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From research to application

Many non-university research institutes in Germany use start-ups to put their ideas into practice. 

Klaus LüberKlaus Lüber , 19.03.2024
Scientific spin-offs are drivers of innovation.
Scientific spin-offs are drivers of innovation. © iStock

How does research become innovation? Ideal conditions for transferring knowledge from science to business can be found in start-ups spun off from research groups with the aim of turning an idea into a product. This process is also supported by the four leading non-university research institutions in Germany, the Max Planck Society, Fraunhofer, the Leibniz Association and the Helmholtz Association. Three examples: 

The batteries of the future 

Electric cars are still very expensive. One of the main reasons for this are the numerous wafer-thin contact foils in batteries. Batene GmbH, a start-up based in the state of Baden-Württemberg, has found a way of replacing the foils with fleeces of fine metal wires. This dramatically reduces the costs of production and also increases the storage capacity. The fleeces were developed by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. The start-up, which was founded by the research organisation, has been awarded the Max Planck Startup Award of the Stifterverband for its innovation. 

Contact lenses for the ears 

The start-up Vibrosonic is working on a “contact lens” for the ears: a tiny loudspeaker embedded in a silicone mould is placed on the ear drum. It transmits the sound directly to the membrane and enables a broader spectrum of sound than conventional hearing aids. The device is the world’s first hearing aid loudspeaker to be developed using microsystem technology methods. Individual structures are a thousand times thinner than a human hair. Vibrosonic is a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Mannheim.  

Sensitive machines 

To equip robot hands with sensitive fingertips - that was the goal of the researcher Michael Strohmayr at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Just like in humans, the idea was to make the artificial fingertip flexible and sensitive to pressure. The outcome was a unique sensor technology named Plyon. To allow the novel material to be used to control technical devices, Strohmayr and his brother founded the company Tacterion in Munich. They were supported by the Helmholtz Enterprise spin-off programme run by the Helmholtz Association, to which the DLR also belongs.