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Breaking barriers: The future

This is the third and last article in a series of three in which Smoltek founder and strategic advisor Shafiq Kabir share his personal thoughts on nanotechnology opportunities. In the previous two articles, he has addressed both the hype and the reality of carbon nanotechnology. In this last article, he looks into the future. He discusses how carbon nanotechnology will unleash the power of the internet of everything.

My 8 year old daugh­ter just learned how to text in an Ipad! And that was it, she become obsessed in writ­ing small, small text and express­ing emo­tions using emo­jis! Only with­in two days, when we have argu­ments and things do not go in her way, instead of cry­ing (as it used to be) she learned how to express her emo­tions through mes­saging! This is per­haps the future of digit­al gen­er­a­tion with an accel­er­ated adop­tion of high tech gad­gets, chan­ging our ges­tures & means of digit­al emo­tion­al expres­sions and the demands on func­tion­al­ity simply will break through the roof. This is how­ever maybe a bit scary as a par­ent but one can­not stop the future to be hap­pen­ing rather per­haps can take appro­pri­ate meas­ure instead. Part of being a techy par­ent, we can guess where the future maybe going. Moreover, as a techy entre­pren­eur, we know that so many things that are tech­nic­ally with­in our reach com­bin­ing nan­o­tech­no­logy and nanomaterials!

The future

Speak­ing of the future, let’s start from what we have just wit­nessed in the year 2018! A nice infograph­ic by (@lorillewis & @officiallyChadd above) sum­mar­izes our 60 seconds on this digit­al earth! Smart­phones has already made all the but­tons as a thing of the past.

Bio­met­ric pass­words becom­ing the norm, drone based driver­less deliv­ery have star­ted, the rise of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) is wit­nessed. And my per­son­al favor­ite is everything becom­ing wire­less includ­ing head­phones, char­ging sta­tions etc.

How­ever, Nan­o­tech­no­logy has already been imple­men­ted in the semi­con­duct­or pro­duc­tion for dec­ades to con­tin­ue with advanced scal­ing the hard­ware plat­form e.g. through dif­fer­ent tech­no­logy nodes. What is moreover new to the industry is to integ­rate nan­o­ma­ter­i­als to enhance, empower and revamp the future of hard­ware platforms. 

Con­nect­ing back to Break­ing Bar­ri­ers Part II, the semi­con­duct­or industry has reached to a point of tech­no­logy scal­ing where innov­a­tion and innov­at­ive mater­i­als are in demand to move for­ward with future scal­ing, per­form­ance enhance­ments, eco­nom­ics of scale and func­tion­al­ity enrich­ment. Through the infograph­ics sum­mar­iz­ing our 60 seconds also show­ing that we are wit­ness­ing a trans­ition from hard­ware driv­en soft­ware plat­form to soft­ware driv­en hard­ware specifications. 

Some cool stuffs in and around the corner: 

An example of devel­op­ment of nan­o­ma­ter­i­als to con­sumer products is por­trayed in the infograph­ic below. Some example nan­o­ma­ter­i­als com­pany are shown break­ing bar­ri­ers to enter into the mar­kets to give some fla­vor to our dis­cus­sions about products around the corner.

From nano mater­i­als to con­sumer products.

Per­haps you already have a smart­phone which is water repel­lent. Then you maybe already reap­ing the bene­fits of a product made out of nan­o­ma­ter­i­als! P2i is a nan­o­ma­ter­i­al com­pany that has figured out a way to con­vert molecules into water repel­lent nan­o­ma­ter­i­als coat­ing! They already have shipped 250+ Mil­lions of devices includ­ing smart­phones, head­phones, Bluetooth head­sets and hear­ing aids pro­tec­ted through their nan­o­ma­ter­i­al technology. 

Now, what could be the nat­ur­al evol­u­tion of smart­phone or gad­gets in the com­ing years? Could it be flex­ible smart­phone design that may win the consumer’s interest, or per­haps gad­gets with even bend­able or stretch­able dis­plays? Well then, C3NANO and Canatu are doing the right thing to bring such fantasy into reality; 

C3NANO essen­tially glue or fuse sil­ver nanowires at nano­scale mak­ing the mater­i­als enhan­cing both the trans­par­ency and the touch sens­it­iv­ity performances.

Canatu bring­ing their pro­pri­et­ary Car­bon Nan­oBud® mater­i­al, which enable design free­dom for touch inter­faces with the abil­ity to stretch the screen to more than 200%. Such car­bon nan­o­ma­ter­i­als can be bent and flexed in tight­er radii than 1 mm! Thanks to the involved car­bon atoms which does not reflect any light, enables touch dis­plays with deep black and high con­trast. Maybe one day soon they will enable com­pletely trans­par­ent mon­it­ors which were seen in sci-fi movies like in The Avengers a reality. 

Then why to miss out the oppor­tun­ity to enjoy the extremely detailed per­fectly colored res­ol­u­tion in vir­tu­al real­ity (VR) exper­i­ence? Hope­fully we won’t, since Glo is bring­ing their het­ero­gen­eous nan­o­ma­ter­i­als tech­no­logy to enable just that! 

Trans­par­ent bend­able dis­play, and VR exper­i­ence may be cool, but how often do we charge our smart­phone? Would it be even more cool if we could charge our smart­phone in less than 60 seconds? Store­dot aims to empower exactly that. They are exploit­ing nan­o­ma­ter­i­als in the form of particles includ­ing sil­ic­on, car­bon and some more ele­ments to enable the quick charging. 

Still, It’s the inside that counts

So far we have been talk­ing about the out­side of a smart­phone. How about the inside of a smart­phone, which essen­tially enables us to do so much of magic with our fin­ger­tips? No wor­ries, we have that covered as well. Let’s high­light two essen­tials parts, or the brain if you will, of a smart gad­get like smart­phone: (a) the App pro­cessor and (b) the memory. The more arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), aug­men­ted real­ity (AR) and vir­tu­al real­ity (VR) we would like to exper­i­ence, the bet­ter these two guys need to be in the form of com­pu­ta­tion­al power, memory band­width and power efficiency.

Nantero is bring­ing car­bon nan­otubes to build high-dens­ity non-volat­ile memory called NRAM® that is incred­ibly fast, can deliv­er the poten­tial for ter­abits of stor­age in a single chip while con­sum­ing very little power. If you sud­denly got 10x faster memory in your next gad­get, don’t get sur­prised, it may be from them. 

Now what about the App pro­cessor? The App micro­pro­cessor does the really hard job (the com­pu­ta­tion­al work) to enable an app to run a func­tion through our fin­ger­tips. Moreover, the rise of AI, and great­er demands for AR, VR and many oth­er func­tion­al­it­ies, the App micro­pro­cessor needs to work ter­ribly hard to coup up with the com­pu­ta­tion­al power demand. To get into a slightly deep­er inside of the app pro­cessor, such spiky power demands are stag­ger­ingly high that stresses the cor­res­pond­ing cir­cuit power man­age­ment to mal­func­tion. Such event can lead to slow pace in the app to func­tion or worse case hic­cups or even shut­down of the processor! 

Smol­tek tech­no­logy will ful­fill such high paced demand for power bank at a very small foot­print. It’s CNF-MIM tech­no­logy exploits car­bon nan­ofibers mater­i­als to build such power bank in the form of high value capa­cit­ors which can be placed dir­ectly inside and around an App pro­cessor to tackle such power surge so that the mam­moth orches­tra of com­pu­ta­tion­al work can run smoothly without a hiccup. 

The beauty of Smoltek’s CNF-MIM capa­cit­ors is enabling a 3D sur­face area in a 2D foot­print! Smol­tek how­ever is not sat­is­fied with just that, but also want to bring the bene­fits of car­bon nan­o­ma­ter­i­als even for 2.5D and 3D advanced pack­aging and het­ero­gen­eous integ­ra­tion solu­tions, so that more com­plex, embed­ded and power hungry sys­tems can be assembled togeth­er at a smal­ler, slick­er footprint. 

To sum up, some tech­no­logy is tak­ing longer than oth­er but the pic­ture is con­ver­ging to bring products to mar­ket. Every­one have their own way of exploit­ing the prop­er­ties of nan­o­ma­ter­i­als for good. The dif­fer­ence is made in the innov­at­ive approaches and it is all about pay­ing atten­tion to the details. For nan­o­ma­ter­i­als case such atten­tion has happened to be down to the nano level or even per­haps atom­ic level. Under­stand­ing of dif­fer­ent mech­an­isms behind what mat­ters and what not at that level cre­ates the oppor­tun­ity for innov­a­tions to improve the functions/​properties of a device.

The defin­it­ive areas where the nan­o­ma­ter­i­als impact­ing are: smal­ler, faster, per­form­ance enhance­ment, embed­ded func­tion­al­ity, light-weight, eco-friendly and of course more for the buck.

Breaking the barriers

Smol­tek, the com­pany once I have star­ted and lived through and wit­ness­ing how bar­ri­ers are broken in many dif­fer­ent per­spect­ives. The jour­ney star­ted with a tiny little idea of a product on mak­ing a sensor based on grown car­bon nan­o­ma­ter­i­als. The ini­tial idea didn’t fly in the industry obvi­ously due to a tech­nic­al issue or even a bot­tle­neck: the tem­per­at­ure to grow these nan­o­ma­ter­i­als is so high that it would kill oth­er devices. 

We took a pivot at that point to focus and solve that par­tic­u­lar tem­per­at­ure prob­lem. Through many years of R&D, the team have figured out a few engin­eer­ing nobs that can be played with to tune pro­cesses to enable grow­ing car­bon nano­struc­tures on a giv­en sur­face. The sur­face can be any­thing, includ­ing alu­mini­um foil from our kit­chen! Smoltek’s main break­through came when we found the sweet spot to grow car­bon nan­ofibers at a tem­per­at­ure below 390 °C.

Break­through in grow­ing the car­bon nan­o­ma­ter­i­als at below 390°C, an industry com­pat­ible tem­per­at­ure, also have broken the hard­est tech­nic­al barrier.

This is the bor­der line for CMOS industry, the industry that makes up the digit­al world as of today. From this point on indus­tri­al applic­a­tion can take off.

At this stage we were only wel­comed by the industry but yet to be wanted. Now we had to proof what our nan­o­ma­ter­i­al growth tech­no­logy could be good for. Anoth­er bar­ri­er popped up: Find­ing a pain point for industry where our mater­i­als fit to release the pain becomes the next bar­ri­er to break. And we found one, the capacitor!

The unbeat­able form factor and 10–100× smal­ler foot­print com­pared to exist­ing tech­no­logy opens up the door to dis­rupt (replace) exist­ing tech­no­logy in many tech­no­logy ver­tic­als. What Smol­tek is build­ing in terms of capa­cit­or, in gen­er­ic terms can be con­sidered as an energy stor­age bank. We can store tre­mend­ous amount of charge with­in a very small foot­print. Free­ing out import­ant and expens­ive real-estate area on a sil­ic­on chip or a PCB. Today, com­pany is gear­ing up its activ­it­ies togeth­er with indus­tri­al play­ers to bring the tech­no­logy into product(s).

Smol­tek trans­forms nan­o­ma­ter­i­als into products.

The capa­cit­or is one of the fun­da­ment­al build­ing blocks for any giv­en cir­cuit. It is used for many reas­ons. One of the most essen­tial use of them is to be used for man­aging power glitches that may occur dur­ing the switch­ing events of bil­lions of tran­sist­ors. Such a gigant­ic orches­tra is typ­ic­ally har­mon­ized through using capa­cit­ors at dif­fer­ent levels of cir­cuits so the music can be played out without a hitch.

The high value capa­cit­ors can then find its way inside high per­form­ing micro­pro­cessors for AR, VR, AI, smart­phones, cloud com­put­ing, tab­lets, laptops, wear­ables, het­ero­gen­eous integ­ra­tion and even­tu­ally any oth­er inter­net of things (IoT) inspired elec­tron­ic devices or gadgets.

The reas­on behind why Smoltek’s capa­cit­or device is so cool is due to the ver­sat­il­ity of its form factor! Depend­ing on the demand of an applic­a­tion, the form factors can be changed to boos­ted up the energy stor­age capa­city. For inter­net of things, power man­age­ment will be essen­tial at a very small footprint.

Intro­duc­tion of AI into the Smart­phone have star­ted and demand will con­tin­ue to enable per­form­ing loc­al AI tasks without being in con­nect­ing with the cloud. VR and AR will also hit the road to cre­ate tre­mend­ous load on the power man­age­ment of indi­vidu­al pro­cessors. To make them func­tion­ing without a power glitch, the capa­cit­or banks will act as the savior of the day.

The inevitability and some reflections

The poten­tial of Nan­o­ma­ter­i­als tech­no­logy enables such deeply rooted tech­no­logy that every sec­tor of the hard­ware plat­form is bound to be benefited when exploited appro­pri­ately. ‘Less is more’ per­haps a per­fect way of sum­mar­iz­ing about the nan­o­ma­ter­i­als. We have reached to an inflec­tion point in tech­no­lo­gic­al pro­gress where my take is, nan­o­ma­ter­i­als are no longer a choice, neither about dis­rup­tions, rather it is about inev­it­ab­il­ity to drive the future. The exist­ing hard­ware plat­form and soft­ware have brought the world with­in our thumb. I won­der what our thumb will be empowered to do when the fusion of nan­o­ma­ter­i­als and nan­o­tech­no­logy is real­ized. Some­thing worth watch­ing for.

Whatever dir­ec­tion the future gad­gets will take, we have it all covered through nan­o­ma­ter­i­als and nan­o­tech­no­logy. After over a dec­ade of wit­ness­ing the shift from being only hype to real­ity, cre­at­ing paths which did not exist, it is indeed a very strange mix of inex­press­ibly touchy feel­ings to observe that things are sud­denly align­ing in order. Indus­tri­al interest increas­ing from day to day to come up integ­ra­tion pos­sib­il­it­ies not only towards our own envi­sioned applic­a­tion but also for the customer’s own iden­ti­fied applications.

Such an entre­pren­eur­i­al jour­ney would have not been pos­sible without the sys­tem that sup­ports it and the people sup­port­ing such endeavors to stay in the course of devel­op­ment. The team, and the investors all have shown tre­mend­ous entre­pren­eur­i­al stam­ina to come to this far. It is once again show­ing the case that the entre­pren­eurs do not take ‘no’ for an answer. And the word ‘fail­ure’ do not exists in their dictionary.

I how­ever have real­ized that I am only get­ting warmed up and ready to shift my gear to bring the future to the real­ity through accel­er­ated innov­a­tions and indus­tri­al­iz­a­tion. We surely have more bar­ri­ers to break. Such bar­ri­ers how­ever do not con­cern me since it is in our nature to break­ing barriers!

The jour­ney in bring­ing the nan­o­ma­ter­i­als to the soci­ety evid­ently cre­at­ing more oppor­tun­it­ies for investors, cre­ate more jobs for highly tal­en­ted people and not but least more super smart gad­gets to enjoy the life for ourselves and for the gen­er­a­tion to come. Visu­al­iz­ing such scen­ario, I am feel­ing a hid­den pleas­ure of my vis­ion of turn­ing a simple idea into soci­et­al val­ues to be a real­ity. Such feel­ings make me to wake up every morn­ing and go to work and drives me to do what I do.

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