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.23 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.4 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. Source: Apple dumps graph­ics firm to make its own chips, iTnews, April 4, 2017 
  3. Apple will design its own pow­er man­age­ment chips, says report, The Verge, Novem­ber 30, 2017 
  4. Source: Wal­mart Calls for Sub-$1 IoT Sen­sor, EETimes, Decem­ber 4, 2017 

Related insights from Smoltek

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.

Breaking barriers: The hype

This is the first article in a series of three in which Smoltek founder and strategic advisor Shafiq Kabir share his personal thoughts on nanotechnology opportunities. This introductory article addresses the hype surrounding nanotechnology in general and carbon nanotechnology in particular.