When Nathan Myhrvold calls something “the closest thing to magic he’s ever seen,” it warrants a second look. Metamaterials are a new frontier, one the New York Times said “the waves of the future may bend around,” and we are investing a lot of time in their success.
In this illustration, a thin diffractive lens focuses a divergent wave created by a small driver and achieves a nearly perfect focus on the other side of it. This shows how focusing can “reverse” diffraction (the spreading of waves) and instead direct wave energy towards a small receiver.
Metamaterials are engineered structures including arrays of small features that can manipulate electromagnetic, acoustic, or even water surface waves in interesting ways and well beyond what is possible with naturally occurring materials. In other words, metamaterials literally bend, squeeze and twist the waves – sound waves, light waves, radiowaves – that are all around us.
From new satellite antennas enabling broadband access anywhere in the world to innovative radar capabilities allowing drones to navigate safely, to connected cars and more, metamaterials promise an exciting future.
And that future is not far off. Today there are many near-term applications that metamaterials technology enables, leading to practical solutions that can positively impact the lives of millions of people around the world. In 2010, our Invention Science Fund laid out a plan to pursue practical applications of metamaterials, and one-by-one we have systematically created, incubated and ultimately spun-out new companies empowered to develop and bring these new products to market.
Today, four new companies are hard at work, exploiting ISF’s metamaterial invention leadership to create new classes of products. Kymeta is bringing to market a radically new kind of flat satellite antenna for high-speed mobile and other applications. Evolv Technologies, which was formed in collaboration with Duke University, is pioneering advanced security and other imaging technology. Echodyne is building new kinds of scanning radar, such as for drones and self-driving cars. And, finally, Pivotal Communications is creating new kinds of advanced communications antenna solutions, including those essential to delivering the promise of super-fast “5G” of cellular services.
ISF is hard at work on our fifth metamaterial spin-out and beyond. We can’t say too much about it right now, but what we can say is that we think it will be very practical and very powerful. The applications of metamaterials are limited only by our own imagination and we’re eager to continue sharing what’s next.