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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