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aerial view of mountain hills

Breaking barriers: The reality

This is the second article in a series of three in which Smoltek founder and strategic advisor Shafiq Kabir share his personal thoughts on nanotechnology opportunities. In the last article, he addressed the hype surrounding carbon nanotechnology. In this one, he takes you into the reality of the nanotechnology entrepreneur. He tells you about real challenges that await breakthroughs that carbon nanotechnology can help within the near future.

We all are liv­ing in a con­nec­ted world. We and everything sur­rounds us for that mat­ter is con­nec­ted or at the verge of con­nect­ing to the extent that we are wit­ness­ing a world with­in a world! Let’s dive into my naive way of look­ing at the real­ity as a nan­otech entre­pren­eur and how the oppor­tun­it­ies for nan­otech star­tups are emerging.

The Reality

In less than a gen­er­a­tion, we have been equipped with so many gad­gets that we have star­ted los­ing count on them. Tech­no­logy has mod­ern­ized us to the extent that we have become habitu­ated to many ges­tures so heav­ily that we con­sider many func­tions as gran­ted as breath­ing air! For example, we are so used to the smart­phone touch screen that some­times in our uncon­scious mind we try to touch as soon we find a dis­play, swipe our old com­puter mon­it­or or even TV for chan­ging a screen­shot or channel! 

The ori­gin­al hard­ware plat­forms man­u­fac­tur­ers like Intel, Sam­sung, Fujitsu, Qual­com, Cisco, Eric­sson, Nvidia etc. have enabled the monu­ment­al pro­gress of the soft­ware which in turn cre­ated a gigant­ic soft­ware industry. The young­est play­er of the game ARM have revo­lu­tion­ized the mobile devices through their ARM pro­cessors spe­cific­ally designed for hand­held mobile devices. Com­pany like Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, Nokia and Sam­sung undoubtedly not only exploited the hard­ware to build soft­ware plat­form on top, but also have pushed dif­fer­ent tech­no­lo­gies through high­er demand on memory, pro­cessor clock speed, enable­ment from only talk to touch screen smart­phones and oth­er hand­held devices.

From single tran­sist­or to aug­men­ted reality

Such pro­gress­ive hard­ware plat­form has also had empowered a new breed of entre­pren­eurs cre­at­ing a bunch of highly suc­cess­ful soft­ware giants like Google, Face­book, PayP­al, Twit­ter, LinkedIn, You­tube, Airb­nb, Alibaba, Amazon, eBay, Skype, Spo­ti­fy, Viber, What­s­App, Uber, Snapchat and a lim­it­less list can con­tin­ue. Pro­lif­er­a­tion of hard­ware has also helped in adop­tion of well­ness track­ing, and vir­tu­al med­ic­al care solu­tions. Dra­mat­ic pro­gress in sensor man­u­fac­tur­ing in turn enabling self-driv­ing vehicles and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) with view, touch and more senses.

Glob­al use of data 2017.

So far the exist­ing hard­ware plat­form was suf­fi­cient to wit­ness the pro­lif­er­a­tion of soft­ware industry. How­ever, as the soft­ware industry is pro­gress­ing well bey­ond its ima­gin­a­tions, and these soft­ware giants are able to con­nect bil­lions of people and gen­er­at­ing tril­lions of data out of the soft­ware eco­sys­tem lead­ing the sup­port­ing hard­ware to bleed and face tsunami of dif­fi­culties to coup up with in terms of speed, band­width, power man­age­ment and more.

Hence hard­ware tech­no­logy is unfor­tu­nately reach­ing to its lim­its or going out of steams or becom­ing more expens­ive instead of being economical.

Even bit­ter news, as it looks this data band­width demand will be fueled fur­ther up by the push of Inter­net of things (IoT), smart invent­ory, smart­city, Robot­ics, vir­tu­al real­ity (VR), aug­men­ted real­ity (AU), arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI), brain read, autonom­ous driv­ing, bio­mi­met­ic recog­ni­tion, human-machine (HI-AI) inter­ac­tions and finally per­haps the inter­net of things (IoE).

These applic­a­tions undoubtedly cre­at­ing tre­mend­ous stress on the exist­ing hard­ware plat­form not only to be largely revamped but also to be com­ple­men­ted with a lot of /​quoutiny little sensors, wire­less mod­ules and self-sus­tain­ing power management.

There­fore, with no sur­prise, we wit­ness a shift in hard­ware plat­form mov­ing from gen­er­al pur­pose to applic­a­tion spe­cif­ic hard­ware accel­er­a­tion. A per­fect example of how the soft­ware industry today is shap­ing the future of hard­ware industry is the intro­duc­tion and imple­ment­a­tion of tensor pro­cessing unit (TPU) . Fas­cin­at­ing enough, the TPU is not developed by the world largest hard­ware foundry, but by the largest soft­ware industry Google! The developed TPU legit­im­ately per­forms oper­a­tions > 15× faster than exist­ing cent­ral pro­cessing unit (CPU) or graph­ics pro­cessing unit (GPU) in the mar­ket.1

Great soft­ware shines even bright­er with great hard­ware under­neath it

Norm Jouppi, Google

Indeed, Google is tak­ing the lead in hard­ware accel­er­a­tions by devel­op­ing its pro­pri­et­ary tensor pro­cessing units (TPU), sys­tem on a chip (SoC) etc.! Apple, repeatedly dis­ap­point­ing hard­ware chip design com­pan­ies by chan­ging their mod­el from out­sourced towards in-house hard­ware design.2 The oth­er soft­ware giants will soon join the club.

Tensor pro­cessing unit from Google

Obvi­ously it is no longer enough to col­lect & store gar­gan­tu­an amount of data to the cloud, the sys­tem need to be intel­li­gent enough to be able to ana­lyze and gen­er­ate pat­terns, trends, prob­ab­il­ity etc. to be able to nav­ig­ate real time activ­it­ies or per­haps to mon­et­ize from the big data. Such scheme how­ever requires soph­ist­ic­ated algorithm and a lot of com­put­ing power to be quick enough to help with data crunch­ing, demands quick ana­lys­is and turn­ing data into some kind of intel­li­gence so that real time decision mak­ing can be made by AI!

Com­pan­ies like Wall­mart would like to equip their shops with a lot of sensors all around to enable IoT inspired cus­tom­er ser­vices.3 Such ginorm­ous imple­ment­a­tion undoubtedly will boost cus­tom­er sat­is­fac­tion as well as will be excel­lent trig­ger for waste management.

How­ever, to add some oil to the fire, most of such hard­ware need to become tiny, slick, self-powered/­power effi­cient, eco­nom­ic­al, sus­tain­able and envir­on­ment­ally friendly etc. etc. etc. There­fore, the need for mini­atur­iz­a­tion of hard­ware, nan­o­tech­no­logy and nan­o­ma­ter­i­als come into play.

What makes the situ­ation for the nan­otech star­tups so com­pel­ling for hard­ware plat­form makers is that VR, AI, IoT, smart invent­ory, machine learn­ing oppor­tun­ity is unfold­ing at a time when the mar­ket for tra­di­tion­al tech­no­logy is either flat­ten­ing or run­ning out of steams to sup­port the mar­ket demand in data acquis­i­tion and ana­lys­is. We are undoubtedly wit­ness­ing an inflec­tion point for the most developed and exploited CMOS tech­no­logy lead­ing to the col­lapse of dec­ades of stand­ard ITRS roadmap (≈ a paradigm shift ≈ any tech­no­logy adop­tion can hap­pen scen­ario ≈ hard­ware accel­er­a­tion). There­fore, oppor­tun­it­ies emerge now for the nan­o­ma­ter­i­als startups.

Next article

In the next and final art­icle my dive will be on ‘the future’ where we may find the inva­sion of nan­otech and nan­o­ma­ter­i­als to impact in revamp­ing future of hard­ware and hence will dra­mat­ic­ally help to unleash the power of inter­net of everything!

  1. Source: Google says its cus­tom machine learn­ing chips are often 15–30x faster than GPUs and CPUs, Tech­Crunch, April 5, 2015 ↩︎
  2. Apple will design its own power man­age­ment chips, says report, The Verge, Novem­ber 30, 2017 ↩︎
  3. Source: Wal­mart Calls for Sub-$1 IoT Sensor, EETimes, Decem­ber 4, 2017 ↩︎

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