The South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) is leading a visit to Europe this week, on a study tour to help inform South Africa’s response to the fourth industrial revolution.

The European Union (EU), a long-term partner of the Department, is expected to help South Africa identify relevant opportunities in 4IR and form relevant partnerships in research funding, business and the public sector, among others.

Led by Mr Beeuwen Gerryts, the DSI’s Chief Director for Technology Localisation, Beneficiation and Advanced Manufacturing, the study tour began in Brussels on Monday, 23 September, where the delegation participated in an informative business roundtable on ethics policy in artificial intelligence.

In Berlin today, the delegation will have direct exposure to people and institutions relevant to the understanding of policy responses to 4IR, in meetings with representatives of various institutions, the private sector and establishments such as Plattform Industrie 4.0, as well as of the Federal Ministries of Economics, Research and Education.

In order to gain tacit knowledge about advanced production environments that use 4IR technologies, the delegation will visit 4IR facilities such as the Mercedes Benz and Siemens factories.

In Finland on Monday, 30 September, the delegation will visit a Nokia technology centre, and Forum Virium Helsinki, a centre for smart cities.

The study tour, which ends on Tuesday, 1 October follows the approval of the new White Paper on Science, Technology and Innovation. Among other things, the White Paper emphasises the need for South Africa to understand the likely impacts of the 4IR. Preparing for these impacts collectively and strategically will be key to the country’s socio-economic development.

Disruptive technologies are affecting many of the sectors that underpin South Africa’s relations with the EU, such as automotive manufacturing, mining, ICTs, agriculture, health, public sector service delivery, and digital industrial policy.

In order to strengthen and help inform aspects of the White Paper’s 10-year implementation plan, the DSI has contracted the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) to help develop policy options and map 4IR activities for the national system of innovation.

This contract included the SA-EU Strategic Partnership Dialogue held in Pretoria last December. The study tour and the subsequent report will be the final activity of the contract.

The study delegation consists of representatives of the HSRC, the SA National Space Agency, the Academy of Science of South Africa, the Technology Innovation Agency and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

This group forms part of the DSI’s internal 4IR group, established to help disseminate information and coordinate 4IR-related activities at the entities.

It also includes representatives of other South African departments key to the 4IR, including the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies. The private sector is represented by the CEO of Tirisan Tech Solutions, Mr Rendani Ramabulana, and Senior Technical Advisor: Energy Products and Technologies at Sasol, Mr Rendani Mamphiswana.