What does it take to drive forward a new technology?
Breaking the mould and attempting to bring a completely new technology to market is never easy. Silicon integrated circuits have been the mainstay of the electronics industry for a long time, but to enable electronics in everyday objects requires a new approach. So, what does it take to drive forward a new technology? Dr Richard Price, co-founder and CTO at Pragmatic explains.
Challenging the status quo
Challenging the status quo is an ambitious mission. Not only does it take time to research, develop and test a new technology, it’s important to have a clear long-term vision. For Pragmatic our intention, with our innovative flexible integrated circuits (FlexICs), was not replacing silicon, but to extend the range of products to which intelligence can be added. One of our target applications, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, is not new. Marks & Spencer began using RFID tags to improve fulfilment and reduce stock loss in 2003! However, due to the high costs involved, the technology has been limited to high value products or low volume short-term consumer engagement campaigns. For RFID, Pragmatic’s goal was to produce a new generation of ICs to drastically reduce the cost of the tags and also improve the form factor, more suited for integration into the packaging of fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs). The ability to add a unique digital identity to everyday items opens up the opportunity to tackle real world challenges including protection against counterfeit goods, grey market prevention, improving circularity and reducing waste.
A pragmatic approach
So, the great idea was there, and we set-off with a pragmatic approach to develop the technology, establish manufacturing processes and build our commercial strategy. Most importantly we hired highly skilled and passionate people. As all these elements fit into place we knew that success was becoming more achievable. Over a period of several years, the Pragmatic team developed the novel platform of patented technologies that underpins our FlexICs, along with the ground-breaking FlexLogIC® fab-in-a-box that enables FlexIC production at the rate of billions per year. Pragmatic formed partnerships with key players across the industry and attracted investment from Cambridge Innovation Capital, Arm, Avery Dennison and others, that has significantly accelerated our growth.
Going forward our plan is to enhance the functionality of our products to include sensing and computation, which will allow objects to react to the ambient conditions of their environment and communicate to the wider Internet of Everything. Our discussions with companies from the mainstream silicon industry have highlighted many applications that we can address in other fields, beyond just RFID. We are engaged with partners on some of these very exciting applications, details of which will emerge in time.
Working on a novel technology is an exciting roller-coaster, but it is the pathway to commercialisation, with its demands for pragmatism, tenacity and enthusiasm, that brings the greatest rewards. Building a dedicated team that holds these values at its heart, as well as strong technology and commercial partnerships, are key to achieving success. I personally remain incredibly excited about Pragmatic’s future and our mission to enable a trillion smart objects over the next decade.