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News article11 June 2024Joint Research Centre2 min read

Eyes on the future of tech

European Commission

In the 100,000 years since we have existed as a species, it took us 90,000 years to develop agriculture, 10,000 years to industrialise, 200 years to develop nuclear power, 50 years to develop computers – and the pace of human innovation continues to increase at unprecedented speed. New ideas are emerging all the time, existing technologies are combined in new ways, and scientific breakthroughs are occurring faster than ever. But how do we get a sense of what is coming next? And more importantly, how can the EU increase its competitiveness in the tech race?  

The European Innovation Council (EIC) spots and then decides which promising technologies to fund – because they have the potential to change our world in the future. One way that they keep ahead of what is coming up is by teaming up with the EU Policy Lab at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission on a technology foresight process. In the year-long FUTURINNOV project, the EU Policy Lab is using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to identify possible technologies of tomorrow.

What we’ve learnt

This first volume of desk research which has just been published identifies 34 instances of new technological breakthroughs in 11 priority areas ranging from Agriculture and Food through Advanced Materials to Space. These 34 “signals” have been selected for their potential impact on our economy and society, as well as their novelty. That novelty might be in how they are used, the technologies they combine, or even recent developments that have built on previous work to bring it closer to reality.

The report highlights signals such as:

  • Ultrasound Vaccine Delivery - say goodbye to needles: A novel approach to immunisation, this technology uses ultrasound waves to administer vaccines through the skin, bypassing the need for needles. This method could revolutionise healthcare delivery, particularly benefiting needle-phobic individuals and enhancing public health efforts.  
  • Sustainable Aviation Fuel from Engineered Bacteria: Addressing the urgent need for decarbonisation in aviation, this technology involves engineering bacteria to break down non-edible biomass, improving the sustainability of aviation fuel production. This advancement could significantly reduce the industry's carbon footprint and contribute to a greener future for air travel.  
  • Lunar Agriculture and Infrastructure: In a giant leap for space exploration, researchers are exploring the potential of lunar soil for farming and infrastructure development. By turning moon dust into fertile soil with microbes that enhance nutrient availability, this technology could enable plant growth in extraterrestrial greenhouses and pave the way for sustainable living on the moon.  
  • Paper Sensors for Food Packaging: Aimed at reducing food waste, these innovative sensors made with cellulose paper and conductive ink can detect spoilage gases without added moisture. Integrated into food packaging, they could replace traditional 'use-by' dates, providing a more accurate indication of food freshness and reducing unnecessary waste.

Good to know

Foresight isn’t about prediction and while the EU Policy Lab is not claiming that these technologies are the next big thing, it is important to bring them to policymakers' attention. This is technology foresight’s role: to bring promising emerging technologies to the attention of policymakers who will make decisions about their funding, support or governance.  

To find out more about these, and the 30 other signals, you can download the latest Technology Foresight report here. 

Find out more about our technology foresight activities: Competence Centre for Foresight


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