The Power of Nanoelectronics – from Connecting to Improving Lives

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Driven by the global sustainable energy challenge and the technological evolutions in connected integrated sensor systems, the way we are generating and consuming energy is changing towards a smart energy system, the internet of power. What started with smart meters at home, which are currently experiencing a major market breakthrough, will evolve the coming years to a true smart energy system that implements not only energy savings in homes and commercial buildings, but integrates distributed energy generation based on renewable energy sources. An energy system that requires integrated intelligence to guarantee the balance between consumption and generation.

And also in the consumer electronics industry, we see many opportunities arising from integrating sensors in systems. The major trend in this market is wearable.

Startups, but also established system companies, come up with inventive and surprising ways to augment the human body with sensors and displays. Fitness devices make up the vast majority of the wearable technology market at the moment. In the consumer electronics, it’s all about more sensors, more data resolution, more functionality and more integration.

No doubt, the opportunity in wearable technology is large. Supported by the wearable trend in the consumer electronics market, with the massive introduction of fitness monitoring systems that readily communicate with health apps, I see many opportunities how wearable sensor technologies are one of the answers to deal with the rising healthcare costs. Today’s fitness gadgets are only a tip of the iceberg. There is much more to be expected, the internet of healthy things.

Nanoelectronics can bring disruptive innovation in healthcare. Disruptive innovation which is essential to create a sustainable healthcare system. Disruptive innovation which will break the traditional circle from a curing healthcare system to a more predictive and even preventive healthcare system.

Medical quality real-time monitoring systems could not only help you in keeping you healthy but they could revolutionize the treatment of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. Diagnosed patients wouldn’t need to visit the hospital as often or for as long, while healthy people in high risk groups could benefit from unobtrusive systems that provide early warning of a condition developing.

Nanoelectronics, enabling miniaturization and integration, has the potential to shift the boundaries in medical diagnostics and tests. Imagine a silicon chip that can diagnose multiple diseases, that integrates multiple lab tests, for under 10 US-Dollar. Results are received in less than 10 minutes. It would bring multiple diagnostic and lab tests available, easy-to-use for anyone anywhere in the world. Such a lab on chip could also be a game-changer in drug discovery.

Imagine silicon chips that read single molecules of DNA in a massively parallel way with minimal preparatory steps. With these chips, DNA sequencing can become a routine diagnostic test. Or powerful chips that can image millions of cells per second at the microscopic level to hunt for rare but hugely important cells such as circulating tumor cells.

Thanks to the integration power of nanoelectronics, we can develop very powerful instrumentation at the lowest possible cost. Instrumentation that will facilitate both discovery in the lab and routine diagnostics anywhere and anytime.

To achieve breakthroughs in all these new application domains it is essential to find creative business models that can support such innovations. Real breakthroughs will occur only by bringing together the key players; and more and more we have to bring together key players from different industries since innovation and growth will come from connecting the unconnected. Innovation will come from bringing the advantages of scaling, miniaturization and integration to non-electronics markets. Innovation will come from imagining the power of our semiconductor technology way beyond our traditional borders.

* Luc Van den hove is president and CEO imec, Belgium