Five years ago, Marc Andreessen famously wrote that “software is eating the world” in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. It’s hard to argue with the observation as we’ve continued to see the proliferation of big software-driven disruptions in diverse industries ranging from transportation (e.g. Lyft, Uber, etc.) to media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to insurance (e.g. Epic Systems, Zenefits, etc.).

Autonomous driving is no exception. The two largest companies in the world today by market cap, Apple and Alphabet (Google), are both primarily software companies and both of them are working on ushering in a new era of self-driving mobility. Combined with Tesla, Uber, and many of the automotive OEMs, a whole lot of people are working hard to optimize the algorithms and control software to improve safety, widen the acceptable operating conditions, and make better/faster actionable observations from the plethora of data from autonomous vehicle’s suite of sensors. However, all of this relies on the information gathered from the sensors themselves. Therefore, there’s a fundamental limitation to what software innovation can do alone. Improvements to the hardware are crucial to the advancement of self-driving cars and advanced materials play a fundamental role in hardware innovation. It’s all built up from advanced materials (and, lest we forget, by advanced materials as Purnesh’s previous blog touches on).

Metamaterials Blog (with Meta Title)

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Below you will find the prognostications I was able to record from an advanced materials venture capitalist whom I know well. I’m afraid that some of the knowledge gained from our dialogues has been lost to antiquity and general forgetfulness, but I have placed what remains here on this digital repository for blogs written by advanced materials venture capitalists:

MEMS are Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems and they are an enabling technology for so many of the devices we interact with everyday. While their near ubiquity may come as a surprise to some, their economic impact should not be understated. MEMS and the components or products they empower fuel markets in the tens of billions of dollars per year. Recently, Knowles Corporation announced that they’ve shipped eight billion MEMS microphones globally. Think about that for a minute – That’s more microphones than people living today. And that’s just one MEMS supplier and one of the myriad applications of MEMS…

NASA in Your Pocket

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For half a century, Moore's Law has charted semiconductor development with incredible accuracy. In 1965, Gordon Moore quantified the scaling principle for semiconductors by predicting that the number of transistors that can be etched on a computer chip would double every one year. He revised it to every two years in 1975. His initial belief was that this would hold for a decade. But five decades later, Moore's Law has held up surprisingly well. However, there is now a belief among many semiconductor engineers and scientists that we will hit a miniaturization wall unless there are major breakthroughs in advanced materials innovation.

Bottoms Up to Compound Semiconductors

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Silicon has served us well over the last 55 years since the first integrated circuit was invented at Texas Instruments. Today, the symphony of chemistry, physics and engineering required to orchestrate the production of 22nm node chips in the latest Intel or TSMC fabs represents the pinnacle of 21st century technology. As great as Silicon may be as the driver of today's digital world, for many applications its properties make it a terrible semiconductor choice. For example, its electron bandgap is not compatible with light emission for LEDs, while its electrical and thermal properties make it an extremely inefficient choice for power electronics. Fortunately, the periodic table has come to the rescue with a vast array of compound semiconductors waiting to fill the gap.