability to use alternatives. We need the technologies to provide for the long-term sustainability of our natural environment, including air and water. Technology’s environmental challenges will range from expanding and simplifying recycling programs to developing clean manufacturing processes. We will also have to find ways to increase the productivity of energy production and conversion.

5. Human Interfaces. Interfaces are the intermediaries between human and machine that allow us to more easily use technology–such as the software menu that gives us access to computer programs. The computer term “user friendly” describes a supposedly easy-to-use interface between the machine and the person. As more complicated technology floods the home and the workplace, consumers will demand interfaces that go the next step beyond “user friendly.” Tomorrow’s successful technology-based products and services will be pleasing to our senses, more or less intuitively obvious, safe to use, and most of all, fun.

6. Nutritional Health. While people in the developed world are becoming more concerned about the nutritional quality of the foods they eat, the rapidly growing populations in many poor countries will simply need more food with high enough nutritional quality to sustain a healthy life. Technologies are being developed now to engineer natural foods that will be packed with more vitamins, protein, and other nutrients. Other foods will have higher yields, longer shelf life, and natural resistance to pests. Packaging techniques will also increase the shelf life of foods, allowing us to store them longer and transport them farther.

7. Mobile Energy. The automotive industry’s needs for alternative mobile power sources are obvious. In ten years, many more cars, though not a majority, will operate on alternative-fuel systems. Further growth in electronics and information services will also require more efficient and mobile energy sources. People are becoming increasingly mobile in extended travel for business and pleasure. They want easy and rapid communications, which require highly mobile energy sources. Companies also need more flexible energy and power. Distributed electric generation is widely expected.

8. Micro-Security. The Cold War has died away, along with a great deal of the world’s fear of nuclear holocaust; yet, in the wake of car-jackings, gang violence, and terrorist bombings in New York, Oklahoma City, and Atlanta, many people feel no safer than they did 10-15 years ago.Technology’s security challenge will shift from national security–protecting nations from invading armies or missiles–to personal and community security. We will develop technology-based methods to keep us protected from crime and terrorism.

9. The Renewed Infrastructure. In the developed countries, the public infrastructure that provides transportation, bridges, water, and sewage is deteriorating with age. Many developing countries are without advanced infrastructures. Costs of major projects today are huge. New materials and new construction methods will be required to renew the infrastructure with limited public funding. New infrastructure needs will include new traffic control and management systems that could reduce travel times, and clean, safe, and practical mass transit systems.

10. Global Business Competition. Twenty years ago, the United States was by far the world’s leader in technological entrepreneurship. Today, though, technology has become a global commodity–developed, traded, sold, and marketed in every corner of the world. Never has the world seen as much international trade and competition for global markets. This trend will continue. To achieve business growth in this environment, companies will have to improve and expand their efforts at finding technology, acquiring it, and putting it to work around the world. They must use this new technology to improve efficiency, reduce waste and energy needs, and create new products and services.

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