Erik and Martin Demaine, a father-and-son team of “algorithmic typographers,” have confected an entire suite of mathematically inspired typefaces.
Long before the multi-million-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds pushed autonomous vehicles to the top of the hype cycle, Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson were researching and, later, developing the foundations of the technology.
These pioneers, Iagnemma coming from MIT, Urmson from Carnegie Mellon University — would eventually go on to launch their own autonomous vehicle startups in an aim to finally bring years of R&D to the public.
That task isn’t over quite yet. Urmson, who is co-founder and CEO of Aurora, and Iagnemma, who is president and CEO of Motional, are still working on unlocking the technical and business problems that stand in the way of commercialization.
TechCrunch is excited to announce that Urmson and Iagnemma will be joining us on the virtual stage of TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The one-day event, scheduled for June 9, is bringing together engineers and founders, investors and CEOs who are working on all the present and future ways people and packages will get from Point A to Point B. Iagnemma and Urmson will come to discuss the past, the present challenges and what both aim to do in the future. We’ll tackle questions about the technical problems that remain to be solved, the war over talent, the best business models and applications of autonomous vehicles and maybe even hear a few stories from the early days of testing and launching a startup.
Both guests have a long list of accolades and accomplishments — and too many, to cover them all here.
Urmson has been working on AVs for more than 15 years. He earned his Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and his BSc in computer engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1998. He was a faculty member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University where he worked with house-sized trucks, drove robots in the desert, and was the technical director of the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge teams. Urmson has authored more than 60 patents and 50 publications.
He left CMU and was one of the founding members of Google’s self-driving program, serving as its CTO. In 2017, Urmson co-founded Aurora with Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell.
Iagnemma is also considered an authority on robotics and driverless vehicles. He was the director of the Robotic Mobility Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research resulted in more than 150 technical publications, 50 issued or filed patents, and numerous edited volumes, including books on the DARPA Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. He holds MS and PhD degrees from MIT, where he was a National Science Foundation fellow, and a BS from the University of Michigan, where he graduated first in his class.
In 2013, Iagnemma co-founded autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch ride-hailing pilots. The company was acquired by Aptiv in late 2017. Aptiv and Hyundai formed the joint venture, which he now heads, in 2020.
Iagnemma and Urmson are two of the many of the best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers is GM’s vp of global innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.
Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales ends tonight, May 7 at 11:59 pm PT. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.
If you are trying to grasp Bitcoin and understand what China’s digital yuan means, America’s Federal Reserve is right there with you.
The pandemic has led to new contemplations of fragility, and sick or disabled artists are using new attention to imagine a more accessible art world.
She helped start the nonprofit after documenting atrocities in Latin America. She was also a pioneering educator at M.I.T. and Harvard.
From studies of “geometric frustration,” scientists learn how paper folds under pressure.
Sherry Turkle is best known for exploring the dysfunctional relationships between humans and their screens. She takes on a new focus — herself — in her memoir, “The Empathy Diaries.”
Kevin Jiang’s killing has attracted attention because of ties to Yale and has put a spotlight on an uptick in shootings in New Haven, Conn.
Additive manufacturing has proven an ideal solution for certain tasks, but the technology still lacks more traditional methods in a number of categories. One of the biggest is the requirement for post-printing assembly. 3D printers can create extremely complex components, but an outside party (be it human or machine) is required to put them together.
MIT’s CSAIL department this week showcased “LaserFactory,” a new project that attempts to develop robotics, drones and other machines than can be fabricated as part of a “one-stop shop.” The system is comprised of a software kit and hardware platform designed to create structures and assemble circuitry and sensors for the machine.
A more fully realized version of the project will be showcased at an event in May, but the team is pulling back the curtain a bit to show what the concept looks like in practice. Here’s a breakdown from CSAIL’s page:
Let’s say a user has aspirations to create their own drone. They’d first design their device by placing components on it from a parts library, and then draw on circuit traces, which are the copper or aluminum lines on a printed circuit board that allow electricity to flow between electronic components. They’d then finalize the drone’s geometry in the 2D editor. In this case, they’d use propellers and batteries on the canvas, wire them up to make electrical connections, and draw the perimeter to define the quadcopter’s shape.
Printing circuit boards is certainly nothing new. What sets CSAIL’s machine apart here is the breadth of functionality that’s been jammed into the machine here. An accompanying video lays it out pretty well:
Of course, this is early days — we’re still months out from the official presentation. There are a lot of questions, and more to the point, a lot of potential points of failure for a complex machine like this — especially one that seems to have non-experts as a target audience.
“Making fabrication inexpensive, fast, and accessible to a layman remains a challenge,” PhD student and lead author Martin Nisser says in the release. “By leveraging widely available manufacturing platforms like 3D printers and laser cutters, LaserFactory is the first system that integrates these capabilities and automates the full pipeline for making functional devices in one system.”
The software appears to be a big piece of the puzzle — allowing users to view a version of the product before it’s printed. By then, of course, it’s too late.
Gang Chen, an M.I.T. professor, faces federal charges of hiding affiliations with China. His colleagues, and M.I.T., are publicly challenging the allegations.
If social networks and other platforms are to get a handle on disinformation, it’s not enough to know what it is — you have to know how people react to it. Researchers at MIT and Cornell have some surprising but subtle findings that may affect how Twitter and Facebook should go about treating this problematic content.
MIT’s contribution is a counter-intuitive one. When someone encounters a misleading headline in their timeline, the logical thing to do would be to put a warning before it so that the reader knows it’s disputed from the start. Turns out that’s not quite the case.
In a study of nearly 3,000 people who evaluated the accuracy of headlines after receiving different (or no) warnings about them.
Going into the project, I had anticipated it would work best to give the correction beforehand, so that people already knew to disbelieve the false claim when they came into contact with it. To my surprise, we actually found the opposite,” said study co-author David Rand in an MIT news article. “Debunking the claim after they were exposed to it was the most effective.”
When a person was warned beforehand that the headline was misleading, they improved in their classification accuracy by 5.7 percent. When the warning came simultaneously with the headline, that improvement grew to 8.6 percent. But if shown the warning afterwards, they were 25 percent better. In other words, debunking beat “prebunking” by a fair margin.
The team speculated as to the cause of this, suggesting that it fits with other indications that people are more likely to incorporate feedback into a preexisting judgment rather than alter that judgment as it’s being formed. They warned that the problem is far deeper than a tweak like this can fix.
“There is no single magic bullet that can cure the problem of misinformation,” said co-author Adam Berinsky. “Studying basic questions in a systematic way is a critical step toward a portfolio of effective solutions.”
The study from Cornell is equal parts reassuring and frustrating. People viewing potentially misleading information were reliably influenced by the opinions of large groups — whether or not those groups were politically aligned with the reader.
It’s reassuring because it suggests that people are willing to trust that if 80 out of 100 people thought a story was a little fishy, even if 70 of those 80 were from the other party, there might just be something to it. It’s frustrating because of how seemingly easy it is to sway an opinion simply by saying that a large group thinks it’s one way or the other.
“In a practical way, we’re showing that people’s minds can be changed through social influence independent of politics,” said graduate student Maurice Jakesch, lead author of the paper. “This opens doors to use social influence in a way that may de-polarize online spaces and bring people together.”
Partisanship still played a role, it must be said — people were about 21 percent less likely to have their view swayed if the group opinion was led by people belonging to the other party. But even so people were very likely to be affected by the group’s judgment.
Part of why misinformation is so prevalent is because we don’t really understand why it’s so appealing to people, and what measures reduce that appeal, among other simple questions. As long as social media is blundering around in darkness they’re unlikely to stumble upon a solution, but every study like this makes a little more light.
Steel production accounts for roughly 8 percent of the emissions that contribute to global climate change. It is one of the industries that sits at the foundation of the modern economy and is one of the most resistant to decarbonization.
As nations around the world race to reduce their environmental footprint and embrace more sustainable methods of production, finding a way to remove carbon from the metals business will be one of the most important contributions to that effort.
One startup that’s developing a new technology to address the issue is Boston Metal. Previously backed by the Bill Gates financed Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, the new company has just raised roughly $50 million of an approximately $60 million financing round to expand its operations, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The global steel industry may find approximately 14 percent of its potential value at risk if the business can’t reduce its environmental impact, according to studies cited by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
Boston Metal, which previously raised $20 million back in 2019, uses a process called molten oxide electrolysis (“MOE”) to make steel alloys — and eventually emissions-free steel. The first close of the funding actually came in December 2018 — two years before the most recent financing round, according to chief executive Tadeu Carneiro, the company’s chief executive.
Over the years since the company raised its last round, Boston Metal has grown from 8 employees to a staff that now numbers close to 50. The Woburn, Mass.-based company has also been able to continuously operate its three pilot lines producing metal alloys for over a month at a time.
And while the steel program remains the ultimate goal, the company is quickly approaching commercialization with its alloy program, because it isn’t as reliant on traditional infrastructure and sunk costs according to Carneiro.
Boston Metal’s technology radically reimagines an industry whose technology hasn’t changed all that much since the dawn of the Iron Age in 1200 BCE, Carneiro said.
Ultimately the goal is to serve as a technology developer licensing its technology and selling components to steel manufacturers or engineering companies who will ultimate make the steel.
For Boston Metal, the next steps on the product roadmap are clear. The company wil look to have a semi-industrial cell line operating in Woburn, Mass. by the end of 2022, and by 2024 or 2025 hopes to have its first demonstration plant up and running. “At that point we will be able to commercialize the technology,” Carneiro said.
The company’s previous investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, and the MIT-backed “hard-tech” investment firm, The Engine. All of them came back to invest in the latest infusion of cash into the company along with Devonshire Investors, the private investment firm affiliated with FMR, the parent company of financial services giant, Fidelity, which co-led the deal alongside Piva Capital and another, undisclosed investor.
As a result of its investment, Shyam Kamadolli will take a seat on the company’s board, according to the filing with the SEC.
MOE takes metals in their raw oxide form and transforms them into molten metal products. Invented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and based on research from MIT Professor Donald Sadoway, Boston Metal makes molten oxides that are tailored for a specific feedstock and product. Electrons are used to melt the soup and selectively reduce the target oxide. The purified metal pools at the bottom of a cell and is tapped by drilling into the cell using a process adapted from a blast furnace. The tap hole is plugged and the process then continues.
One of the benefits of the technology, according to the company, is its scalability. As producers need to make more alloys, they can increase production capacity.
“Molten oxide electrolysis is a platform technology that can produce a wide array of metals and alloys, but our first industrial deployments will target the ferroalloys on the path to our ultimate goal of steel,” said Carneiro, the company’s chief executive, in a statement announcing the company’s $20 million financing back in 2019. “Steel is and will remain one of the staples of modern society, but the production of steel today produces over two gigatons of CO2. The same fundamental method for producing steel has been used for millennia, but Boston Metal is breaking that paradigm by replacing coal with electrons.”
No less a tech luminary than Bill Gates himself underlined the importance of the decarbonization of the metal business.
“Boston Metal is working on a way to make steel using electricity instead of coal, and to make it just as strong and cheap,” Gates wrote in his blog, GatesNotes. Although Gates did have a caveat. “Of course, electrification only helps reduce emissions if it uses clean power, which is another reason why it’s so important to get zero-carbon electricity,” he wrote.
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His research spread light and empathy around the globe.
Only a few weeks after the successful public offering of Array Technologies proved that there’s a market for technologies aimed at improving efficiencies across the solar manufacturing and installation chain, Leading Edge Equipment has raised capital for its novel silicon wafer manufacturing equipment.
For the last few years researchers have been talking up the potential of so-called kerfless, single-crystal silicon wafers. For industry watchers, the single-crystal versus poly-crystalline wafers may sound familiar, but as with many things with the resurgence of climate technology investment maybe this time will be different.
Silicon wafer production today is a seven-step process in which large silicon ingots created in heavily energy-intensive furnaces are sawed into wafers by wires. The process wastes large amounts of silicon, requires an incredible amount of energy and produces low-quality wafers that reduce the efficiency of solar panels.
Using ribbons to produce its wafers, Leading Edge’s manufacturing equipment uses the floating silicon method to reduce production to a single step, consuming less energy and producing almost no waste, according to the company.
Founded by longtime experts in the silicon foundry industry — Alison Greenlee, a quadruple-degreed graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who worked on floating silicon method that reduces waste in the manufacturing of silicon for solar cells; and Peter Kellerman, the progenitor of floating silicon method technologies.
The two founded Leading Edge Equipment to rejuvenate a project that had been mothballed by Applied Materials after years of research.
The two won $5 million in federal grants and raised an initial $6 million from venture capital firms in 2018 to kick off the technology.
Leading Edge expects that its equipment could become the standard for silicon substrate manufacturing.
Kellerman, now the emeritus chief technology officer, was replaced by Nathan Stoddard, a seasoned silicon manufacturing technology expert who has worked on teams that have brought three different solar wafer technologies from concept to pilot production. Stoddard, a former colleague of Greenlee’s at 1366 — one of the early companies devoted to new silicon production technologies — was won over by Greenlee and Kellerman’s belief in the old Applied Materials technology.
The company claims that its technology can reduce wafer costs by 50 percent, increases commercial solar panel power by up to seven percent, and reduces manufacturing emissions by over 50 percent.
To commercialize the project, earlier this year the team brought in Rick Schwerdtfeger, a longtime innovator in solar technology who began working with CIGS crystals back in 1995. In the 2000s Schwerdtfeger spent his time in building out ARC Energy to scale next-generation furnace technologies.
“After critical technology demonstrations and the development of a new commercial tool, we are now ready to launch this technology into market in 2021,” said Schwerdtfeger in a statement. “Having recently secured a 31,000 square foot facility and doubled the size of our team, we will use this new funding to prepare for our 2021 commercial pilots.”
The Trump administration said it would no longer require international students to attend in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic in order to remain in the country.
The international scholars the administration was threatening to send home are vital to American innovation and competitiveness.
A heavyweight partnership between industry and academic sciences is throwing their considerable weight into an important task: Creating a new low-cost, rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19. Chemical industry leader 3M has partnered with MIT to create a diagnostic tool for COVID-19 that’s easy-to-use, and that can be manufactured cheaply and in large volume for mass distribution and use.
The test is currently the research phase, with a team led by MIT’s Professor Hadley Sikes of the school’s Department of Chemical Engineering. Sikes’ laboratory has a specific focus on creating and developing tech to enhance the performance of protein tests that are meant to provide rapid, accurate results.
3M is contributing its biomaterials and bioprocessing expertise, along with its experience in creating products designed to be manufactured at scale. The end goal is to create a test that detects viral antigens, a type of test first cleared for use in COVID-19 detection at the beginning of May by the FDA. These tests provide results much faster than the molecular PCR-based test – but do have a higher change of fall negatives. Still, their ability to be administered at point-of-care, and return results within just minutes, could help considerably in ramping up testing efforts, especially in cases where individuals aren’t necessarily presenting symptoms but are in situations where they could pose a risk to others if carrying the virus while asymptomatic.
The new 3M and MIT projects is part of the RADx Tech program created by the National Institute of Health (NIH) specifically to fund the development of tests that can expand U.S. testing deployment. An initial $500,000 of funding was provided to MIT and 3M from the program, and it can potentially receive further funding after achieving other development milestones.
A legal battle between universities and the Trump administration over foreign students and online learning escalated on Monday, ahead of a critical federal court hearing.
It is still unclear how many students will return to college campuses this fall, but for those who do, mealtime will change dramatically.
MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) has put one of its research projects to work providing disinfection services for The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and still allow the nonprofit to provide services to its patrons. The CSAIL-designed robotic system, which was created in partnership with Ava Robotics, can not only disinfect surfaces that might have come in contact with the novel coronavirus, but also wipe out its aerosolized forms that might be present in the air, the lab says.
CSAIL’s robotic cleaning system goes well beyond your run-of-the-mill Roomba: It employs UV light for a fully automated clean that can be done free of any human oversight, which is key, because UV light when used in the strength required for surface and airborne disinfection can be harmful to any people present.
The team behind the design took one of Ava’s telepresence robots, removed the top, which normally houses the screen to display a remote operator, and replaced it with a UVC light array. Via cameras and sensors, the robot can map an indoor space, then navigate designed waypoints within that mapped area and disinfect as it goes, keeping track of the areas it has to disinfect. In operation, after its autonomous mapping exercise, human remote operators showed it the path that people would normally traverse in the space to define priority disinfection zones.
The system is flexible so that it can handle re-mapped routes, which is required because the areas of the GBFB warehouse that need to be traversed can change daily as food comes in and food goes out, with stock stored on different shelves. Eventually, the team wants to develop more automated ways for the modified telepresence robots to use their suite of sensors to figure out which areas are priority for disinfection based on foot traffic and changing real-world conditions; for now, it can easily be manually adjusted to accommodate shifts.
This project focused specifically on use at the GBFB, a priority resource especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but MIT CSAIL’s researchers envision similar systems being put to use to cover a range of complex spaces that require frequent disinfection, including grocery stores, dorms, schools and airplanes.
A man of manifold interests, his achievements ranged from developing ideas behind the so-called Internet of Things to publishing the world’s biggest book.
In response to VCs’ sudden rush to invest in more Black founders, Black venture capitalists and entrepreneurs have penned a bunch of advice on the best way to tap into talent. Among the strategies? Team up with Black firms already doing the work. Some firms have said that they’re going to turn to HBCUvc, a nonprofit organization that helps students from historically Black colleges and universities enter venture and tech.
In response to an outpouring of donations and support for HBCUvc, its founder Hadiyah Mujhid introduced a Donor Circle as one way investors can help in light of the overdue awakening.
“We’ve created the HBCUvc Donor Circle as an opportunity for supporters and individuals to engage in our work and join a long-term strategy toward racial equity in venture capital and technology,” she wrote in the post.
A donor circle member needs to make a gift of $1,000 or more to join the cohort, with an annual financial commitment. Donors will be able to engage with students in the HBCUvc community, work with other community members that are committed to practicing venture through anti-racist events and receive invitations to community events and summits.
“Joining the donor circle is the best way to get involved in HBCUvc. We cannot make significant progress in advancing racial equity without long-term financial commitment,” Mujhid wrote.
HBCUvc, which we first wrote about in 2017, currently holds a number of programs to help Black and Hispanic students enter the world of tech, from fellowships to micro-grants. It held a city-based internship program with Los Angeles, which connects students to venture capital firms in the area. The program is expanding to Chicago in 2021, the blog post notes.
HBCUvc’s first batch was 11 students from three universities. The Black and women-led team has since grown to support 123 students.
Just two weeks ago, HBCUVc was struggling to keep staff on deck due to the financial impact of COVID-19. Mujhid had to communicate that the “community they’ve built may formally cease without emergency funding.”
The organization and its work with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) has been amplified in recent weeks after the murder of George Floyd and international protests against ongoing police brutality in the United States. Some say HBCUs are a place for startups to go and look for diverse talent, and others think that the institutions could serve as LPs in funds and demand more racial equity.
“A piece of me wants to know why our voices were unheard and why it required such a horrific event to bring awareness and action to what should have already been a priority,” Mujhid wrote.
The singular sentence underlines a key message I’ve heard from the Black tech community in the past two weeks: It should not have taken a murder to start thinking about racial inequality. It’s why some doubt the intentions of companies and firms newly promising to increase diversity, beyond the opportunistic lip service.
Researchers at MIT have published a new paper that describes a new type of artificial brain synapse which offers performance improvements vs. other exiting versions, and which can be combined in volumes of tens of thousands on a chip that’s smaller physically than a single piece of confetti. The results could help create devices that can handle complex AI computing locally, while remaining small and power-efficient, and without having to connect to a data center.
The researchers team created what are known as “memristors” – essentially simulated brain synapses created using silicon, but also used alloys of silver and copper in their construction. The result was a chip that could effectively ‘remember’ and recall images in very high detail, repeatedly, with much crisper and more detailed ‘remembered’ images than in other types of simulated brain circuits that have come before.
What the team wants to ultimately do is recreate large, complex artificial neural networks which are currently based in software that requires significant GPU computing power to run – but as dedicated hardware, so that it can be localized in small devices including potentially your phone, or a camera.
Unlike traditional transistors, which can switch between only two states (0 or 1) and which form the basis of modern computers, memsistors offer a gradient of values, much more like your brain, the original analog computer. They can also ‘remember’ these states so that they can easily recreate the same signal for the same received current multiple times over.
What the researchers did here was borrow a concept from metallurgy: When metallurgists want to change the properties of a metal, they combine it with another that has that desired property to create an alloy. Similarly, the researchers here found an element they could combine with the silver they use as the memristor’s positive electrode, in order to make it better able to consistently and reliably transfer ions along even a very thin conduction channel.
That’s what enabled the team to create super small chips that contain tens of thousands of memristors that can nonetheless not only reliably recreate images from ‘memory,’ but also perform inference tasks like improving the detail of, or blurring the original image on command, better than other, previous memristors created by other scientists.
It’s still a long way off, but the team behind this project suggest that eventually, this could lead to portable, artificial brain computers that can perform very complex tasks on the scale of today’s supercomputers – with minimal power requirements and without any network connection required.
Commonwealth Fusion Systems closed on its latest $84 million in new funding two weeks ago. The U.S. was still very much in the lockdown phase and getting a deal done, especially a multi-million dollar investment in a new technology aiming to make commercial nuclear fusion a reality after decades of hype, was “an interesting thing” in the words of Commonwealth’s chief executive, Bob Mumgaard.
It was actually one time when the technical complexity of what Commonwealth Fusion is trying to achieve and the longterm horizon for the company’s first test technology was a benefit instead of an obstacle, Mumgaard said.
“We’re in a unique position where it’s still something that’s far enough in the future that any of the recovery models are not going to affect the underlying needs that the world still has a giant climate problem,” he said.
Commonwealth Fusion Systems purports to be one solution to that problem. The company is using technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to leapfrog the current generation of nuclear fusion reactors currently under development (there are, in fact, several nuclear fusion reactors currently under development) and bring a waste-free energy source to industrial customers within the next ten years.
Commonwealth Fusion Systems core innovation was the development of a high power superconducting magnet that could theoretically be used to create the conditions necessary for a sustained fusion reaction. The reactor uses hydrogen isotopes that are kept under conditions of extreme pressure using these superconducting magnets to sustain the reaction and contain the energy that’s generated from the reaction. Designs for reactors require their hydrogen fuel source to be heated to tens of millions of degrees.
The design that Commonwealth is pursuing is akin to the massive, multi-decade International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project that’s currently being completed in France. Begun under the Reagan Administration in the eighties, as a collaboration between the U.S., the Soviet Union, various European nations and Japan. Over the years, membership in the project expanded to include India, South Korea, and China.
While the ITER project also expects to flip the switch on its reactor in 2025, the cost has been dramatically higher — totaling well over $14 billion dollars. The project, which began construction in 2013, will also represent a much longer timeframe to completion compared with the schedule that Commonwealth has set for itself.
“We have set off to build what has been our big goal all along, which is to build the full scale demonstration magnet… we’re in the act of building that,” said Mumgaard. “We’ll turn that on next year.”
Upon completion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems will have built a ten-ton magnet that has the magnetic force equivalent to twenty MRI machines, said Mumgaard. “After we get the magnet to work, we’ll be building a machine that will generate more power than it takes to run. We see that as the Kitty Hawk moment,” for fusion, he said.
Within the next six to eight months, Commonwealth Energy hopes to have a site selected for its first demonstration reactor.
Financing the company’s most recent developments are a slew of investors new and old who have committed over $200 million to the company, which formally launched in 2018.
The round was led by Temasek with participation from new investors Equinor, a multinational energy company, and Devonshire Investors, the private equity group affiliated with FMR LLC, the parent company of Fidelity Investments.
Current investors including the Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures; MIT’s affiliated investment fund, The Engine; the Italian energy firm ENI Next LLC; and venture investors like Future Ventures, Khosla Ventures; Moore Strategic Ventures, Safar Partners LLC, Schooner Capital, and Starlight Ventures also participated.
“We are investing in fusion and CFS because we believe in the technology and the company, and we remain committed to providing energy to the world, now and in a low carbon future,” said Sophie Hildebrand, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President for Research and Technology at Equinor, in a statement.
The company said it would use the new financing to continue developing its technology which would offer fusion power plants, fusion engineering services, and HTS magnets to customers. Funding will also be used to support business development initiatives for other applications of the company’s proprietary HTS magnets, the key component to its SPARC reactor, which also has various other commercial uses, the company said.
Helping the cause, and potentially accelerating the timelines for many fusion players is a new initiative from the federal government that could see government dollars go to support construction of new facilities. The Department of Energy recently released a request for information (RFI) on potential cost share programs for the development of nuclear fusion reactors in the U.S.
Modeled after the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program which brought the world SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other U.S. private space companies, a cost-sharing program for fusion development could accelerate the development of low-cost, pollution free fusion reactors across the U.S.
“The COTS program transitioned the space industry from ‘Here’s a government dictated space sector’ to a vibrant commercial launch industry,” said Mumgaard.
One investor who’s seen the value of public private partnerships to spur commercial innovation is Steve Jurvetson, the founder of Future Ventures, and a backer of Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Jurvetson acknowledged the necessity of fusion investment for the future of the energy industry.
“Fusion energy is an investment in our future that offers an important path toward combating climate change. Our continued investment in CFS fits strongly within our mission as we seek long-term solutions to address the world’s energy challenges,” said Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director and Founder, Future Ventures.
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