Nanotech-enabled Products Face Numerous Obstacles on the Way to Market

One of the leading authorities on bridging the innovation gap in nanotech shares some thoughts

2 min read
Nanotech-enabled Products Face Numerous Obstacles on the Way to Market

It is with great pleasure I can report that I read a really first-rate article on nanotechnology from the mainstream press. It comes from the Irish Times and is based around an interview with Prof Peter Dobson of Oxford University, who had been in Ireland in early February for the Nanoweek conference

I had the pleasure of meeting Prof. Dobson in his role as Academic Director of Oxford University’s Begbroke Science Park when I was helping to give some visiting researchers a tour of UK research facilities. With no other motivation than to share his knowledge and experience, he gave us all some rich insights into how it can be possible to lift mere lab research into really making an impact.

The same too goes for this interview in the Irish Times. What is so intriguing about Dobson’s thoughts on nanotechnology and its commercialization is that he remains one of the few who is both a first-rate scientist with both an academic and industrial background and an accomplished businessman.

For me, the greatest lessons are often learned from failures rather than successes, so it is in his explanation of a recent failure of one of his spinout companies Oxford Biosensors that I found a good one. 

“That is a terribly sad story,” he recalls of Oxford Biosensors in the Irish Times article. Adding it was “too disruptive for any licence deal” and the costs of gaining regulatory approval proved overwhelming. 

“We developed a sensor for substances, in a pinprick of blood, which would be markers of cardiac risk. We were within eight or nine months of having a commercial product on the market, but we ran out of money.”

There are all sorts of ways for a company to fail, especially one that is using an emerging technology, but running out of money seems to be a common complaint. But what can’t be overlooked is that established players in the market, even if their technology is comparatively inferior, are not going to make it easy for anyone to introduce a technology into the market that will make their product obsolete.

As I was quoted in an article on the pages of Spectrum when discussing Nantero’s long-awaited nanotube memory chip: ”It is competing with large companies. Samsung, for instance, has created a $4 billion market for themselves with flash memory. Do you think they are going to idly sit by while some start-up says they are going to make that business obsolete? Not likely; they have their own approach, which they are developing in conjunction with University of Cambridge.”

The important lesson here to me is that even if there is strong market pull for your technology, even if you can bridge any regulatory obstacles, you still have to contend with entrenched market giants who just aren’t going to let you walk off with their business.

The Conversation (0)

3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

Keep Reading ↓Show less