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You want to be cool? Develop a mobile app! Everyone is doing it! ...and there lies the challenge.
I have been in the Internet game since the early 90s, starting with the co-development of one of the first ISPs in Canada, Internet Express and also have been in the wireless industry since 2001 with the co-development of Voxaura Technologies. Given that experience, I know the mobile web world is a bit different than the traditional web model for developing apps.
The mobile phone market is growing at an exceptional pace but given the number of apps in the market, many apps are getting lost in the crowd. Typically, those that are recognized in the media or featured in the app stores are the ones that get the golden egg.
If you hear of a hot topic app in the news and want to exploit that opportunity with a copycat app, you will most likely be too late to the gate given the development time and the high probability that there are probably many others either in the field that have advanced warning of the opportunity that are closer to launching or others that have heard about the idea and will launch at a similar time as you that will drown you out in the collective noise as they compete for your target costumers or to be acquired. There is consolidation for copycats with established customer bases but you really have to have something differentiated to be noticed nowadays or you will join the many lifeless apps that are starting to litter the landscape.
Many of the opportunities lie in smaller value-added niche segments with solid, sustainable business models or complementary ideas that look appealing to the established apps as acquisition targets. Aim for a niche market that has not been exploited and you will stand a better chance of making it. Given how young this field is, there are many non-mainstream demands that have yet to be filled in the app world. Ensure that your business model is sound. If you are depending on ad revenue, ensure that your target market will be large enough that ad revenue will allow you to make money.
Watch that your app idea doesn't fall in the path of Apple's or Google's near-term app road-map. This past year we have seen a couple of apps
get squashed or eroded by Apple when the Company released apps on its iPAD that complemented its existing software/ app offering and that competed directly with apps its 3rd party developers had released the previous year. If you create an app that develops a large following, then you will be a suitable acquisition target for Apple or Google but if you are just getting off the ground and Google and/or Apple are close to releasing a competing app, the big boys will just roll-over you.
If you see that your app idea is being serviced by a PC software package, do a little research to see if the owner of that software plans on rolling out an app. If the company has no plans, inquire if they want to team with your team to make an app- ensure you have something to offer though or the company will just steal your idea and you will be left in the dust. An established PC brand with a trusted following provides a loyal customer base to use the mobile platform. In relation to the Apple and Google scenario mentioned above, if major players on the PC software side are close to releasing an app that is similar to what you are planning, probably best to avoid a similar idea unless you offer some novel, proprietary protected functions in your app that will look appealing to the established player and would be cheaper to acquire than to build a work-around.
There are 5 main mobile platforms in the market right now- Apple, Google, HP, RIM, and Microsoft. The two most popular platforms are Google and Apple but in my opinion, even though the Company has been shaky as of late with its strategy, I believe Microsoft stands to be the third major contender given it has the finances to throw behind its mobile strategy and it has many entrenched and complementary products and platforms to draw upon to provide a full range and secure offering. RIM is known for its secure operating environment which corporations love but they have had a rather shaky time modifying their model to compete against Apple and Google- the verdict is still out on them. Apple started off being the favorite but Google is pulling ahead in customer preference and number of apps. From a developer standpoint, Google is extremely flexible with its requirements while Apple has a set framework in which developers have to develop their apps and are subject to a risky approval process. Apple is the only one of the five platforms that does not support FLASH, which is an entrenched web software and very popular amongst mainstream developers. Microsoft's platform has a fraction of the apps that Apple and Google do so if you believe in Microsoft's potential there is an opportunity to avoid the flood of competition and have your app recognized with Microsoft's growing mobile customer base.
If you are launching a new app, ensure you have a top notch marketing guru. Marketing is essential for success in the mobile market given the number of apps out there. Historically in the PC era, there was room to secure a profitable customer base among many competitors as the web provided flexibility to easily market your offering through search engines, banner adds, BLOGs etc., but with the advent of app stores and apps themselves, ones internet experience has been limited
and controlled and many of the freedoms to build awareness have been stifled. In the mobile world, we tend to be at the mercy of the app stores and the apps themselves as to what content we see in our mobile Internet universe. Don't rely on the traditional ways that apps have been marketed to date- those avenues are overcrowded and it will be expensive to be heard above the noise. If you are not heard above the noise, you won't get any customers and you will fail. Finding an angle with your app that the media will like either through value, shock, innovation or charity is probably the less expensive approach.
In-line with the theme of competition, make sure you keep your overhead low and you have enough cash for some regular R&D to tweak your app for the ever changing landscape of competition and customer demands. You should have enough cash to last you for at least 6 months without revenue. Given how fast the mobile industry changes, you will most likely have missed your opportunity if you have not established a break-even customer base within that period.
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At NeoTerra Capital and my company Sunfire Ventures, we are always looking for technology opportunities to help better this World. Especially with the expected population growth, now more than ever, the World is screaming for solutions to be able to help maintain the basic needs of our species in the coming years.
According to Wikipedia, it is estimated that the population
of the Earth reached one billion in 1804, two billion in 1927, three billion in 1960, four billion in 1974, five billion in 1987, and six billion in 1999. It is projected to reach seven billion by early 2012, and around eight billion by 2025–2030. By 2045–2050, the world's population is currently projected to reach around nine billion.
Traditionally the growth in population hasn't truly affected the Western World and its lifestyle, as the majority of growth has occurred in Third World nations where resource use is as much as 30 times lower
compared to what is consumed in many Western countries. Now that the two largest populated countries- China and India are edging to become First World nations within 20 years, the cost of global resources will increase significantly and cause us to think about what we consume. We are currently adding on average 80 million middle class citizens per year and all of those add relative disposable income to consume more, which adds strain to our limited resource base. We have already felt small signs of this increase in resource demand in the last 10 years with the prices of commodities like metals and oil going up significantly as infrastructure is built out and energy demands increase. This is only the beginning. The cost of most essentials including: food, clothing, metals, and energy related commodities will go up significantly, potentially decreasing 1st world lifestyles.
There are many opportunities for entrepreneurs to help ease us through this resource crunch and it all revolves around using less to produce more and producing more closed loop systems so our waste outputs become raw resource inputs.
Given that infrastructure and lifestyles are fairly entrenched in the existing First World, focusing on the developing world shows the best opportunity for new businesses to gain a large consumer following. I think entrepreneurs in India
are primary models in the way we have to shift our thinking in order to successfully do business in the developing market. Despite the number of people within the country, the lack of per capita resources, and the lack of financial and government support, many Indian entrepreneurs have crafted products/ service that use minimal resources
at a low price that mimic products/services that we enjoy in our First World economies. It would serve the entrepreneurs in the First World societies to either team up or learn from some of these entrepreneurs and capitalize on producing products/ services that we enjoy in our First World economies redesigned for the economic and resource constrained realities that exist within these rather large second and third world economies.
Many Second and Third World countries are extremely unstable due to lack of political and physical infrastructure, basic necessities, and education. In order to reduce risk and raise the economic status of Second and Third World countries to be potential market places for 1st world consumer products, relative stability needs to be achieved. Many of the fundamentals are being instituted by the domestic governments or large multinationals but there are areas that I see as being potential sources of opportunity for entrepreneurs that add social value and can provide political, and economic stability for future opportunities. These include:Clean Water
According to water.org, currently 1 in 8 people don't have access to clean drinking water
. This problem is getting worse as the population increases within these troubled areas. Given that we need water to survive, the production of clean water is going to be a gold mine opportunity for those that can find low cost solutions. New low-cost desalination, air from water, and filtering technologies would be paramount to success as current technology is still rather price prohibitive for many nations without substantial subsidy. Recycling
Business manufacturing historically has had a significant amount of waste outputs which have typically been dumped in our landfills or in our water supply. Many of these waste outputs could be used as inputs in other processes and be a potential revenue source. Looking at countries like India, there are massive municipal or make-shift dumps around the country that contain large amount of resources that can go back into the system to provide low costs solutions. Many companies illegally dump their manufacturing waste into the water table and there is no system and infrastructure in place to trade the waste outputs. Environmental, materials, and chemical consulting services, architectural & engineering firms that concentrate in closed loop processes are going to be in high demand as commodity prices increase and could potential make quite a bit of money through waste input/output planning and trading. More Efficient Food Production
The raising of animals for the production of meat consumes significantly more water, land, nutrients, and fossil fuels to produce than vegetables, and as a meat eater, I hate to say it but our days of eating meat on a regular basis are numbered! Producing meat substitutes made of vegetables or artificial meat is going to be a huge market in the next 20 years in order to fill our meat cravings.
Building agricultural systems within areas that normally are not able to sustain agricultural production is going to be essential as arable land disappears through population expansion and demand goes up to produce more food. High rise green houses are being studied and some test projects are under construction but this is a rather new area of expertise so efficiency gains are necessary in order to bring down costs in-line with traditional agricultural production. Production of agriculture in deserts or similar hostile environments is also underway. Research is currently being done for building low cost innovative systems to retain or recycle water and nutrients existing within the growing environment and capturing additional resources from the surrounding usually inhospitable environment.Sewage Treatment
Given the costs of installing piping and infrastructure for sewage treatment, there is an opportunity to develop more localized low cost solutions that treat the sewage at the source and provide possible outputs for agricultural inputs such as fertizer and energy sources for electricity and heat generation through the methane and hydrogen by-products produced from the decomposition of the sewage.Power
Roughly 1.4 billion people
do not have access to electricity. However, given the resource strain with conventional energy resources, it will be in our global best interest to find alternative energy sources for this population that don't add to our existing global pollution and resource base strain. Looking at the geographic locations of the majority of 2nd and 3rd World countries, geothermal, wind, and solar seem to be the logical solutions to produce energy for the local populations as many of these countries don't have the infrastructure to bring in energy inputs such as coal, oil, etc.and they don't have the financial resources to afford the rising costs of these inputs. Providing stable energy solutions that allow these countries to become self reliant will provide a strong base in which they can build their society and economy. The opportunity lies in finding low cost solutions that these developing economies can afford in order to exploit these renewable energy sources and capitalize on this huge potential market.
A huge opportunity exists for producing low cost goods that sip electricity or that have self contained solutions to produce electricity kinetically or through solar so these developing markets can purchase products that we enjoy in places where electricity is spotty or non-existent.
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The wireless field has evolved significantly since my initial experiences in the wireless industry with Voxaura Technologies and Mobile Presence Solutions. The applications we were dreaming up back then are now becoming a reality.Near Field Communications
is a wireless standard that has been developed over the last couple of years that allows a device to send information and another device to receive information or for two devices to exchange information that are within close proximity to each other. The technology can be used within a cell phone to act as a smart wallet to pay for transaction or transmit other information such as drivers license, medical information, memberships, transit pass information etc. It also can act as a catalyst to transmit advertising information for coupons and deals. Trials are being run in multiple fields and we should start seeing mass roll-out within the 2012 cell phone models.
The big concern is security. As many have noticed, many companies that control access to our private information such as Apple, Facebook, and Google have been focused on trying to make money off of our information rather than protecting our privacy. Given that more information will be added to our digital profiles within the corporate realm using this technology, one wonders if we are going to be subject to further violations of our privacy and precarious sharing of our critical information.
Also, with the recent roll-out of microchips in our credit and bank cards that were supposed to provide impenetrable security of our vital financial information, we quickly saw hackers come up with ways to scan that information from those chips without having to make contact with the actual cards- providing an easier way for criminals to obtain our information compared to our traditional credit and bank cards with no microchips. Given that information will be transmitted wirelessly using this technology, one wonders if we are actually making it easier for hackers to obtain our information.
I know personally, I will not be using Near Field for a few years until the technology is well tested in the market as there will most likely be enormous fall-out from the holes that will be in the system and the lack of fiduciary responsibility from those holding our information. Given that there is a growing awareness of the security problems associated with our high tech devices, I do see some great opportunities for apps that will monitor these security holes and detailing who is exploiting them.
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In-line with the mandate of my company NeoTerra Capital, I am always on the search for GREEN technologies and exploring GREEN ideas. I attended a Green Forum last week hosted by my old university, RRU. It got me thinking about what will be the realistic opportunities in GREEN technology and where an entrepreneur can truly make a social, sustainable difference and make a profit at the same time. Observing challenges in society are always a good way to look for new opportunities and the dominant story in the news has been the instability in the Middle East.
Looking at what caused the latest destabilization, the tipping point was the rising costs of essential foods and other daily requirements. The rest of the hardships endured by its citizens had been tolerated up to that point but when it came to essential needs, the people snapped. As we have seen repeatedly, when a country destabilizes, it can have a global affect either through a disruption in the supply of goods or the growth of terrorism/ extremism and usually creates a domino affect. Example- the uprising in Libya resulted in the reduction in supply of oil to the Western World which meant an increase in fuel prices, creating a rise in transportation costs which in turn increased/ will increase the prices on food and other essentials.
Although global trade is becoming more of the norm, in my opinion there are certain goods and services that need to be PRIMARILY produced domestically in a renewable fashion in order to ensure domestic stability and security and ensure no country is truly at the mercy of another in order to eliminate the domino affect, explained above, on essentials.
The top three goods that I feel need to be managed/produced domestically are:
- Clean water
- Essential foods / staple foods
- Non-food crop sustainable energy
Through adversity comes opportunity and I think development of technology and techniques to economically produce these goods in range of climates and other environmental conditions could be extremely lucrative given our continuously growing population and limited global resources.
There is a growing shortage of water in most countries around the World either due to a lack of the resource or because industry and government have been too short sighted and polluted their water table through industrial run-off or other toxic pollution. For coastal regions, desalination technology will be a focus but currently it is rather expensive so not truly economically feasible for most countries. Technological improvements to bring down the cost will be in high demand and a great opportunity for any entrepreneurs and scientists in that area.
As for inland countries- water purification, water/ soil remediation, as well as water from air technologies will be market opportunities. Water purification and water / soil remediation to clean up existing water tables has been around for a while as well but again, cost is an issue so there is definitely a demand for technological innovation to reduce the costs. Water to air technology has seen some breakthroughs in the last couple of years but there has always been a problem with the growth of bacteria and fungus within these systems, creating the need for continuous maintenance to avoid contaminating the water produced. A few companies locally have helped to reduce the problem but if anyone has a sustainable solution, I know a few companies will be interested to hear from you.
Essential Foods/ Staple Foods
With the growing population, meat which requires a large amount of inputs to produce will become more a luxury than a staple due to an increased scarcity of land used for growing livestock, more expensive inputs, due to reduced supply, and more mouths to feed. In order to substitute our need for meat, recipes that product foods that taste like meat or bio-technologies that produce economical artificial meat will be in demand within the next 20 years.
Hydroponics has been a solution for growing tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and other vegetables and fruit with small physical footprints but given the growth in extreme weather, it will be necessary to increase our use of hydroponics for other sources of food, including grains which are staples for most 2nd and 3rd world nations. If areas like the Middle East want to stabilize the prices on their food supply to help reduce political instability, they are going to need to change their deserts into hydroponic oases.
With growing population, land is becoming scarce, so vertical farms (basically high rise hydroponic farms), which historically have been cost prohibitive are now garnering serious scientific study in places like Singapore and China. It won't be long before places like India and Indonesia will be seriously considering the technology as well. Investment in this area is essential and those that come up with economical, proprietary solutions will be highly in demand.
Non- Food Crop Sustainable Energy
Renewable sources of energy are going to become extremely important. However, I don't believe that biofuels from food crops or food crop waste non-edible crops grown on agricultural land will be viable sources given that land to produce food will become extremely valuable and nutrients from the food waste will be necessary to go back into the system to help grow the food.
I have a history with waste to energy (WTE) to dispose of municipal solid waste but am becoming increasingly adverse to the technology as it basically incinerates resources that should be recycled back into the system.
I don't think solar, wind, and wave power are stand alone energy solutions and instead should be used in concert where practical.
I think a very important solution to add to the mix will be sewage to energy. Anaerobic digesters have been used in Europe for a while to convert a large percentage of sewage waste into bio-gas (mostly methane) to be burned for municipal heat or as an input to produce electricity. Currently, most of North America just treats its sewage to remove most of the deadly bacteria, breaks it down into smaller pieces and dumps the output into the lakes, rivers, and oceans. There are a few pilot projects in North America, especially in the area of agricultural (chicken, cow, pig) waste but currently not accepted practice over here. I definitely believe this technology is the future but I am definitely keeping my eyes on the technology that uses bacteria and enzymes to convert sewage waste into hydrogen instead of methane. Simply, igniting methane (very bad greenhouse gas) produces carbon dioxide ( still bad but not as bad greenhouse gas) as a byproduct while igniting hydrogen produces WATER (potentially drinkable water). Given that electric transmission wires are inefficient and lose more energy over greater transmission distances, sewage provides more localized production of energy, reducing those inefficiencies. Sewage to energy also provides a 24/7 energy solution and reduces waste output that traditionally would pollute our environment.
Closed Loop Solutions
Closed loop systems or creating opportunities for waste outputs as potential inputs for other processes is going to be essential to help reduce our global footprint. I have been looking at the above areas of opportunity and brainstorming possibilities to provide cost efficiencies by combining the systems above that may not occur if these facilities were built separately.
I wonder if an economic project could be put together combining a:
- Desalination/ Water Treatment plant
- Hydroponic facility
- Sewage plant
The sewage plant could provide energy for both the desalination/ water treatment plant and the hydroponic facilities. The sewage can potentially provide nutrients to be used to grow hydroponic foods. Although at first thought this sounds gross, we currently use animal waste all the time time to grow our food- this just provides another source which will become of greater importance as the population growth reduces opportunities for the production of meat.
The desalination/ water treatment plant can provide fresh water for the hydroponic facility and grey water for the sewage plant. It could also provide nutrients for the hydroponic facility in the process of desalination.
The biomass waste from the hydroponic farms (either single layer or vertical farms) could be disposed of in the sewage facility for either the production of energy or broken down for the production of nutrients to be put back into the hydroponic facility.
In addition to sewage power, the hydroponic farms could be powered by solar and wind and potential wave/ current technology from the body of water the facilities are situated near.
Combining the resources of these facilities is nothing new as NASA has been working on this closed loop challenge in order to undertake long space missions to other planetary bodies. I think NASA would be a good source to collaborate with in order to obtain the answers for an economical system that could be used in the future.
If we fail to answer these opportunities, I think the World will slowly destabilize over the next twenty years with more and more failed governments and increase in extremism to wreak havoc and disrupt the rest of the World. Not only is it an opportunity but a necessity for our global well-being.
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When we were first developing our ISP, Internet Express, back in 1994, we had a heck of a time trying to convince people that there was a future with the web, now the World can't see a future without it.
The Internet has brought the human species closer together in many respects. Information is available at our finger tips and we are able to share ideas with people around the World. We have the potential to be well informed and educate ourselves to be better citizens of this World to help build society.
Can the same be done for robots? Funny question but there are scientists actually looking at creating an INTERNET
for robots. I would imagine it would be more like a P2P file sharing network but the creators are basically looking at a way to connect robots to a network so programmers and the robots themselves can share ideas and access programs to enhance the performance and interaction of robots.
I would imagine this would enable an open source movement to flourish for the evolution of robots but at the same time I am sure pay apps could be developed for specific functions. As robots become more part of our lives with companies like iROBOT
offering low cost consumer robot appliances, there may be a whole new industry for app developers, similar to what we have been seeing in the mobile world.
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I do a couple of hours of scientific and industry research a day to find business opportunities for my companies NeoTerra Capital and Sunfire Ventures. I recently came across a very interesting video on TED that summed up a fundamental ideology that science is progressively undertaking in order to come up with our next generation technological advances.
As described by Michael Pawlyn in this TED video
, nature has had an R&D program for 3.8 billion years, working on many of the technological challenges that we currently are trying to overcome. We might as well learn from nature and its accomplishments to help us on our technological journey! Biomimicry
studies the design and application of materials and systems within nature to help evolve our technology and solve problems that plague our society. This is a growing field and many scientists and organizations are actively looking at nature to try to use our finite resources more effectively.
Nature has developed a way to maintain balance
. There is is constant recycling of resources within natural closed loop systems (ecosystems), creating an interdependence between various organisms- one organism's outputs are another organism's inputs. Many organizations, especially in manufacturing tend to see byproduct outputs as disposable instead of creating ecosystems to generate additional revenue and reduce waste. There are a few scientists out there that are wanting to change that. An example- the largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions other than fossil fuel consumption from power plants and vehicles is cement production- a company called Celera
is taking a lesson from how coral grows to combine the flu gas from coal/ fossil fuel plants and mineral-rich seawater to form cement and as a bi-product, actually sequester CO2 in the process, reducing the green house gas footprint of power plants and cement production. So Celera is taking two independent systems that create an abundant amount of CO2 and combining the systems together making them interdependent and reducing CO2 in the process.
Nature stands to propel us into the next millennium in the are of design and construction. Insects are often overlooked and considered a primitive form of life but their societies are very organized and sophisticated and most have created skills to efficiently use their resources and in the process maintain a minimum footprint on their surroundings. The housing structures that termites, ants, bees, wasps and other colony type insects have created are far more effective systems than anything humans have created. Architects are now learning from these species to create advanced building, design, infrastructure and materials, waste recycling systems, and climate control systems. On other fronts, bacteria is being analysed to create glue
that can shore up cracks in cement, helping to increase the longevity and safety of our buildings.
Renewable energy and water scarcity are two large challenges for our growing population this century. Our insect friends, specifically the shells of beetles are teaching scientists how to efficiently collect water from the atmosphere and create more cost and energy effective solar cells
Nature in the ocean is equally amazing. The study of the adhesive that allows muscles
to stick to rocks has provided potential breakthroughs for medicine and waterproofing. Calcite
, an abundant crystalline form of calcium carbonate that forms naturally as one of the main ingredients of seashells is providing insight to create visible spectrum cloaking technologies that not only will be able to hide objects but also assist in providing better scanning technologies.
Our home electronics are even seeing advancement with the help of nature. Flies and other insects that have sophisticated compound eyes are helping us develop advanced lenses
for cameras that can see in winder angels and spectrum and allow for greater manipulation of images. Study of woodpeckers
is providing inspiration for shock-proofing our electronics.
This article mentions only a few of the applications that are being developed using biomimicry to help improve our society for future generations. If you want to check out more examples, there is an organized effort now to provide inspiration for using lessons from nature for technological design. Sites like Ask Nature
are being designed to collect and share findings and ideas from nature so we can collectively improve our infrastructure, processes, and products we use in society.
One can only hope that we as a species become enlightened as to how interdependent everything is in nature and that we fit within that ecosystem despite our arrogant thinking to the contrary. We have an incredible amount to gain from learning and respecting nature and lose from its destruction.
Image Credit: Oliver Foster and the Economist
Through my companies Sunfire Ventures and NeoTerra Capital, I am always looking for innovative ideas that will help solve global challenges.
Food prices have been rising due to: increases in population, reduction in arable lands within many countries, and extreme weather causing the destruction of crops. Another reason is the growth of middle and upper classes in 2nd and 3rd world countries, allowing them to consumer a wider variety and larger quantity of food.The strain on food supplies creates a strain on social stability
as we are seeing in India and some parts of the Middle East. In order to move forward, countries are needing to find new and economic ways to feed their people in order to remain intact.
One idea that has been studied is vertical farming
. Vertical farms are basically high rise greenhouses that allow for farming in urban environments. Given that the farms are indoors, the structures allow farmers to have greater control over the environmental conditions that their crops are exposed to, theoretically reducing the chance of crop damage. Also, given that vertical farms do not take up as much horizontal space as traditional farms, the vertical farms can be integrated countries where arable land is not abundant and positioned in urban settings, providing a shorter distance to the target consumers, thereby reducing transportation and storage costs, providing a fresher product selection for consumers, and reducing foreign reliance- reducing risk of volatile food pricing.
Vertical farming is an unproven concept but has been getting increased attention. There are many variables that need to be proven including whether or not: the operating costs will be in‐line with food prices; growers can truly manipulate the multi‐floor, in‐door environments to suit the unique conditions necessary to grow multiple types of crops; and growers can control pests and disease. A few low cost prototypes
have been built but no sophisticated
vertical farms have been erected to date to begin proving the concept due to the substantial upfront infrastructure development costs.
The most likely places that will start experimenting with this concept will be places such as China, Singapore, and India given their population size and density, their urban mobilization, and the fact that their arable land is growing scarce. Many cities around the World are waiting for someone to take the first step to prove the concept and if shown to be a valid design, we should start seeing vertical farms constructed in many urban centers.
Image Credit: Tech-Clarity.com
Wearing my Sunfire Ventures hat, I am always looking for new innovative solutions that have huge market potential. 3-D printing is one of those areas that I think will significantly change how we manufacture in the future, opening up many possibilities for flexible design and increased cost and material savings.
Ink Jet printers ushered in the age of affordable color printing back in the 90s but the development of the ink jet technology has not stopped there. Ink jet technology is being used in the process of manufacturing many components, especially within LCD and OLED technology. Expanding on the ink jet technology, companies have developed 3-D printing for creating prototypes
of products and creating composites and molds for components. Polymers have primarily been used but now there has been expansion into other materials like metals
and there is even a quest to use organics to print food
There is growing interest in this technology for use in wider applications and everyday use as it streamlines many processes. One can send over a design for a product to a client and the client can print it out on its 3-D printer
. One could shop on line for toy designs
and print them out on the home 3-D printer. There is even potential for mass manufacturing of full scale products the size of cars
using this technology.
The medical applications
for this technology are amazing. Already, this technology is being used to make made for order prosthetics
and prototype equipment has already been made for producing replacement joints and even organs
The costs are rather high for home consumer applications at this time but the costs are going down
. From a business perspective, especially for prototyping, the cost is reasonable for the current generation of 3-D printers. Traditionally, a company would have to retool a factory floor or several floors in order to produce components for a product and assemble those components into the end product, costing quite a bit of time and money but 3-D printing reduces the time and money for set-up and potentially production thereby reducing the upfront costs and the number of units to break-even.
This technology is rather young but is already showing huge potential. It should be extremely interesting how far this technology will develop.
Image Credit: http://dragonsmakeigneousrocks.blogspot.com
I came across an interesting article this morning while conducting my industry and scientific research for my companies NeoTerra Capital and Sunfire Ventures...
Remember a few months ago we were seeing articles
on how graphene was the material to succeed silicon and other commonly used materials in electronics, battery storage, displays etc.? A Nobel prize was even given out to the scientists who discovered how to feasibly harness the material for applications. Well, looks like there is a new kid on the block and its name is molybdenite and it may be orders of magnitude more impressive.
In an article
in PopSci, the author describes the findings by a team from EPFL’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures on how this ABUNDANT
material could possibly trump silicon and graphene.
Molybdenite has very similar properties to graphene, including its 2-D structure but its physical make-up allows better control over its electrical properties for electronics applications. I am guessing that applications using molybdenite will be able to hold their charge better and avoid electron jumping, reducing errors in processing.
In relation to silicon, electrons can move around as freely in a 0.65-nanometer-thick sheet of molybdenite as they can in a 2-nanometer-thick layer of silicon, as a result, roughly one third the space is required to accomplish roughly similar results. Given that Intel and others are fabricating silicon microchips at 32- nanometers, you can see the impending dilemma. Already there have been problems with heat generation through friction at the current scale. As the chips get smaller using the current materials, the resistance problem is only going to get worse, increasing heat, errors and system failure.
When I read the above advantages over graphene and silicon, I immediately thought of the advantages for battery tech. Three drawbacks with current materials used in batteries are energy loss, resistance and heat. Graphene is being heralded as a breakthrough for battery tech for less resistance and the ability to help electrons move and store more efficiently and longer so I can imagine that molybdenite will be able to do a better job allowing for faster charging batteries that hold more charge with less loss, for longer periods of time.
Another theoretical advantage that molybdenite has over silicon is it possesses an ideal “gap” for turning transistors on and off allowing for roughly a 100,000 times less energy to be consumed than its silicon counterpart with significantly less heat generated.
Microchips that consumer less energy means more battery life. Less heat being generated means a reduced need for internal fans to keep out computer systems cool therefore smaller, lighter systems with even longer battery life. Given that molybdenite has a 2-D structure like graphene means that we will be seeing translucent / transparent flexible circuitry applications such as transparent fold able displays and systems.
It would be interesting to find out how molybdenite can advance solid state memory technology. I will definitely be keeping my eyes on the advances in the research and applications into molybdenite! Very interesting times ahead in the electronics field!
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China is continuously criticized by Western powers for the lack of environmental action to combat their increasing pollution. However, I think China will be one of the leaders in GREEN living and technologies within the next decade.
Having visited China on business several times and traveled through many parts of the country for my companies NeoTerra Capital, Signet Holdings, and Sunfire Ventures, my eyes have been opened to the massive changes going on over there. China is trying to urbanize as many of their 1.3 billion + people as they can, create a domestic and export economy, and raise their standard of living to something comparable to the West. Obviously this is no easy task and China is going through incredible growing pains having to carefully balance between economic expansion, infrastructure expansion, population displacement, employment, and environmental issues with the overall goal of minimizing social unrest during the countries evolution.
If one listens to the Western media and Western leaders, one would think China is doing nothing to clean-up their environment. Although the environmental problems are getting worse through their relentless, fast paced march to modernization, China is making incredible strides to try to reverse the environmental damage that this march has created. In my opinion, there are four challenges that China is having to deal with when it comes to their environmental efforts- 1) old out of date power and industrial infrastructure, 2) drastically increasing power requirements to deal with the increase in living standards and commercial endeavorers, 3) the dramatic increase in purchases of automobiles by the consumer base, and 4) corruption.
It is generally reported in the West that China is opening up a large number of coal facilities. What is not widely known is that China is closing down many of its dirtiest
coal power plants. What makes it more interesting is the plants that they are closing down are using the same technology that the US is currently using in their operating coal power plants. So many of the coal plants that are going on-line in China are cleaner than most of the plants in the US.
As mentioned in President Obama's 2011 State of the Union Address, China is the number one producer of photovoltaic solar cells in the World. It is also the largest producer of wind turbines in the World. Not only that but it is the largest consumer
of solar and wind power in the World. China is on the path to increase installed capacity
of solar power generation to 20,000 MW by 2020 with several mega-projects located across China and has many large scale wind projects on the go, all in the attempt to reduce its reliance on coal.
China is now the leader in domestic car
sales in the World with 13.3 million cars sold in 2010 alone. Obviously the amount of pollution given off by the exhaust of these vehicles is a booming problem for China. Also, given that it does not produce its own oil, it has to import all of its oil, making it vulnerable to international influences. To assume control over this resource problem, China is putting a large amount of financial
and technical resources and exerting pressure on automakers
to ensure that cars driven in China will be EVs, sooner rather than later.
China is also investing
a significant amount of money into clean public transportation
infrastructure, including high speed rail between cities, subways, light-rail, trolleybuses, and eco-friendly buses to make it more attractive for Chinese citizens to take public transit than to drive cars.
Given the pace of growth and the size of the country, corruption has become a big problem in China. The policies enacted by the Central Government aren't necessarily enacted by the regional governments especially as regional government officials get bribed to look the other way. The checks and balances aren't necessarily in place to oversee the implementation and on-going enforcement of environmental regulations on the industrial sector so there are many parts of China that are suffering, especially when it comes to industrial air and water pollution. Water tables are being poisoned, food crops are being contaminated, and people are getting sick and dieing as a result. China has been cracking down
on many of these factories and arresting and convicting many corrupt government officials but it would be a lie to say that the problem has been solved. Looking in our own back yard though, we can be easily accused of the same issues, with the contamination of the Great Lakes, the water tables and land surrounding where the oil sands are being mined, our plastic and toxic waste contaminated oceans. I think part of the reason that our Western governments are pointing a finger at China is to drive attention away from the lack of action by them.
Although China has been a big contributor to the global problem, on a per person basis, China is still a relatively small polluter in comparison to the Western countries. The pollution in the air is evident within most of China and the Chinese government officials breath the same air and eat the same food as their people and also are wanting to avoid massive social unrest to reduce the chance of being toppled so are motivated to seek alternative solutions to bring about environmental harmony in their country.