Could The Czech Republic Become
a Tech Superpower?
Calling any country a ‘superpower’ will bring attention, popularity and hopefully more money to that country. Backing this hefty claim with solid-based arguments and data might prove too complicated and end up as wishful thinking, especially in a country as small as the Czech Republic that suffered so much under communist reign for more than four decades. Nevertheless, its industrial base and inventive people brought it back on its feet, and even though many perceive it as catching up to the western world, Czech Republic is in some areas already ahead.
Not so fast
When talking about technological advancements and innovation, the heart of Europe doesn’t usually make the top list. Take for example the latest Regional Innovation Scoreboard report by the European Commission, where the Czech Republic fell short of the European average, revealing the relatively low research and development expenditures, a weak knowledge-intensive service sector, or ineffective governance of public research.
The backbone of innovation and future successes, the educational system, despite all political chest-thumping and bold statements, is not hitting the mark when it comes to international comparison as well. In fact, the structural problems, such as low teachers’ salaries or low spending on students, have been prevalent for as much as twenty years and are among the lowest across OECD countries .
Czech schools are also poorly equipped with IT hardware and most of Czech teachers, despite the enthusiasm of many of them, haven’t been appropriately trained in IT skills.
More than just a car manufacturer
As doomy and gloomy as the current situation might seem, there are areas where the Czech Republic truly shines and could stand among the world’s best. Some might not come to mind at first, for example, aviation, namely ultralight aircrafts; Czechs are one of the largest ultralight and light sport aircrafts producers in the world and belong to the world’s top aircraft engine developers .
In addition, Czech Phoenix was the first electrical two-seat aircraft in the world to take off , and guess who is the three-time-in-a-row European freestyle aerobatic champion and the current rising star of Red Bull Air Race…?
Getting back to digitisation and innovations, thanks to similar technological jump that brought Hungary to the top list of countries with 4G penetration and speed, the Czech Republic became a European e-commerce leader with more than 43 per cent of technical or non-food goods sold online and the highest number of e-shops per person in Europe in 2017 . Since the introduction of mobile-contactless payments with Google Pay (formerly Android Pay) last year and Apple Pay promised to come soon , Czech Republic is on the way to fortifying its lead in the field.
If you’d rather keep your feet on the ground and you need to touch the goods before you buy them, cybersecurity might be more to your taste. Avast is an outstanding example of this small country’s footprint on the global stage. As of today, the Czech IT giant has the largest market share among anti-malware application vendors worldwide , with more than than 435 million users . If you are reading this article online, there is more than a 1 in 10 chance that Avast is currently protecting your electronic device.
The Czech government isn’t behind either, to name a few of its successes, it was the first in the EU to create a unique legal framework to protect Critical Information Infrastructure (CII), and the first one to prepare and sign the Memorandum of Understanding on Cyber Defence in NATO . A Czech team composed of representatives from private, public and academic spheres, won the largest and most complex international live-fire cyber defence exercise ‘Locked Shields 2017’ and ended up third in the 2018 edition . No wonder the Czech Republic sits in the top 10 best-protected countries against cyber attacks in the world by EGA.
The birth of a nano spider
The home of the great Jara Cimrman does not seem so beer and ice-hockey driven after all. As the immortal infomercial hero Horst Fuchs would say: “…but wait, there’s more!”. Let’s finish the back-patting with something outright impressive and look at something you literally can’t see in the field of genetics, nanotechnology and robotics.
These three areas are going to determine the fate of humankind in the 21st century according to one of today’s brightest minds, Ray Kurzweil. And thanks to the joint efforts of the Technical University of Liberec and local company Elmarco, Czechs quickly boarded the nano-ship and positioned themselves at its helm. The year was 2004, and the project’s name was ‘Nanospider’, the first machine in the world that could “weave nanofibers on an industrial scale.”
With the generous financial support from both private sources and the public, Czechs built a solid base for research and practical application, quickly becoming one of the pioneers in this nascent industry. We can make an awfully long list of all Czech nano-tech discoveries and inventions, but we’d rather stick to some practical examples. Just a few solutions to global problems, if you will.
Beijing blue for everybody
Air pollution definitely counts among the most pressing issues of today and window screens enhanced with nanofibers are not only keeping out mosquitoes but also smog, dust, soot and other nasty particles that can irreversibly make your lungs their new home . Taking it to an entirely different level, the FN® nano-coating, purifies air and only needs sunlight to work . Picturing all major cities having blue skies like Beijing during the APEC Summit in 2014 just by painting all the facades with nano coating seems just as wonderful as it is bewildering. Funnily enough, EC announced a competition for developing such technology in February 2017 but cancelled it after finding that Czechs had already been testing and using it for more than two years .
And it’s not just the air outside, with the number of people suffering from allergies on the rise, nanofibers have come to help indoors as well. To battle dust mites and their allergens, engineers from nanoSPACE came up with nanofiber-barrier bedding covers, which work on a straightforward principle: the nanofibers form such a tight grid that even the tiny mites and their tinier faeces that cause allergies and respiratory problems are way too big to pass through . Bringing it all together, the Bellevue Hotel in Cesky Krumlov is now offering a fully hypoallergenic room using both bedding covers and photoactive air purification .
Czech nanotechnology is also solving first world problems, for example, wrinkles and acne. Contipro’s hyaluronic acid-based nanofiber cosmetics are head and shoulders above classical creams and liquid serums due to its ability to release more active substances per square centimetre with less waste. Based on the same principle, Nanopharma company has come up with the very first dry sheet nanofiber mask. More efficient substance delivery feature of nanofibers also has a medical application in healing deep wounds.
It seems that for any given problem the Czechs will answer with nano. Need something to turn human faeces into drinking water in space? Sure. Want an exoskeleton that would help you grow back a severed ear? Alright. More efficient, cheaper and safer batteries? Absolutely. Anti-flu scarf? Here you go.
The landlocked, nano-sized, Central European country has undoubtedly become a nano paradise over the last two decades, on the other hand, it will never have as many resources as China or the US to dominate the whole industry. Careful selection of specific areas in nanotechnology has served Czechs very well and is the main reason why they are years ahead of their competition in many areas. As long as they strengthen venture capital investments support, increase education, research and development funding and further facilitate the linkages between the public, academic and private spheres, they may retain the title of a world niche tech superpower and take part in shaping the future of mankind.
Dominik is a happy chap who likes eating, sleeping and daydreaming. He fell in love with technology when he got his hands on Linux and C++ at high school. He also writes poetry in Czech, English and German and relaxes with a paintbrush doing Chinese calligraphy. Currently, he is working on a book of poetry and watercolour drawings with his friend.