After the hype, confusion, and then bust of the potential room-temperature superconductor LK-99 over the summer we are now able to look back and take stock of the situation. Firstly, it is clear that a true room-temperature superconductor would be a game-changer and this article describes some of the impact such a material would have in science with the most promising applications being in quantum computing and Fusion power. Meanwhile, this article does a great job at describing what exactly LK-99 was!
Signals From The Frontier
Covering Deep Tech signals that indicate the future may be different from the present:
- Progress in fusion power seems to be accelerating in recent months with the Fusion Industry Association (FIA) claiming that total private investment into fusion power has now surpassed $6Bn and most industry insiders now believing that commercially viable Fusion power will be possible in the 2030s:
Image taken from the FIAs Fusion Industry 2023 report in which 40 Fusion companies were asked there opinions. Ref: https://www.fusionindustryassociation.org/fusion-industry-reports
- Some recent fusion breakthroughs:
- Germany has increased its planned investment in fusion research by €370M to a total of than €1Bn by 2028. The funds will be used to support and strengthen ongoing research activities at the Institute for Plasma Physics, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the Research Center Jülich (FZJ). This comes of the back of a position paper released in June by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) which forms the basis of the funding. The programme supports both magnetic and laser fusion approaches and is designed to create a “fusion ecosystem with industry so that a fusion plant in Germany becomes a reality as quickly as possible.”
- Whilst the UK has agreed to rejoin EU Horizon program it seems that it may not be joining Euratom it is promising to provide “up to” £650M in funding for fusion research by 2027. Meanwhile, Intel and Dell have announced a collaboration with the UK Atomic Energy Authority and Cambridge Open Zettascale Lab to build a digital twin of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) prototype with the aim of streamlining the development of commercially viable fusion by 2040.
- Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and Kyoto Fusioneering have announced a Strategic Alliance Agreement that builds on their previously signed MoU. The agreement focuses on the supply of the tritium fuel used in fusion reactors.
- Whilst in Australia, the University of New South Wales has announced that it will be building its own Tokamak machine as part of its innovative Vertically Integrated Projects program. The device is expected to be operational in a few years and will provide students with a unique experience to design, build and manage a fusion reactor.
- A recent paper argues that “privacy pools” could be used to enhance users privacy whilst also preventing dishonest users from using the protocol. The privacy pool utilizes zero-knowledge proofs and user incentives to mix honest transactions together to provide privacy whilst still being able to isolate criminal activity.
- Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed an origami-inspired design for a sensor that could provide much better control over soft robotics undergoing large deformations.
- The race is on to build the world’s first large ammonia ships with Hyundai announcing the order of up to four very large ammonia carriers in a contract valued at $463M. Two of the vessels will be delivered directly to EPS and the other two will be delivered to Capital Gas Ship Management. Meanwhile, EPS also signed a contract with Jiangnan Shipyard for two more liquid-ammonia carriers. This comes as doubts are raised about the feasibility of Methanol as a future marine fuel despite recent popularity.
- Water consumption at Microsoft increased by 34% from 2021 to 2022 whilst Google reported a 20% increase over the same period? What’s driving the increase in demand? AI, of course! With most of the water use being needed to cool the massive data centres used to train and run foundational models like ChatGPT. Indeed Shaolei Ren, a researcher at the University of California, has estimated that ChatGPT uses between 10 and 100 ml of water (depending on the season and the server location) everytime you ask it a query.
- Panasonic has revealed power generating glass that uses perovskite solar cells whilst only at testing stage at the moment it is a great potential use case to clad office buildings with.
Articles covering emerging technologies in more depth:
- One of my students was asking my this week about my thoughts on the future of textiles so it was great to read this article on the technological innovations taking place in the garment industry.
- In these days of ever increasing ML model size, this article does a good job at explaining knowledge distillation – a technique used to train models that still perform well on their use case but are smaller and faster to run.
- April was the 20th anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project a massive 13 year undertaking to generate the first sequence of the human genome. Researchers from 20 different countries contributed to the research but the video below is from the virtual reunion of the G5 leaders (a group of leading genome sequencing centres that were united in their goal of achieving a freely available sequence. with the remarkable progress in the field over the last 20 years the record for sequencing a human genome is now down below 6 hours.
- As concern for climate change grows and geoengineering as a potential technical solutions is now being evaluated as a viable solution, the Center for International Environmental Law has released a summary of recent reports and expert statements on the potential impacts and regulatory responses to geoengineering.
- NVIDIA, TSMC, Intel, IBM, Huaweii, Cisco, NTT, and IMEC are all looking to silicon photonics as a means to boost performance of their chips. The combination of silicon chips with optical technology has the potential to improve both energy efficiency and computational power. The global silicon photonics market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25.7% from $1.3 Bn in 2022 to $7.9 Bn by 2030. But there are many challenges to overcome to go from lab to fab, including:
- Automated and accurate fibre/optical alignment
- Power limitations
- Packaging and integration
- Polarisation control
- RF signal integrity
- Manufacturing quality
- According to a survey of 800 senior business leaders by the digital transformation consultancy Kin + Carta 94% admit to “tech anxiety” within their organisation’s executive teams . The greatest causes of anxiety are cybersecurity, AI and a lack of skills.
- My holiday reading this summer was Snow Crash. The book made famous for introducing the term “Metaverse”. I enjoyed the book but was surprised by how little the metaverse actually featured in the story. A book that goes further into exploring what life could potentially be like with a real metaverse is Ready Player One. The metaverse has yet to live up to the hype partly inspired by these two books and Meta seems to be shifting away from consumer applications to work applications a move foreshadowed by a recent Nokia and EY study. But generative AI will eventually be able to create the realistic and dynamic virtual worlds that will be required to make the metaverse viable. This article explores how AI can be used to create new opportunities for value creation and improve user engagement whilst this article explores how the metaverse can expand the space for human connections and foster social interactions across geographical and cultural boundaries.. Meanwhile, this is an interesting interview with Cao Fei and LuYang, contemporary artists who are pushing the boundaries and exploring how the Metaverse is influencing the world of art.
- Over the last 30 years the US has gone from producing 37% of global microchips to around 12%. At the same time these chips have become a critical part for many products from cell phones, to cars and F-35 fighter jets. Aware of increasing dependency on overseas supply chains, DARPA launched its Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI) in 2017 designed to invest over $1.5 Bn in semiconductor R&D over a five year period. With geopolitical concerns only growing, DARPA launched ERI 2.0 last year, promising another $3 bn in investment over the next five years. This is in addition, to the $52 Bn Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) act. But as they say, Strategy never happens in a vacuum and China has recently announced a $40Bn state fund to boost its own chip industry.
- With renewables being intermittent it is imperative that we develop more and new energy storage technologies. This article from the WEF explores how battery energy storage can help us reach net zero.
- Nanoparticles are already changing the world with the mRNA covid vaccines, zinc and titanium oxides used in sunscreens and the carbon fibers used in airplanes and high end bicycles all benefiting from engineered nanoparticles. Nanoparticles hold out great promise for the future for treating many diseases, from cancer, to dementia and even correcting vision, because they can slip through cell membranes and the brain-blood barrier. But this same ability also makes their use a potential health and ethics concern.
And finally, more of a listen than a read but a recent episode of Bloomberg Switched On podcast explores Ammonia as a potential fuel for the future.
A round up of deep tech deals and investments:
- The US DoE is providing $3M in funding to a team of researchers and computer scientists from the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics and Hewlett Packard Enterprise in order to explore how machine learning can be used to improve laser-fusion implosions. If successful, the research should help scientists understand why laser-driven inertial confinement fusion has so far generated less energy than simulations predicted.
- Socket has raised $5M from Framework Venture Funds and Coinbase Ventures. The Socket protocol helps developers easily connect different blockchains together for safe and secure transfer of data and assets.
- Rockwell Automation has announced the acquisition of Clearpath Robotics. Canada based Clearpath develop Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) for manufacturing and logistics applications. This comes off the back of a number of AMR-related acquisitions (such as Jungheinrich acquiring Magazino in August, and Softback acquiring a 41.8% stake in Balyo for about $12.9M in June as well as Rockwell’s previous strategic investment in Ready Robotics) in a market that is growing fast at around 30% per year over the next five years and expected to be worth $6.2Bn in 2027.
- Intelligent automation and robotics company Mujin has raised $85M in series C funding led by SBI Investments and with participation from Pegasus Tech Ventures, 7 Industries, Accenture and Dr James Kuffner.
- Verge Genomics has signed a four year agreement to work with AztraZeneca’s rare disease wing Alexion to find new targets for rare neurodegnerative diseases. The agreement includes $42M upfront along with a potential $840M in milestone and royalty payments.
- Intel Ignite deep tech accelerator is a 12-week no fee program that gives its cohort of 10 companies access to a funding pool of $7.6M. The first cohort has just been launched in the UK and includes the following deep tech startups:
- Apoha: sensory intelligence to anchor machines into physical reality.
- Circuit Mind: electronics design assistant for engineering teams.
- Crypto Quantique: chip-to-cloud system to manage and secure IoT devices in a single platform.
- Fianchetto: light-speed photonic processors for faster and more sustainable computing.
- Ivy: unifying all AI frameworks, hardware, and infrastructure with one line of code.
- LGN: edge AI management software for businesses.
- Lumai: scalable and ultra fast 3D optical interference processor.
- Skippr: AI-generated product design.
- Vaultree: fully-functional data-in-use encryption.
- VyperCore: acceleration and protection of computer-intensive applications via novel microprocessor design.
- Mindgard, a spin-out from Lancaster University that is developing a fully integrated platform for managing the security of AI models, has announced a £3M seed funding round by IQ Capital and Lakestar.
- BlueWhale Bio, a spinout from the University of Pennsylvania, emerged from stealth mode last week with the announcement it had raised $18M in seed financing. Bluewhale will use the funding to address bottlenecks in the cell and gene therapy manufacturing process.
- Axithra, a spinout from IMEC and Ghent University has raised a €10M seed round in order to develop a chip-based Raman Spectroscopy platform to monitor drug concentrations in blood. The round was co-led by imec.xpand and Kurma partners, with support from Qbic, Noshaq, White Fund, Wallonie Entreprendre, Hamamatsu Photonics and Werfen Diagnostics.
- Strathclyde University spinout Microplate Dx has closed a £2.5M funding round to develop its diagnostic platform for rapid antibiotic susceptibility testing, enabling more efficient prescription of antibiotics.
- Orange Quantum Systems has raised €1.5M to develop its quantum chip testing technology. Founded in Holland in 2020 as a spinout from TNO, the company currently has 17 employees and has already launched a complete room temperature equipment stack for automated quantum chip testing.
- Eutelsat Communications has announced that it will become a new subscriber to Karista’s Spacetech fund. The fund backs early stage European spacetech startups with seed and series A investments of between €1 and €5M. In the two years that the fund has been active, Karista has invested in seven companies:
- Miratlas: Offers unique solutions to ensure continuous and secure optical links between Earth and Space.
- Leanspace: Ground segment “platform-as-a-service” for digitizing the lifecycle of space missions via the cloud.
- Cysec: A provider of confidential computing solutions to secure applications containing highly sensitive data in areas such as space, critical infrastructure, edge applications, healthcare and defence.
- Heex Technologies: Platform for managing data in embedded systems in real time, enabling the transition from Big Data to Smart Data.
- Bfore.Ai: A developer of predictive cybersecurity solutions, identifying cyberattacks before they occur, using AI technology and behavioral analysis.
- Look Up Space: Develops a global, radar-based solution for permanent, real-time, reliable space surveillance and provides space security data and services.
- ConstellR: ConstellR’s proprietary space infrastructure paves the way for precise physical measurement of the Earth’s resources to assess vegetation and soil health at an unprecedented level.
- Meanwhile, India based spacetech startup Manastu Space has raised $3M in a pre-series A round led by Capital 2B, BIG Capital and E2MC. Manatsu Space was founded in 2017 and is focused on creating green propulsion systems and collision avoidance systems for satellites.
- Accenture has announced an investment in Open Cosmos in order to provide Accenture with access to high-quality satellite data and global insights via a data services platform. Open Cosmos is the latest company to join Accenture Ventures Project Spotlight which has previously invested in Pixxel, Planet and SpiderOak.
- Alternative protein company Eat Just, has closed a new funding round led by VegInvest and Ahimsa Foundation. Eat Just will use the funding to improve the quality and profitability of its plant based eggs and cultured meats.
- Voxel AI has raised $12M for its technology that integrates computer vision and AI into existing security cameras to improve workplace safety. The funding round was led by Rite-Hite with participation from Eclipse Ventures, World Innovation Lab and MTEch.
- World Fund has raised over €50M for its Climatech fund had participation from KfW Capital and Ignitis Group. However, whilst this sounds like good news in a recent environment of declining climatech funding, World Fund in a recent white paper has said that funding volumes need to rapidly increase per at least $4.35T annually by 2030 in order to meet climate targets.
Cronos Labs has opened up applications for its third cohort to its $100M accelerator program focused on early stage teams building at the intersection of AI and Crypto. The program runs for remotely for 12 weeks twice a year with 6-8 startups in each cohort. Apply here before the end of October.
Missed from our last monthly review of upcoming events last week was: