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December 24, 2011

Technology areas to watch in 2012 through 2016

1. Energy Revolution - Mass produced fission, fusion, and maybe cold fusion
2. Memristors and other significant computing and electronic improvements.
3. Robotics
4. Urbanization Broad Group skyscrapers, Tata flat packed buildings
5. Space
6. Supersmartphones, exoskeletons and wearable systems
7. Hyperbroadband
8. Energy Efficiency - superconductors, thermoelectrics, improved grid
9. Additive manufacturing
10. Not so mundane - neuromorphic chips, quantum computers, photonics
11. Automated transportation (leading to robotic cars and planes)
12. Supermaterials
13. Improve medicine and public health
14. Synthetic biology and recombineering
15. Sensors everywhere
16. Education transformed and accelerated innovation



The most controversial has the highest potential impact

1. Energy Revolution - Mass produced fission, fusion, and maybe cold fusion

There is the highly controversial possibility of Rossi-Focardi Energy catalyzer.

Brillouin Energy is another cold fusion contender

There is also work in this area by Brian Ahern and NASA and other agencies are investigating it.

EMC2 Fusion, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, General Fusion and/or Tri-alpha energy could develop a first full scale prototype commercial system by Dec, 2016. Those are also somewhat controversial, but less so than the cold fusion. Australia Star Scientific with a claimed breakthrough with muon fusion.

A desktop high frequency fusion system has been proposed for space propulsion and energy generation.

In Chapman’s aneutronic fusion reactor scheme, a commercially available benchtop laser starts the reaction. A beam with energy on the order of 2 x 10^18 watts per square centimeter, pulse frequencies up to 75 megahertz, and wavelengths between 1 and 10 micrometers is aimed at a two-layer, 20-centimeter-diameter target.

High frequency lasers are an area that is rapidly progressing.

I think high frequency lasers and General Fusion are the most likely to succeed. The High frequency laser approach needs to get a deep pocketed champion.

China is well underway with their first pebble bed reactors. The first one will be done by about 2015. This is not controversial and the construction project is underway.

Other small modular nuclear fission reactor projects are underway but most will not have their first units built until 2018-2020 or later

China could have a prototype molten salt thorium reactor by Dec, 2016.

2. Memristors and other significant computing and electronic improvements

HP and Hynix intend to have an alternative technology to flash on the market in eighteen months, an alternative to DRAM in three to four years and, following DRAM, a replacement for SRAM, Stan Williams, Senior Fellow at HP, told the IEF2011 meeting in Seville this morning.

"We’re planning to put a replacement chip on the market to go up against flash within a year and a half," said Williams, "and we also intend to have an SSD replacement available in a year and a half."

"In 2014 possibly, or certainly by 2015, we will have a competitor for DRAM and then we’ll replace SRAM." They plan to be 100 times better than DRAM for energy efficiency. HP’s approach is memristor, thin film technology which it allows it to stack an "arbitrary number of layers," said Williams, with 500 billion memristors per layer at 5 nanometers.




3. Robotics

Foxconn will build a million robots and have a huge impact on manufacturing for solar panels and electronics.

iRobot (maker of the Roomba) has a new robot, called Ava. iRobot made it compatible with applications written for Apple’s iOS operating system and Google’s Android platform. “To truly accelerate the robot industry, we need more people developing for it,” said iRobot Chief Executive Colin Angle in an interview. “Now, if you can develop for Android or iOS, you’re a roboticist.”

It uses a smartphone or a tablet as its head. Amazon's Kindle Fire is $199. There is an Indian tablet for $35.

Low cost by very powerful tablets and robots and a lot of useful apps looks like a winning combination. I have predicted that it could come together with one billion robots by 2020. By Dec, 2016 I will say that there will be 50 million robots.

Heartland robotics is targeting a $5000 robot with a robotic arm which will be used to revolutionize low cost manufacturing.


4. Urbanization Broad Group skyscrapers, Tata flat packed buildings

Broad Group is developing 30 story factory produced high rises and 200 story skyscrapers. The buildings are assembled on site at two stories per day. 15 days for a 30 story building and 120 days for 200 story building. The buildings are five times more energy efficient for operation and are about two to three time more resource efficient for construction.

By Dec, 2016 Broad Group should have built a few dozen 30 story buildings and perhaps one of the 200 story buildings.

Tata will sell flat packed (Ikea like) homes for $720.

5. Space

Spacex will be greatly reducing costs.
Falcon Heavy's should be flying regularly by Dec, 2016.
The reusable rocket work may have gotten to flying back a first stage by Dec, 2016.

Solar electric sails can provide radical new capabilities

There is interesting potential for fusion powered space propulsion far earlier than many expect.

There are several ways fusion powered space propulsion could come about. IEC fusion, high frequency pulsed laser, magnetized target fusion, dense plasma focus.

6. Supersmartphones, exoskeletons and wearable systems

Smartphones should have 100 times the processing by 2015. (Nvidia roadmap)
In the 2020s, we should have petaflop mobile systems. The supersmartphones are certain developments.

7. Hyperbroadband

This is relatively certain sets of technologies but what is uncertain is truly widescale deployment.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and broadband can have a direct and measurable impact on GDP and that a number of studies have indicated that ‘true’ broadband (that is, symmetrical bandwidth in excess of 100 Mb/s) can increase GDP by up to 5%. Other studies indicate a return ten times greater than the investment in broadband.

By Dec, 2016 there will be a lot of LTE rollout and more fiber to the home rollout.

8. Energy Efficiency - superconductors, thermoelectrics, improved grid, more efficient engines and generators

A University of Minnesota team of researchers has overcome a major hurdle in the quest to design a specialized type of molecular sieve that could make the production of gasoline, plastics and various chemicals more cost effective and energy efficient. The team devised a means for developing free-standing, ultra-thin zeolite nanosheets that as thin films can speed up the filtration process and require less energy. Separating mixed substances can demand considerable amounts of energy—currently estimated to be approximately 15 percent of the total energy consumption—part of which is wasted due to process inefficiencies.

Superpower inc is executing on a path to get ten times the performance from superconducting wire by 2020 and increased production levels and lower costs. This could also enable MHD generators to be affordable and magnetic refrigeration could be enabled or made more commercially competitive. Engines could be three times smaller and more efficient.

Phononic Devices materials and devices are expected to more than double thermal-electric efficiency -- compared to conventional thermoelectrics -- for the interval between room temperature, which is 73F, and 248F. At wider temperature differentials they indicate they can increase from the usual 10% to 30% conversion. This is expected to result in a $/W energy savings of 75% for power generation and 60% for cooling, respectively. Phononic Devices is starting to roll out commercial devices by the end of 2012. The claims of higher efficiency would suggest a thermoelectric figure of merit of about 3 (at least higher than 2).

9. Additive manufacturing

DARPA is working on several projects to reinvent manufacturing.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is embarking on a five-year, $1-billion effort with no less ambitious a goal than reversing the decades-long decline of US manufacturing. By Dec 2016, that 5 year effort will have completed.

10. Not so mundane - neuromorphic chips, quantum computers, photonics

By the end of 2012, there will likely be integrated one square neuromorphic chips with about ~10 billion synapses and ~1 million neurons. In 2015, the neuromorphic chips are targeted to have 100 times more capability. The military is developing neuromorphic chips for autonomous, unmanned, robotic systems and natural human-machine interfaces and diverse sensory and information integration applications in the defense and civilian sector

The global semiconductor industry is forecast to be about $412 billion in 2015 up from $325 billion in 2011. If neuromorphic chips become mainstream in the 2020s,they could be a $50 to 200 billion segment.

There is a commercial superconducting quantum computer ($10 million paid by Lockheed to Dwave Systems.) By Dec, 2016 Dwave and Lockheed could have succeeded in developing a larger system that is useful for complex otimization problems.

11. Some more limited driving assistance but no full on robotic cars in any way meaningfully commercialized.

12. Supermaterials

Japan will be introducing steel that is 20% stronger and cheaper for car parts by 2013.

Carbon nanotube production should be over 50,000 tons per year.

13. Improve medicine and public health

Cookers and heaters for the developing world that do not have indoor air pollution can save about 1.6 million lives per year and reduce the warming effect of black carbon (soot).

Clean water and sanitation can save millions of lives.

Universal vaccination can save millions.

Combined about 37 million of the 55 million deaths are premature and can be avoided/deferred.

There is advancement on tissue engineering, stem cells and regeneration.

There is advancement against the major diseases and towards longevity.


14. Synthetic biology and recombineering

Accelerated evolution and recombineering are areas where synthetic biology and genetic engineering are gaining new capabilities for faster progress and to scale

There is new technology for editing DNA on the genome scale

I will also be following developments with DNA, RNA and other nanotechology.

15. HP has the vision of trillions of inexpensive sensors.

16. Education transformed and accelerated innovation

Virtual reality and other new internet based systems could transform education.
DARPA is working to reinvent training.
There are new AI based approaches to accelerate innovation.
Robotics and additive manufacturing could accelerate innovation.
Super-labs on a chip could accelerate scientific discovery and testing.

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