NanoTitan wants to teach
the world to speak nanotech

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Oct. 11, 2002 — NanoTitan Inc. aims to do for nanocomputing what Netscape did for Web browsers.

Just as Netscape helped spur growth of the Internet by enabling Web surfers to download its browser for free, NanoTitan wants to create a similar ripple in the small tech community. The company has written an open source software code, known as nanoML, and made it available to engineers who are working to build integrated nanocomputing devices and nanosystems.

The Potomac Falls, Va.-based company rolled out a beta version of nanoML for users to download and experiment with in building engineering applications for molecular computing devices. NanoML seeks to capture critical elements of nanodevices, including molecular components, properties, interoperability, legal status, assembly, display and operational constraints. This could enable engineers to specify a device’s operational characteristics even if its molecular structure was unknown.

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“You feed in the recipe of your nanodevice design and out comes a recipe for how to build it, including what technologies to use,” said Vic Pena, the company’s chief executive.

The privately funded company has asked for user feedback on design flaws and potential bugs, although any suggested improvements automatically become the intellectual property of NanoTitan. The company eventually wants to submit nanoML to a standardization body as a possible open standard for nanodevices.

One such user is Brian Helfrich, a former research scientist with Telcordia (formerly Bell Labs) who has created a software-driven simulator known as Nano-Sim. Helfrich incorporated nanoML into his simulator, which would be used to replicate the physical world at the nanometer scale. A beta version of Nano-Sim is due in early 2003.

“The simulator needed a way to describe nanocomputing devices in a programmatic way, and NanoML is pretty complete,” Helfrich said.

A markup language uses special coding to define how an element, such as text or video, is displayed. The most well-known example is hypertext markup language, or HTML, which is used for creating Web pages.

NanoML was developed in response to the lack of uniform standards for describing and interchanging data between different nanodevices and nanosystems, said Rob Bishop, nanoTitan’s chairman. “We want to help companies and engineers figure out how to design nanodevices, especially on a large scale” required for mass manufacturing, he said. The company wants to see nanoML emerge as an open standard for nanodevices.

To date, that has been one stumbling block. Research and development into the design and engineering of nanocomputers continues unabated, but so far no commercially viable systems or devices are available.

“For nanotechnology to move from conceptual idea to engineering of actual devices, what’s needed is a framework — a single generic language for representing information, which can then be passed between disparate systems,” says Eric Parker, a software engineer with Zyvex Corp., a molecular assembly company in Richardson, Texas. Parker formerly was part of a project team that researched a nanotech open-source platform called Zyric.

But nanoTitan may be only tangentially related to the process of building embedded, integrated computing devices on the nanoscale level. Huge technical obstacles must be overcome before nanocomputers can be mass produced efficiently and affordably, said Ed Moran, director of product innovation for Deloitte & Touche’s technology, media and telecommunications group.

“It’s such a loose and moving target that it’s really difficult to know what nanodevices are. And history doesn’t provide any examples of creating standards before we have the product,” Moran said.

James Ellenbogen, head of the nanosystems group at Mitre Corp., a nonprofit think tank in McLean, Va., said researchers are making strides toward developing integrated systems that operate coherently on the nanoscale. Most of the research centers on building logical memory circuits at the nanoscale level.

“One reason (to focus) on doing memory initially is because you can always integrate a dense memory with a conventional processor,” Ellenbogen said.

Moran thinks NanoTitan will have a tough sell getting larger companies to adopt nanoML as an open industry standard. “The IBMs and Microsofts of the world have shown that licensing your technology, rather than making it available to the world, is the way to go. At a certain point, the proprietary (model) will take hold,” says Moran.

Nevertheless, Pena and Bishop say boldly they are ahead of the curve with their open-source product. “Because of the interdisciplinary nature of nanotechnology, people will be crying for a standard,” Pena said.

NanoTitan plans to make money by incorporating nanoML in its own suite of engineering software. Its flagship product, known as nanoXplorer, would be licensed to users when it becomes available before the end of this year. Another product, nanoVisualizer, is a modeling software for displaying data in 2-D, 3-D and aural formats.


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