Key Takeaways

  • eGaN® technology is re-invigorating the semiconductor foundation and spawning new markets and applications on a daily basis.
  • Silicon semiconductors are at the foundation of most industries today, but this technology is showing less and less innovative vitality.
  • Three areas of silicon performance are limiting progress in multiple industries: speed, energy efficiency and cost.

The Unexpected

There's an app for that!

There are almost one billion smart phones sold in 2013. Each of these phones comes pre-loaded with a collection of mobile apps and the hope that users will download clusters of additional apps that fit their specific needs and lifestyle. From dieting to Angry Birds; from money transfer to theatre tickets; from navigation to on-line dating; it’s all there, and more apps are arriving every minute of every day. None of this existed eight years ago.

The creation and implementation of these apps rest on an inverted pyramid of technology, the foundation of which – the silicon semiconductor – is showing signs of aging, stress, and little room for growth. Let’s dig into this pyramid and how it can be rejuvenated to support the demand for higher performance technology.

Space vehicle on the Moon

Figure 1: Cell phone apps ultimately depend upon a foundation built on silicon technology. At the bottom of the inverted pyramid is the silicon crystal.

Powering Applications for the Communications Industry

Smartphones and their mobile apps are powered by a series of silicon-based “chips,” such as a microprocessor, graphics processors, and a variety of memory and power chips.

Phone signals, when transmitted and received, go through a base station transmitter/receiver, a communications satellite, a global positioning satellite, and a series of routers and servers. At the core of this infrastructure are silicon-based integrated circuits for computation, data storage, input-output control, and overall component and system power management.

Powering Applications in a Variety of Industries

Colonoscopy capsules

Figure 2: To replace costly and uncomfortable colonoscopies, disposable capsules, using eGaN FETs, have been developed that take in situ images of the colon and transmit these images to a receiver worn as a wrist watch.

A similar semiconductor infrastructure pyramid exists in the medical, entertainment, transportation, defense, and energy industries, to name a few. In addition, the entire manufacturing infrastructure depends upon the computational and kinetic ability of silicon-based semiconductor products.

From the technological vitality of the silicon industry of the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, we have seen a consolidation and slowing of basic technology innovation. That’s not to say that innovation is not happening, it is just that it is happening higher and higher up the pyramid. Unfortunately, more economic value is created as you get closer to the base of the pyramid.

Soldier Systems

Figure 3: Wireless power, a key application for eGaN technology can reduce the physical loads on a soldier.

Shaking up the Foundation

Silicon, as a base material for semiconductors, is near its limits in three critical respects: speed, energy-efficiency and cost. Improve the foundation in such a way as to improve these three attributes simultaneously and everything resting upon that foundation can be improved exponentially.

Wireless charging heart pump

Figure 4: Robots drive manufacturing efficiency. eGaN technology enables faster, more precise, and lighter weight robotic controls.

In past issues of Fast Just Got Faster, we discussed how eGaN technology, developed by Efficient Power Conversion (EPC), utilizes the existing silicon infrastructure to deliver higher performance in power transistors (up to 1000 times higher!) at a lower cost than existing silicon power MOSFETs. We discussed how eGaN technology will move “up the semiconductor food chain” to drive the entire $300B per year semiconductor market. In issues four and five, we touched on just a few applications that did not exist before EPC commercialized eGaN technology and these applications are now market drivers. Since the publishing of those issues in January, three new applications have emerged, as illustrated in figures 2, 3, and 4. More apps are “popping up” every day.

The Unexpected

eGaN technology revitalizes the existing semiconductor foundation in a manner that accommodates innovative applications, as well as enables new technologies and markets that we can’t even imagine today.

Much like the railroads of the 19th century, automobiles of the first-half 20th century, and silicon semiconductors of the second-half, eGaN technology will create extraordinary opportunities, enable unforeseen applications and, consequently, produce an entirely new group of industry winners and losers.