Smart Systems – past, present and future by our new CEO

On Monday October 16, one day before SSIS 2017, our biggest event of the year, Dieter Therssen started his first working day as the new CEO of DSP Valley. A curriculum vitae does not tell us much, so it became a pleasant conversation about the past, the present and the future of the Smart Systems industry.

By DSP Valley

Bringing relevant innovation to the market, that is my main professional drive. Not very original, I know, but as an engineer – that is what you do, “Dieter smiles relaxed. “You look around you at what is not smoothly running yet and search for solutions. I think it’s just our natural tendency.”

So what brings him then to DSP Valley?

The challenge of ‘Designing Smart Products’ is to bring a diversity of technologies together in products and services that are relevant to people – consumers. Sensors and actuators, layered computing power, connectivity … To do this efficiently, for example in healthcare, autonomous vehicles or smart factory lines, not only individual innovations, but also collaborations between ever different combinations of companies are required. Especially in a region where small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of the economy. Everyone brings his own skills, his own piece of the puzzle. Everyone must also understand the context and needs of the other to work together efficiently. That added value is the challenge for DSP Valley. DSP Valley brings together innovative companies that want to work together. I find the creation of the necessary conditions and the continuation of cooperation very interesting and valuable. On top of that, for me personally DSP Valley is a return in the heart of micro and nanotechnology, a subject that has fascinated me since my studies. Lastly, DSP Valley has a strong team, with a valuable track record in recent years. It is a pleasure to work with these professionals to continue building on that road.

Your DSP Valley team: f.l.t.r. Annelies Vandamme, Peter Simkens, Dieter Therssen, Johan Lecocq, Mark De Colvenaer, Guus Dhaeze, Vera Geboers, Bjorn Van de Vondel.
What are your most important professional achievements so far?

In the beginning of my career I was active in a collaboration between the freshly started imec and Philips. I participated in the system design and chip implementation of the first one-chip car radio (SAA 7706). The collaboration between the two companies aimed to achieve greater productivity in the design of cost-effective digital chips. At the time Philips Semiconductors was not really at the top in process technology. Nevertheless, with this product, and not in the least thanks to the design methodology used, an entire market was captured and analogue car radios disappeared in a short time. NXP Semiconductors still being a market leader in automotive today, is partly indebted to that success.A second realization is in active acoustics for vehicles. Nowadays cars drive pleasantly and quietly thanks to passive measures such as sound-insulating plates, absorbent upholstery and counterweights. As a result, the cars are heavier than necessary and have a higher CO2 emission. Because Europe – and other authorities – will impose considerable penalties on brands with emissions that are too high, they are looking for smart solutions. The use of active acoustics, with anti-noise, is one of them.The step towards active acoustics is not evident on both technological and financial level. At Premium Sound Solutions, a medium-sized company that develops and produces in our region, we set up a collaboration with KU Leuven and Vlaio (then IWT). This not only produced a successful proof of concept, it also resulted in traction in the market.Both realizations illustrate the possibilities in our region. There is talent and there are ideas. They also show that cooperation for the development and successful commercial roll-out of ‘smart systems’ is a must.

What do you think are the challenges for industry in the development of future smart technologies?

With the Internet of Things, the development of artificial intelligence and other smart technologies, the possibilities are virtually infinite. The art will be to develop relevant, meaningful products and services. Possibilities will no longer be limited by technology, but by man. If we don’t follow, those smart developments don’t make sense. Therefore, we need to be aware of the ‘human factor’ in the implementation and deployment of new technologies and applications.Another evolution I follow with great interest is the increasing automation and its impact on our jobs. In the coming years, the content of many jobs will change significantly. Jobs will disappear and new ones will arise. It is not inconceivable that Industry 4.0 creates a world in which the work to be done becomes more interesting, but the underlying automation scales down manual labor opportunities. That carries a social problem. Addressing that evolution in the right way becomes a challenge.

What do you want to realize with DSP Valley?

The micro- and nanotechnology enabling ‘smart systems’ created a significant industry that is heavily consolidating today. When there is consolidation at that level, the action for a network organization such as DSP Valley shifts, in this case to the application level. For DSP Valley, this means we are evolving from a network focused on technology enablers to a network that innovates in the applications made possible with it. We are moving up to a network of value chains. We do this around 4 topics: Smart Health, Smart Cities, Smart Vehicles and Smart Industry. Here is where I want to stimulate cooperation between DSP Valley-members even more and help them realize more innovative projects. That stimulation must be proactive. In order to remain competitive in our region, DSP Valley must provide for these evolutions and create links before the need arises. For me, this means that our activities must be broader than organizing conferences, events or sending out newsletters. And so, I am back at what drives me professionally, which is standing at the cradle of new innovative and meaningful products and services!