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Technology Winners and Losers for 2010

Technology Winners and Losers for 2010

Courtesy of The Shocked Investor

As an IEEE member, this is an issue I receive eagerly annually. The IEEE has issued its list of technology winners and losers for 2010:

(please click to enlarge)

Here are summaries of the winner and losers.


1. Google Chrome

The Chrome suite looks an awful lot like a dagger aimed straight at Microsoft’s heart. Who needs 500-gigabyte hard drives and a 6-megabyte L2 cache when lots of input ports and a fast wireless connection will do? That’s the rhetorical question that has lately prompted the meteoric rise of the netbook, a bare-bones laptop that gets most of its muscle from online services. Google, in Mountain View, Calif., is the first software company to truly capitalize on the promise of these machines: to allow casual users to live entirely in the cloud, without realizing they’re there.

Chrome OS has no built-in applications—no iCal, no Outlook, no TextEdit, no Word. You just turn on your netbook and you’re on the Web, in what we now call the cloud, where all your stuff lives: all your photos on Flickr, a long trail of your daily foibles and frustrations on Twitter, your purchasing history on PayPal, your prolix unpublished novel on LiveJournal, your music collection on Rhapsody, and the stuff that might be a little embarrassing if your coworkers came across it on Facebook. In fact, cloud computing is what makes Google’s strategy possible.

2. Russian Railways and IBM

The backbone of the Russian Federation is its railways. With 85,500 kilometers of track and 664,600 railcars transporting people and goods across 11 time zones, Russian Railways is practically a force of nature.

Russian Railways has struck a technical partnership with IBM. With IBM’s help, the railway is at last overhauling the hardware, software, and communications architecture that underpin its operations. The overhaul will centralize the management of data into new computing hubs, restructure the collection of information on the railroad’s field operations, and integrate new automation software to help the railway strategize how to deploy its assets. When the redesign is completed in 2014, the company will do business in a fundamentally new way.

3. Pixel Qi’s Everywhere Display

The picture quality is fine, if nothing special. But then you push a small white button at the side of the display, and it does something I’ve never seen before: The backlight disappears, and the image turns black and white, remaining visible thanks to the overhead lights in the room. I hold up an Amazon Kindle by way of comparison. Both displays have the same crisp grayscale text I’ve come to expect from e-paper.

It seems that at last we have a screen that gives you what you want, when you want it. If you need to extend your battery’s charge or work outside, you can have perfectly good black-and-white text. If power and sunlight are not a problem, you can watch a full-color movie. It could be the most versatile display ever made, and it comes from Pixel Qi Corp., Jepsen’s company in San Bruno, Calif.

4. Intrinsity’s More Cerebral Cortex

When Samsung boasted at a Taipei industry conference that it could make smartphone chips with PC-like performance, a company in Austin, Texas, took an offstage bow.

It was Intrinsity, a small chip designer, that had made the South Korean silicon giant’s claims possible. It had taken the 650-megahertz ARM Cortex-A8—a CPU designed for smartphones, licensed to Samsung by ARM Holdings—and hot-rodded it into a 1-gigahertz processor dubbed Hummingbird. The result could, with Samsung’s backing, power an impressive portion of the next generation of must-have mobile devices. Some even speculate that Apple itself will put Hummingbird in a coming upgrade to its iPhone. It’s all happening very quickly for a start-up that still shares office space with a local magazine and a dentist.

5. NanoGaN’s Crystal Method for Cheaper Lasers

NanoGan, a spin-out from the electrical engineering department of the University of Bath, in England, can make gallium nitride substrates of high quality—and what’s more, it can recycle them, saving scarce and costly gallium.


1. Grassoline, Cellulosic Ethanol

Of all the possible biofuel crops that can be grown in the United States, perhaps the most attractive is Panicum virgatum, otherwise known as switchgrass. A hardy perennial native to North America, it needs little fertilizer and water, and pests don’t seem to like it much. So it holds out the shimmering promise of one day producing vast quantities of fuel in ”carbon neutral” fashion, absorbing as much carbon dioxide in growth as it releases when burned.

Will it be possible to transform the half billion or so cars and trucks in the United States so that they can use more homegrown ethanol and less gasoline? Even Estes sees that hurdle. ”That’s one of the big issues—creating the market,” she says.

But even if a market does emerge and DDCE’s production process proves highly profitable, this technology can’t be considered a winner. Why? Because it will fail to satisfy the main premise for adopting it in the first place: to benefit the environment.

2. GM Volt

GM, stung by the failure of its EV1 all-electric car of yesteryear, has put its considerable corporate muscle into the Volt, building the car into a game-changing breakthrough. But to succeed on those terms, it’ll have to become a mass-market car—anything less wouldn’t make enough of a difference to a company that, even in its postbankrupt state, still remains the second-biggest automaker in the world. And at a projected price of US $40 000, cosmic success just isn’t going to happen

3. Airport security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which operates airport security checkpoints in the United States, is spending upward of US $7 million a year trying to develop technology that can detect the evil intent of the terrorists among us. Yes, you read that correctly: They plan to find the bad guys by reading their minds.

Dozens of researchers across the country are in the middle of a five-year program contracted primarily to the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, in Cambridge, Mass. They’ve developed a psycho-physiological theory of "malintent"—basically, a hodgepodge of behaviorism and biometrics according to which physiological changes can give away a terrorist’s intention to do immediate harm. So far, they’ve spent $20 million on biometric research, sensors, and a series of tests and demonstrations.

This is no mere fantasy, DHS officials insist. And it isn’t: It’s a noble fantasy. And it’s destined to be a noble failure. It’s called the Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST.

4. D-Wave Quantum mechanics liquid Helium-cooled computer

Hey, Goldman Sachs in this one, IEEE better watch out. It’s a custom-built, multimillion-dollar, liquid-helium-cooled beast of a computer that it says runs on quantum mechanics. That’s right. D-Wave, a 55-person company operating out of an office park in Burnaby, B.C., claims to have built that almost mythical machine, that holy grail of computing, the stuff of sci-fi novels and technothrillers—the quantum computer. Such a system would exploit the bizarre physics that apply on ridiculously small scales to compute ridiculously fast, solving problems that could stymie today’s supercomputers for the lifetime of the universe. Anthony Leggett, a physicist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Nobel laureate in physics, says that D-Wave has made claims that "have not been generally regarded as substantiated in the community."

5. NanoUV’s Bright Light

NanoUV says it has created the world’s brightest EUV light source. The trouble is, the company won’t reveal to more than a handful of players how its technology works, making it hard to rack and stack against other options.


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