ICTAS: Emerging Technologies

Emerging Technologies

Center for Innovation-Based Manufacturing

Collaborative session for the Center for Innovation-Based Manufacturing (IbM)

Thrust Leader: Roop Mahajan
Program Manager: Jeff Beeby

Looking back at the beginning of the 20th century, the country was just beginning to be electrified, radio and telephone were novel gadgets, TV and computers did not exist, and the average lifespan was only 46 years. Much of society's transformation since then has come about through the unparalleled technological breakthroughs powered by science and engineering. One could argue that in the last century mankind has seen more change than at any point in history. However, if the early years of the 21st century are any indicator, we can expect large unprecedented and fast-paced change made possible once again by the confluence of powerful technologies.

In a landmark NSF/DOC sponsored report, Roco and Bainbridge [i] presented a consensus view among leading experts from government, academia, and the private sector that four powerful "converging" technologies - Nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science (NBIC) - are poised to unleash new understandings of matter at the atomic scale as well as the complex working of the human brain, creating opportunities for new industries and enhanced human capabilities. After careful deliberations, we selected these four converging technologies, anchored by the principles of sustainability, to guide ICTAS research, as reflected by seven of the eight thrust areas: nanoscale science and engineering, nano-bio interface, cognition and communication, sustainable energy, sustainable water, renewable materials, and national security. However, recognizing that we live in exponential times where new technologies with the potential for a transformative impact on society emerge fast and furious, we have added Emerging Technologies as the latest of our thrust areas, with the goal of being ahead of the curve in developing and promoting such technologies. For example, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Mills and Ottino [ii] name pervasive wireless communication, big data, and smart (additive) manufacturing as three major emerging technologies. As featured in the later sections of this issue of Connection, all three technologies have become part of our Emerging Technologies thrust. We also recognize that the above list is by no means comprehensive and is likely to miss as-yet unidentified technologies which may have an extreme future impact - the so-called Black Swans, as defined by New York Times best-selling author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book The Black Swan. Taleb cites three recently-implemented technologies that greatly impact our world today - the computer, the internet and laser - and notes that all three were unplanned, unpredicted, and unappreciated upon their discovery, and remained underappreciated well after initial use.

The ICTAS Emerging Technologies thrust area, therefore, has been designed to create an environment and a breeding ground for future Black Swans - an environment in which engineers, scientists, and humanists from different disciplines can come together to move beyond the predictable and incremental advances in current technologies to the transformative science and technology of the future. Even though these technologies are in the early stages of their development, they have the potential to become either a significant component of one of the seven established ICTAS thrusts or gain status as a new thrust. One of the mechanisms that we deploy to identify the next Black Swan is to hold a monthly "Black Swan" seminar, open to all engineers, scientists, and humanists to come together to identify and explore future disruptive transformative technologies.

Appropriately, the seminar series is held in ICTAS Cafè X where a free-flowing and unencumbered exploration of "X", the unknown, is the expectation. Facilitated by a researcher, a seminar generally focuses on a broad field of inquiry and is triggered by the question, "What technology/innovation idea will transform your field in seven years?" Or, by a more in-your-face question, "What advances in your field will make you unemployable/irrelevant in seven years?" The participants are generally spared the tyranny of the power point. Instead, visuals, conceptual images of the future, artifacts, and even scribbled notes on napkins are the norm. Sessions will typically hatch a few cygnets which then are nurtured with the hope that one or more will develop into the next transformative technology. These seminars are open to all who want to innovate and stay ahead of the times.

Enjoy reading about recent advances in emerging technologies research at ICTAS and contact us if you would like to explore and invent the future with us.


  • Innovation-based Manufacturing (IbM)
    PI: Jaime Camelio
    This research area falls within the auspices of Center for Innovation-based Manufacturing (CIbM) which is focused on the development of new innovation methodologies and related application to challenging manufacturability problems across multiple areas such as renewable energies, micro- and nano-manufacturing, and medical devices. The specific efforts for IbM within the Emerging Technologies Thrust Area are devoted to defining manufacturing concepts of the future.

  • Humanoid Hospital (HHo)
    PI: Shashank Priya
    A world class, state-of-the-art training and simulation facility is now being developed. The Humanoid Hospital, HHo, will consist of fully functional human-like patients (robots) tailored to mimic any specific or combined state of the healthy/diseased body. The hospital will serve as a training facility for students, nurses, and doctors, and also as a fertile environment for scientists and physicians to conduct research on various aspects of engineering, computer science, psychology, physiology, pathology, diagnosis, treatment, and tissue engineering.

  • Micro/Nano-Satellite Systems
    PI: Scott Bailey
    A major transformation is occurring in space and atmospheric science. The prior paradigm of occasional, single, large satellite missions to explore geospace is being enhanced by the emergence of small, rapidly developed Micro/Nano-Satellite Systems. An important class of these small satellite systems is the CubeSat. CubeSats have a size of roughly 10-30 x 10 x 10 cm. As many as 100 CubeSats can be launched from a single launch vehicle. From such a fleet of spacecraft, high spatial and temporal observations over a large region can be obtained. This allows for important new sampling and observation opportunities; for example the first ever simultaneous sampling of the entire ozone layer or magnetosphere. Alternatively, Micro/Nano-Satellite systems can be used for rapidly developed, focused science or technology development applications. In such a case, there are numerous opportunities to fly Micro/Nano-Satellite systems as a secondary payload. Space@VT with expertise in ground and space based observation as well as theoretical studies of the upper atmosphere and space environment is ideally suited to be a leader in the use of Micro/Nano-Satellites for geospace exploration. In addition to advancing science through sensor development and data analysis, Space@VT will pursue platform-level technologies that expand the capabilities of scientists. For example, sensors and algorithms for precision navigation of CubeSats are being investigated. Increased navigation capability leads to improved - or new - scientific capabilities.

  • Additive Manufacturing

    PIs: Chris Williams and Tom Campbell
    With recent developments in the synthesis of end-use products from multiple materials (including metals, plastics, ceramics, etc.) and its inherent environmentally-friendly nature, additive manufacturing (AM), also known as three-dimensional printing, has emerged as a transformative technology in innovation-based manufacturing. Contrary to traditional manufacturing technologies that create artifacts through the subtraction of material from a workpiece, AM techniques create parts through the successive creation of the artifact's cross-sectional layers. Each AM technology has a unique principal solution (from using a UV laser to cure photopolymer resin, to precisely extruding a heated plastic filament) for the machines - common primary function: to form layers by the selective placement (or forming) of solid material. As a result of its additive approach, AM processes are capable of building complex geometries that cannot be fabricated by any other means and thus offer the utmost geometrical freedom in engineering design.


    Virginia Tech researchers are investigating means to enable AM technologies to take a lead role in innovation-based manufacturing by assessing all components of the process, including part design (i.e., "Design for Additive Manufacturing"), process optimization, material systems, and characterization of fabricated artifacts. The interdisciplinary expertise of Virginia Tech faculty allows for the exploration of novel applications (e.g., tissue engineering, robotics, cryptography, bio-engineering), processes (e.g., multi-material printing), and materials (e.g., nanocomposites).


  • Bio-Inspired Science and Technology (BIST)
    PIs: Rolf Müller and Jake Socha
    Bio-Inspired Science and Technology (BIST) is envisioned to provide leadership in ideas for bioinspiration and define directions for turning it into a mature science and engineering discipline. Specific scientific goals are the development and application of novel, objective, and formalized methods to describe biodiversity in biological form and function, as well as their linkage. The goals of this research are to make the "design principles" implicit in the outcomes of evolutionary diversification accessible to engineering; to reproduce or borrow from the principles of biological form and function for engineering use; and to devise non-linear disruptive customized/adaptive technology based on biodiversity.

  • Nuclear Science and Engineering Lab (NSEL)
    PIs: Alireza Haghighat, Diana Farkas, and Satish Kulkarni
    Nuclear Science and Engineering Lab (NSEL) enables the VT Nuclear Engineering Program to fill a void in nuclear education and research in the National Capital Region. It is expected that NSEL activities will lead to establishment of new centers, vigorous research activities, engagement in nuclear policy development, and innovations of new tools and devices and computational tools for application in nuclear power, nuclear security and safeguards, and radiation diagnosis and therapy. NSEL will contribute to enhancing nuclear education in the NCR, and training of the next generation nuclear scientists and engineers. NSEL will also facilitate the international activities of the VT Nuclear Engineering Program, particularly, in the VT, India campus.


i Roco,M., and BainbridgeW.,2002, “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance,” NSF/DOC sponsored report.

ii Mills,M., and Ottino.J., January 30, 2012,”The Coming Tech-led Boom,” Wall Street Journal

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ICTAS (MC 0193)
Kelly Hall, Suite 410, Virginia Tech
325 Stanger Street
Blacksburg, VA 24061

(540) 231-2597