Is 2024 a Turning Point for Deep Tech?

From healthcare to energy to climate change, so-called ‘deep tech’ can help solve the world’s biggest challenges.

By Jennifer Goforth Gregory

By Jennifer Goforth Gregory April 16, 2024

In fall 2023, a handsome Great Dane with soulful brown eyes found himself in an animal shelter. His name was Finley and he was suffering from gastric torsion, a life-threatening condition wherein the stomach is twisted, cutting off blood supply and causing bloat. Thanks to a partnership between the animal shelter and Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Finley became the lucky recipient of the first-ever live robotic gastropexy using a da Vinci Si-e robot that was manufactured by Intuitive Surgical and furnished by R2 Surgical. The robot promises to perform life-saving surgeries on both animals and humans with fewer risks, lower costs and shorter recovery times.

Finley owes his new “leash” on life to a new generation of technological advancements collectively known as “deep tech,” which uses emerging scientific and technological breakthroughs to solve complex problems, especially problems that affect society at large, like wildlife conservation, fatal diseases and climate change, just to name a few.

Although humanity has always used technology to solve problems, deep tech takes things to a new level in pursuit of an IT “moonshot.” 

With the help of cloud technology, which powers most, if not all, modern deep tech ventures, 2024 might end up being for deep tech what 1969 was for space exploration: the year that changed everything.

What is Deep Tech?

In his 2020 TED Talk, "What is deep tech? A look at how it could change the future,” BCG Senior Partner Antoine Gourévitch declared that deep tech makes the seemingly impossible possible. Gourévitch defined deep tech as the process of combining engineering and design science with technologies like robotics, synthetic biology, nanomaterials, blockchain and quantum computing. 

Consider SpaceX, for example, which produces reusable rockets and spaceships, thereby reducing the cost of space exploration by a factor of 10. This deep tech achievement combines advanced materials and chemicals with vertical integration and the modern approach of software engineering, explained Gourévitch, who spent 18 months visiting 100 research labs and startups across the globe to determine what makes deep tech special.

“Deep tech ventures … focus on fundamental issues, identifying physical constraints of industries not solved for decades. For example, in energy, nuclear fusion; in mobility, air robotaxi,” he said. 

“They focus on physical products using data and digital platforms to accelerate the test-and-run phase. They rely on an ecosystem to accelerate the innovation cycle, including the build-and-test phase. Too many disciplines are necessary to master for one venture to go alone. It is about cooperation, not competition. Deep tech is ultimately transforming discovery into a design and engineering exercise.”


Creating AI to Give People Superpowers

Fellow BCG leaders François Candelon, Daniel Küpper, Max Männig, John Paschkewitz and Vinit Patel agree. It’s not just what deep tech can do that makes it revolutionary, but also how it’s done.

“Deep tech operates at the intersection of several emerging technologies, such as synthetic biology and 3D printing. It addresses complex issues that cross different scientific fields. It needs to serve real market needs, while often demanding significant funding and extended development periods,” they wrote in a 2023 article for the Harvard Business Review. “Traditional companies may find it difficult to navigate this swiftly changing landscape. And few, if any, will have the tools and capabilities to do it alone.”

For that reason, manufacturers that wish to leverage deep tech should collaborate with partners through commercial alliances, incubators or ecosystems that can include not only industry but also government and academia. 

“Counterintuitive as it might seem, younger deep tech firms and incumbent manufacturers should not compete but rather collaborate,” wrote Candelon, Küpper, Männig, Paschkewitz and Patel.

Improving Lives with Deep Tech Robots

Perhaps the best way to appreciate deep tech’s potential is to examine its use cases that are already making a difference, like surgical robots.

Finley and his fellow canines aren’t the only beneficiaries of deep tech in surgery. This advancement could make life-enhancing surgeries available to hundreds of millions of people worldwide while bringing a new level of exactitude not possible for even the best human surgeons.

“Having a surgical robot not only increases certain capacities for conducting advanced surgical techniques, but it also makes the job of a surgeon and surgical team much more ergonomic and sustainable. Surgical robots put far less physical strain on surgeons and improve surgical efficiency, control and precision,” said Tom Shrader, founder and president of R2 Surgical, which makes robotic surgery available to more healthcare systems by offering pre-owned equipment. 

“This impact not only boosts the well-being of the surgeon, but studies show that this benefit is passed on to patients. Surgical robots improve surgical outcomes, such as reduced blood loss, lower risk of infection and quicker recovery times for patients.”


IT Leaders Get AI Ready and Go

AI serves as the foundation for much of deep technology in healthcare, according to Shrader, who said that AI expands the capabilities and effectiveness of surgical robots by helping surgeons make data-driven decisions. 

For example, with laparoscopic surgery performed by a robot, a video screen shows the surgeon high-resolution, close-up images of the surgery site and tools. AI integration allows for that video screen to display information and guidance live to the surgeon, thereby combining the surgeon’s extensive experience with the robot’s intelligence and dexterity.

Fighting Climate Resiliency with Deep Tech

Companies are also using deep tech to help solve—or at least alleviate—the effects of climate change. Vivek Ramavajjala, CEO of Excarta, founded AI-based weather forecasting software that combines science with technology to improve the quality of weather forecasts and provide longer forecast periods, up to 14 days.

But Excarta does more than tell you that you need to wear a sweater or bring an umbrella. Renewable energy providers use data about wind speed and solar radiance to plan for power. Meanwhile, commercial companies now have more information to improve their supply chain, such as making sure that raw materials don’t spoil in transit due to delays and planning alternate paths in case of hurricanes or snowstorms.


Enabling AI-Powered Computational Biology in Pursuit of Precision Medicines

“We use the fact that we have decades worth of historical data and all these AI models that we can now train to give industries the most possible, the most accurate picture of what’s going to happen so that they know in time what they should expect and prepare for that accordingly,” Ramavajjala said.

Solving the Impossible

Using deep tech to solve vital — and heretofore unsolvable — societal issues doesn’t happen overnight. The process is expensive, time-consuming and complex. And yet, deep-tech investments can make a lasting impact on people’s lives in ways previously unimaginable.

“More than any other forms of technology with various benefits, we should be prioritizing investment in deep tech because of its significant impact economically and socially,” Shrader said. 

“Deep tech creates solutions to complex challenges that will — and do — significantly improve the lives of many and our capacity to sustainably live well on this planet. What’s more important to invest in than that?”

Editor’s note: Learn more about the Nutanix platform for AI, including Nutanix GPT-in-a-Box, a full-stack software-defined AI-ready platform designed to simplify and jump-start AI initiatives from edge to core. 

Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a contributing writer. Find her on X @byJenGregory.

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