Fractory raises $9M to rethink the manufacturing supply chain for metalworks

The manufacturing industry took a hard hit from the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are signs of how it is slowly starting to come back into shape — helped in part by new efforts to make factories more responsive to the fluctuations in demand that come with the ups and downs of grappling with the shifting economy, virus outbreaks and more. Today, a businesses that is positioning itself as part of that new guard of flexible custom manufacturing — a startup called Fractory — is announcing a Series A of $9 million (€7.7 million) that underscores the trend.

The funding is being led by OTB Ventures, a leading European investor focussed on early growth, post-product, high-tech start-ups, with existing investors Trind VenturesSuperhero CapitalUnited Angels VCStartup Wise Guys and Verve Ventures also participating.

Founded in Estonia but now based in Manchester, England — historically a strong hub for manufacturing in the country, and close to Fractory’s customers — Fractory has built a platform to make it easier for those that need to get custom metalwork to upload and order it, and for factories to pick up new customers and jobs based on those requests.

Fractory’s Series A will be used to continue expanding its technology, and to bring more partners into its ecosystem.

To date, the company has worked with more than 24,000 customers and hundreds of manufacturers and metal companies, and altogether it has helped crank out more than 2.5 million metal parts.

To be clear, Fractory isn’t a manufacturer itself, nor does it have no plans to get involved in that part of the process. Rather, it is in the business of enterprise software, with a marketplace for those who are able to carry out manufacturing jobs — currently in the area of metalwork — to engage with companies that need metal parts made for them, using intelligent tools to identify what needs to be made and connecting that potential job to the specialist manufacturers that can make it.

The challenge that Fractory is solving is not unlike that faced in a lot of industries that have variable supply and demand, a lot of fragmentation, and generally an inefficient way of sourcing work.

As Martin Vares, Fractory’s founder and MD, described it to me, companies who need metal parts made might have one factory they regularly work with. But if there are any circumstances that might mean that this factory cannot carry out a job, then the customer needs to shop around and find others to do it instead. This can be a time-consuming, and costly process.

“It’s a very fragmented market and there are so many ways to manufacture products, and the connection between those two is complicated,” he said. “In the past, if you wanted to outsource something, it would mean multiple emails to multiple places. But you can’t go to 30 different suppliers like that individually. We make it into a one-stop shop.”

On the other side, factories are always looking for better ways to fill out their roster of work so there is little downtime — factories want to avoid having people paid to work with no work coming in, or machinery that is not being used.

“The average uptime capacity is 50%,” Vares said of the metalwork plants on Fractory’s platform (and in the industry in general). “We have a lot more machines out there than are being used. We really want to solve the issue of leftover capacity and make the market function better and reduce waste. We want to make their factories more efficient and thus sustainable.”

The Fractory approach involves customers — today those customers are typically in construction, or other heavy machinery industries like ship building, aerospace and automotive — uploading CAD files specifying what they need made. These then get sent out to a network of manufacturers to bid for and take on as jobs — a little like a freelance marketplace, but for manufacturing jobs. About 30% of those jobs are then fully automated, while the other 70% might include some involvement from Fractory to help advise customers on their approach, including in the quoting of the work, manufacturing, delivery and more. The plan is to build in more technology to improve the proportion that can be automated, Vares said. That would include further investment in RPA, but also computer vision to better understand what a customer is looking to do, and how best to execute it.

Currently Fractory’s platform can help fill orders for laser cutting and metal folding services, including work like CNC machining, and it’s next looking at industrial additive 3D printing. It will also be looking at other materials like stonework and chip making.

Manufacturing is one of those industries that has in some ways been very slow to modernize, which in a way is not a huge surprise: equipment is heavy and expensive, and generally the maxim of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies in this world. That’s why companies that are building more intelligent software to at least run that legacy equipment more efficiently are finding some footing. Xometry, a bigger company out of the U.S. that also has built a bridge between manufacturers and companies that need things custom made, went public earlier this year and now has a market cap of over $3 billion. Others in the same space include Hubs (which is now part of Protolabs) and Qimtek, among others.

One selling point that Fractory has been pushing is that it generally aims to keep manufacturing local to the customer to reduce the logistics component of the work to reduce carbon emissions, although as the company grows it will be interesting to see how and if it adheres to that commitment.

In the meantime, investors believe that Fractory’s approach and fast growth are strong signs that it’s here to stay and make an impact in the industry.

“Fractory has created an enterprise software platform like no other in the manufacturing setting. Its rapid customer adoption is clear demonstrable feedback of the value that Fractory brings to manufacturing supply chains with technology to automate and digitise an ecosystem poised for innovation,” said Marcin Hejka in a statement. “We have invested in a great product and a talented group of software engineers, committed to developing a product and continuing with their formidable track record of rapid international growth

#3d-printing, #aerospace, #articles, #business, #cad, #economy, #emerging-technologies, #enterprise, #entrepreneurship, #estonia, #europe, #fractory, #funding, #hardware, #industrial-design, #laser, #manchester, #manufacturing, #maryland, #metal, #outsourcing, #series-a, #startup-company, #startup-wise-guys, #tc, #telecommuting, #united-angels-vc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #xometry

Metal 3D printing company Fabric8Labs raises $19M

Fabric8Labs this morning announced that it has raised $19.3 million. The Series A was led by Intel Capital and features Lam Capital, TDK Ventures, SE Ventures, imec.xpand, Stanley Ventures and Mark Cuban. It follows $4 million in seed funding raised in mid-2018.

The San Diego-based startup specializes in metal 3D printing. It’s a hot category, of late, as evidenced by Desktop Metal and Markforged’s decisions to go public via SPAC over the past two years. Fabric8Labs says lower cost and less energy consumption are among the benefits to its process.

“Our process is inherently different and does not utilize powder nor thermal processes. Instead, it is based on electrochemical deposition, which operates at room temperature, has a significantly lower power demand, and utilizes an aqueous (water-based) solution made from low-cost metal salts,” CEO Jeff Herman tells TechCrunch. “In combination, the commodity priced raw materials and power-efficient process enable a step change in reducing the total cost of ownership and cost per-part.”

The company says the funding will go toward doubling its headcount before the end of the year, increase development of its existing technology and showcase its ability to print high-resolution copper pieces. The company plans to bring the technology to market, but notes that goals of hitting a general market will be a multiyear process.

Scalability is always one of the biggest question marks around any kind of additive manufacturing. Herman says 3D printing for manufacturing is firmly in Fabric8Labs’ sights.

“Our technology is extremely scalable,” the executive says. “The vision we share with our partners is to deploy our technology at a massive scale in the factories of the future, with process capabilities and economics uniquely positioned to tackle high-volume manufacturing. A Fabric8Labs-enabled factory could easily consist of 50+ automated systems sharing large feedstock reservoirs, similar to other large-scale electrochemical processes in operation today.”

#3d-printing, #additive-manufacturing, #fabric8labs, #funding, #hardware, #intel-capital, #metal, #recent-funding, #startups

Metals from space descend on Boulder, Colorado, at dusk and dawn

Morning sun against the foothills of Boulder, Colorado, business area and campus.

Enlarge / Morning sun against the foothills of Boulder, Colorado, business area and campus. (credit: Fred Langer Photography | Getty Images)

Every day, the Sun rises and sets on Boulder, Colorado. And, like clockwork, a layer of sodium and other elements trickle down through the sky and hit the ground, a team of researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found. These elements hail originally from space and, in various forms, hit the atmosphere before making their trek to the Earth’s surface.

The team published this discovery in Geophysical Research Letters. A decade ago, Xinzhao Chu, the lead author of the research, discovered these metal layers at the McMurdo research station in Antarctica. However, near the Earth’s polar south, these elements appear sporadically, rather than daily. This is the first time researchers have discovered a case where the layers drop at regular intervals.

These layers are not visible to the human eye. So, at the Table Mountain Observatory near Boulder, the team made use of a lidar system—which operates similarly to radar but use lasers instead of radio waves—to detect the minuscule sodium particles. While the lidar data from the region was taken a few years back, the team analyzed them last December and discovered our atmosphere’s metal cycle.

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#atmosphere, #cosmic-dust, #lidar, #metal, #science, #space

How one founder partnered with NASA to make tires puncture-proof and more sustainable

This week’s episode of Found features The SMART Tire Company co-founder and CEO Earl Cole, a one-time Survivor champion whose startup is working with NASA to commercialize some of its space-age tech. Cole won a NASA startup competition seeking entrepreneurs to work with its scientists and researchers on applications of innovations it created for space exploration that could work right here on Earth, helping people while also forming the basis for a commercially-viable business.

For Cole, that resulted in The SMART Tire Company, a venture that’s using tech NASA developed to create more durable, puncture-proof tires to equip future rovers. NASA turned to shape memory alloys (SMAs), which is a type of metal that can be flexed or bent, but that also has elastic properties to return to its original shape, to handle the unique task of building a tire that wouldn’t require inflation, but that would be able to handle rocky Martian terrain with aplomb. Cole’s startup is using the same technology to tackle the more than $100 billion tire industry — starting with bike tires, but eventually moving on to address other kinds of vehicles as well.

We talked to Cole about the process of working with NASA, including its challenges and what the agency has to offer in terms of unique access to cutting-edge technology. He also shared his perspective on entrepreneurship from decades of experience, including difficulties with traditional VC and access to funding, and why he chose to initially raise money for his own startup through newly-available equity crowdsourcing. Cole also told us about why being a Survivor champ (and the first unanimous winner) provides crucial lessons for not only being a founder, but also running a company and being an effective leader, too.

We had a great time chatting with Cole, and we hope you have just as much fun listening. And of course, we’d love if you can subscribe to Found in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on Google Podcasts or in your podcast app of choice. Please leave us a review and let us know what you think, or send us directed feedback either on Twitter or via email. Come back next week for yet another great conversation with a founder all about their own unique experience of startup life.

#found, #metal, #nasa, #smart-tire-company, #startup-company, #tc, #tire, #tires

Pixxel closes $7.3M seed round and unveils commercial hyperspectral imaging product

LA and Bangalore-based space startup Pixxel has closed a $7.3 million seed round, including newly committed capital from Techstars, Omnivore VC and more. The company has also announced a new product focus: Hyperspectral imaging. It aims to provide that imaging at the highest resolution commercially available, via a small satellite constellation that will provide 24-hour, global coverage once it’s fully operational.

Pixxel’s funding today is an extension of the $5 million it announced it had raised back in August of last year. At the time, the startup had only revealed that it was focusing on Earth imaging,, and it’s unveiling its specific pursuit of hyperspectral imaging for the first time today. Hyperspectral imaging uses far more light frequencies than the much more commonly-used multispectral imaging used in satellite observation today, allowing for unprecedented insight and detection of previously invisible issues, including migration of pest insect populations in agriculture, or observing gas leaks and other ecological threats.

Standard multispectral imaging (left) vs. hyperspectral imaging (right) Credit: EPFL

“We started with analyzing existing satellite images, and what we could do with this immediately,” explained Pixxel co-founder and CEO Awais Ahmed in an interview. “We realized that in most cases, it was not able to even see certain problems or issues that we wanted to solve – for example, we wanted to be able to look at air pollution and water pollution levels. But to be able to do that there were no commercial satellites that would enable us to do that, or even open source satellite data at the resolution that would enable us to do that.”

The potential of hyperspectral imaging on Earth, across a range of sectors, is huge, according to Ahmed, but Pixxel’s long-term vision is all about empowering a future commercial space sector to make the most of in-space resources.

“We started looking at space as a sector for us to be able to work in, and we realized that what we wanted to do was to be able to enable people to take resources from space to use in space,” Ahmed said. That included asteroid mining, for example, and when we investigated that, we found hyperspectral imaging was the imaging tech that would enable us to map these asteroids as to whether they contain these metal or these minerals. So that knowledge sort of transferred to this more short-term problem that we were looking at solving.”

Part of the reason that Pixxel’s founders couldn’t find existing available hyperspectral imaging at the resolutions they needed was that as a technology, it has previously been restricted to internal governmental use through regulation. The U.S. recently opened up the ability for commercial entities to pursue very high-resolution hyperspectral imaging for use on the private market, effectively because they realized that these technical capabilities were becoming available in other international markets anyway. Ahmed told me that the main blocker was still technical, however.

Pixxel's Hyperspectral imaging satellite at its production facility in Bangalore

Image Credits: Pixxel

“If we were to build a camera like this even two or three years ago, it would not have been possible because of the miniaturized sensors, the optics, etc.,” he said. “The advances that have happened only happened very recently, so it’s also the fact that this the right time to take it from the scientific domain to the commercial domain.”

Pixxel now aims to have its first hyperspectral imaging satellite launched and operating on orbit within the next few months, and it will then continue to launch additional satellites after that once it’s able to test and evaluate the performance of its first spacecraft in an actual operating environment.


Early Stage is the premier “how-to” event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product-market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion. Use code “TCARTICLE at checkout to get 20% off tickets right here.

#aerospace, #asteroid-mining, #awais-ahmed, #bangalore, #imaging, #louisiana, #metal, #optics, #recent-funding, #satellite-constellation, #space, #spectroscopy, #startups, #tc, #techstars, #united-states

Eying sustainability gains for its supply chain, BMW backs Boston Metal’s CO2-free iron production tech

BMW has joined the cohort of investors that are backing Boston Metal’s carbon dioxide-free production technology for steel.

The Boston-based startup had targeted a $50 million raise earlier in the year, as TechCrunch reported, and BMW’s addition closes out that round, according to a person familiar with the company.

Through a commitment from BMW iVentures, the automaker’s investment arm, Boston Metal will have an in to a company with massive demands for more sustainably manufactured metal. For instance, BMW Group press plants in Europe process more than half a million tonnes of steel per year, the company said.

“We systematically identify the raw materials and components in our supplier network with the highest CO2 emissions from production,” said Dr Andreas Wendt, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG responsible for Purchasing and Supplier Network, in a statement. “Steel is one of them, but it is vital to car production. For this reason, we have set ourselves the goal of continuously reducing CO2 emissions in the steel supply chain. By 2030, CO2 emissions should be about two million tonnes lower than today’s figure.”

Conventional steel production requires blast furnaces that generate carbon dioxide emissions, but using Boston Metal’s process, an electrolysis cell produces the pig iron that gets processed into steel, the company said.

The addition of BMW to its investor group, which already includes Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and other strategic and financial investors, caps the fundraising process with another corporate partner wielding incredible industry influence.

“Our investors span across the steel value chain, from the upstream mining and iron ore companies to the downstream end customer, and validate Boston Metal’s innovative process to produce high-quality steel, cost-competitively, and at scale,” said chief executive officer and founder, Tadeu Carneiro.

#automotive-industry, #bmw, #boston, #carbon-dioxide, #cars, #chief-executive-officer, #europe, #investor, #metal, #steel, #tc

Metal 3D printing company Markforged announces plans to go public via SPAC

Big morning for Massachusetts tech companies planning to go public via SPAC. Shortly after Berkshire Grey unveiled its intentions, Watertown-based Markforged has announced its own plans. The metal 3D printing company intends to merge with ONE, a special purpose acquisition company created by Kevin Hartz, who will join its board.

The deal, which could value the additive manufacturing company at around $2.1 billion, would bring in around $400 million in cash. Markforged plans to use the money on R&D for new products, materials and building out new verticals for its tech. Shai Terem will stay on as CEO.

“We’ve been at the forefront of the additive manufacturing industry,” the executive said in a release tied to the news, “and this transaction will enable us to build on our incredible momentum and provide capital and flexibility to grow our brand, accelerate product innovation, and drive expanded adoption among customers across key verticals.”

The company says its technology has been used to print north of 10 million parts since its 2013 founding, with its machines deployed in some 10,000 locations across 70 countries. Last year, it pulled in around $70 million in revenue. It has raised north of $136 million thus far, including an $82 million round back in 2019.

3D printing seen some strong growth in recent years, and that’s expected to continue as companies look to the technology to expand beyond the rapid prototyping it’s best known for. Metal printing from the likes of Markforged and competitors including Desktop Metal are seen as an important step, offering far more durability than plastic deposits.

SPACs are, of course, becoming an increasingly popular route for taking companies public. Hardware makers haven’t been a huge player thus far (with a few exceptions like smart lock mater, Latch), though that looks like it may be changing. The deal is expected to close over the summer.

#3d-printer, #3d-printing, #hardware, #markforged, #metal

The Tula Mic is a powerful portable recorder that doubles as a great USB-C microphone

Tula is a new company founded with the specific purpose of developing user-friendly hardware and software for sound capture, and its debut product, the Tula Mic, is now shipping after a successful crowdfunding campaign last year. Tula Mic is both a USB-C microphone input for computers and mobile devices, and also a dedicated recorder that has built-in storage and its own battery that can provide up to 14 hours of continuous use. It’s a strong intro offering that fits a lot of user needs at an attractive price point.

Basics

The Tula Mic is small – it’s definitely best described as ‘hand-held,’ taking up roughly the size and surface area of a deck of cards. The physical design includes microphone capsules up top, with control buttons running along either side, and a USB-C charging port in the middle of the back of the hardware. The top left side also features a standard 3.5mm port, which can be used not only for headphones for monitoring and playback, but also for input for lavalier microphones, effectively turning the Tula into a body pack.

Just below the grill that contains the recording capsule, there are two lights on the face of the Tula Mic. These including a gain/peaking indicator and a recording indicator, providing you with simple but effective visual feedback. There’s 8GB of built-in memory on board, and that built-in rechargeable battery that offers up to 14 hours of continuous recording. Inside, there are not just one, but two recording capsules, including one with a cardioid recording pattern for capturing audio from one user speaking towards the mic, and one with an omni pickup pattern for recording room sound, best for events or interviews.

The Tula Mic comes with a stand attached, which fold up and attaches magnetically to its midsection for easy transport. This is also removable, and can be swapped out for a standard microphone-mount threaded attachment point. It’s a simple and elegant design that proves very handy in active use, but the proprietary mounting method here means that if you ever lose one or the other of these accessories, you can’t just pick up a generic one like you could if they’d used a standard tripod thread instead, for instance.

Design and performance

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The Tula Mic’s design definitely conveys retro aesthetics, and its flat-sided oval shape is immediately eye-catching and recognizable. The unique look also provides great hand-holdability, and when used in stand mode, it’s immediately clear how a user should address the mic in use. The flip-down stand is elegant and keeps the mic firmly in place, thanks to its weighted metal construction.

The controls located down either side of the Tula Mic are each labelled, but I found that I definitely had to repeatedly reference the included user guide before I could consistently remember what each of them did. The icons are helpful, but not necessarily immediately intuitive. It’s nice to have physical controls, however, rather than touch sensitive surfaces or a screen for input.

The most important thing to note about the Tula Mic’s performance is that it sounds great, in both wired USB-C and standalone recorder mode. Having the ability to switch between omni and cardioid pickup patterns is also immensely useful in terms of the mic’s versatility as a one-size-fits-most solution, since you can use it for podcasting, for recording a class or lecture, and for recording a two-person interview all with equal ease and very high-quality results.

Lastly, Tula includes a built-in local noise cancellation algorithm, which allows you to capture a brief recording of room tone in order to automatically remove it from your subsequent recording. It’s a very handy and surprisingly effective feature, and one that should provide big benefits in terms of later using recordings from the mic with transcription services like Otter.ai.

Bottom line

At $199, the Tula Mic is already priced to match many of the leading USB microphones on the market today. The fact that it’s also a full-featured standalone digital recorder, many of which are also priced at or near that mark, really makes it an obvious choice for anyone looking for portable recording flexibility in a compact package.

#gadgets, #hardware, #metal, #microphone, #microphones, #mobile-devices, #recording, #reviews, #tc, #usb-c

Looking to decarbonize the metal industry, Bill Gates-backed Boston Metal raises $50 million

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.

#bill-gates, #boston-metal, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #electricity, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #mckinsey-co, #metal, #recent-funding, #securities-and-exchange-commission, #startups, #steel, #tc

Flair’s Smart Vent system is a big improvement for anyone looking to improve their home HVAC

Smart thermostats are fairly ubiquitous these days, but depending on which one you’re using, you could be getting a lot more from your home heating and cooling – with relatively simple DIY upgrades. The Flair Smart Vent system is one such upgrade, and though it costs a bit upfront to get going (each register is $79 to start depending on size), you won’t have to call an HVAC contractor or break down any walls to take advantage of what it offers.

The basics

Flair’s system is designed around a simple idea: Controlling the airflow across individual rooms can help you be more efficient about where you direct your heating and cooling, and when. The basic ingredients Flair uses to make this happen are its Smart Vents, which fit into existing floor and wall register slots in standard sizes. The Flair designs are low profile, with all the electronics contained in casing that rests under floor level. They can be hardwired for power, but they also ship with two C batteries the provide “years” of power before they require replacement.

Flair advises three different approaches to determining how many Smart Vents you need to complement your existing system: If you have one room that’s too cold when cooling and too hot when heating, just get a Smart Vent and Flair Puck for that room. If you have just one room that gets too little cooling, and too little heating, equip all your other rooms with Smart Vents and Pucks (or Ecobee sensors if you have an Ecobee thermostat, but we’ll get to that later). If your HVAC is already pretty even, but you just want more control and efficiency gains, then equip the whole house as a third option.

Each room will require a Puck, which is a small round device that includes temperature control and monitoring. The first of these needs to be hardwired to power via the included USB cable, since it acts a bridge connecting the Flair system to your home network. All the others can be powered by included AAA batteries, and they’re very power efficient thanks in part to the e-Ink display.

Flair works in a number of modes, including one that’s compatible with any thermostat where you simply set the temperature for any room, and the associated vent(s) will open or close depending on whether the temperature in that room matches up. It can also work directly with Ecobee and Honeywell smart thermostats for a much more intelligent mode where they receive or send the temperature to the smart unit, and coordinate their open/shut status depending on that. Google has changed the Nest API, so Flair is working on supporting similar features on Nest systems through that in future, but for now it works with Nest installations the same way it would with ‘dumb’ thermostats.

Design and features

Image Credits: Flair

Flair’s Smart Vents themselves are attractive, well-made hardware. The vent covers themselves are made of metal, with an attractive grill design that will go with most decors. They’re exclusively white, which could be an issue for dark flooring, but they’re definitely a step up from your average registers. One one side, they have an LED light strip that is used during setup for identifying which is which, and underneath, the have the battery housing, louvres and the motors that control their open and shut status.

As mentioned, the Smart Vents can be associated with a Puck, which will provide them the ambient temp information, as well as target temp, in order to set them open or shut. They can also use an Ecobee sensor to get their marching orders when set up for software integration with an Ecobee system. I installed my review units and first tried them with the Flair app providing target temp info to the Ecobee, but then switched it around so that the Ecobee determined the desired temperature, and the Flair units all inherited that info and set their open/close status accordingly.

At first, I found the Flair app a bit intimidating just because with a multi-vent system it presents a lot of information, and some degree of logic to initially set up. But once I got the Ecobee integration working, the whole Flair system just worked – and worked like magic.

In this configuration, you never even have to think about the fact that the vents are Smart; they just do whatever they need to in order to equalize the temperature and keep heating and cooling routing intelligently. It made an impressive difference in the amount of airflow circulating around my nearly 100-year old house – and my setup isn’t necessarily ideal because there are a few non-standard, larger registers around that can’t yet be Flair-equipped.

The Pucks themselves are well designed, with magnetic, stick-up and screw-in installation options, and readible, power-efficient e-Ink displays. Their bezel turns for temperature control, and they can also be placed out of sight if you really just want to use them as remote sensors.

Bottom line

You might think that whether a register is open or closed wouldn’t make much difference to the efficacy of a house-wide HVAC system, but in my experience, the before-and-after of Flair was dramatically different. I started out with one problem spot primarily (the master bedroom) and afterwards it got to target temp much more quickly, both in heating and cooling modes.

Even if you find your central air and heating are already pretty effective, Flair seems like a wise upgrade that will provide lasting benefits in terms of consistency and power efficiency. Plus, if you use Flair as the controller, you can set different target temps for different rooms depending on individual occupant preferences.

True zoned HVAC systems can cost thousands – especially if you’re replacing existing ducting in walls. Flair’s solution is a lot more affordable by comparison, and provides effective results with DIY installation that takes just minutes to set up.

#articles, #controller, #ecobee, #electronics, #gadgets, #google, #google-nest, #hardware, #home-automation, #honeywell, #metal, #puck, #register, #reviews, #smart-thermostat, #tc, #technology, #thermostat

Kayhan Space wants to be the air traffic control service for satellites in space

Kayhan Space, the Boulder, Colo. and Atlanta-based company launched from Techstars virtual space-focused accelerator, wants nothing more than to be the air traffic control service for satellites in space.

Founded by two childhood friends, Araz Feyzi and Siamak Hesar, who grew up in Iran and immigrated to the U.S. for college, Kayhan is tackling one of the toughest problems that the space industry will confront in the coming years — how to manage the exponentially increasing traffic that will soon crowd outer space.

There are currently around 8,000 satellites in orbit around the earth, but over the next several years, Amazon will launch 3,236 satellites for its Kuiper Network, while SpaceX filed paperwork last year to launch up to 30,000 satellites. That’s… a lot of metal flying around.

And somebody needs to make sure that those satellites don’t crash into each other, because space junk has a whole other set of problems.

In some ways, Feyzi and Hesar are a perfect pair to solve the problem.

Hesar, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, has spent years studying space travel, receiving a master’s degree from the University of Southern California in aeronautics, and a doctorate in astronautical engineering from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and spent three years at Colorado-based satellite situational awareness and systems control technology developers like SpaceNav and Blue Canyon Technologies.

Meanwhile Feyzi is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded a company in the Atlanta area called Syfer, which developed technologies to secure internet-enabled consumer devices. Using Hesar’s proprietary algorithms based on research from his doctoral days at UC Boulder and Feyzi’s expertise in cloud computing, the company has developed a system that can predict and alert the operators of satellite networks when there’s the potential for a collision and suggest alternative paths to avoid an accident.

It’s a problem that the two founders say can’t be solved by automation on satellites alone, thanks to the complexity and multidimensional nature of the work. “Imagine that a US commercial satellite is on a collision course with a Russian military satellite,” Feyzi said. “Who needs to maneuver? We make sure the satellite operator has all the information available to them [including] here’s what we know about the collision about to happen here and here are the recommendations and options to avoid it.”

Satellites today aren’t equipped to visualize their surroundings and autonomy won’t solve a problem that includes geopolitical complexities and dumb space debris all creating a morass that requires human intervention to navigate, the founders said.

Today it’s too complex to resolve and because of the different nations and lack of standards and policy … today you need human input,” Hesar said.

And in the future, if satellites are equipped with sensors to make collision avoidance more autonomous, then Kayhan Space already has the algorithms that can provide that service. “If you think of the system and the sensors and the decision-making and [execution controls] actually performing that action… we are that,” Hesar said. “We have the algorithm whether it uses the ground-based sensor or the space-based sensor.”

Over the next eight years the space situational market is expected to reach $3.9 billion and there are very few companies equipped to provide the kind of traffic control systems that satellite network operators will need, the founders said.

Their argument was compelling enough to gain admission to the Techstars Allied Space Accelerator, an early stage investment and mentoring program developed by Techstars and the U.S. Air Force, the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and the Norwegian Space Agency. And, as first reported in Hypeotamus, the company has now raised $600,000 in a pre-seed funding from investors including the Atlanta-based pre-seed investment firm, Overline, to grow its business.

And the company realizes that money and technology can’t solve the problem alone.

“We believe that technology alone can help but can’t solve this problem. We need the US to take the lead [on policy] globally,” said Feyzi. “Unlike airspace… which is controlled by countries. Space is space.” Hesar agreed. “There needs to be a focused effort on this problem.”

 

#amazon, #articles, #atlanta, #blue-canyon-technologies, #cloud-computing, #colorado, #iran, #metal, #outer-space, #pollution, #satellite, #serial-entrepreneur, #space-debris, #space-travel, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #techstars, #u-s-air-force, #united-states

MIT’s tiny artificial brain chip could bring supercomputer smarts to mobile devices

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.

#artificial-intelligence, #artificial-neural-networks, #brain, #computing, #emerging-technologies, #hardware, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #memristor, #metal, #science, #tc, #technology

Max Q: SpaceX launches astronauts to orbit

This was a HUGE week in space: SpaceX flew its first-ever human spaceflight mission, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken hopping a ride on a Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. It’s a milestone for commercial spaceflight, for the U.S. space program and for crewed exploration in general.

Liftoff!

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – MAY 30: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the manned Crew Dragon spacecraft attached takes off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley lifted off today on an inaugural flight and will be the first people since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 to be launched into space from the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Bob and Doug took off at 3:22 PM EDT on Saturday, May 30 after a few days’ delay due to weather. The launch vehicle performed its duty beautifully, including sticking the landing onboard SpaceX’s drone landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

Good docking, too

SpaceX followed up its textbook launch with a picture-perfect Crew Dragon docking with the International Space Station. The ISS docking was fully automated, with SpaceX’s guidance and navigation systems handling the precise maneuver, which involves basically bumping the hatch of the capsule into the international docking adapter of the space station, after which point it runs a cycle of “hard sealing” the two together by driving metal pegs from one to the other.

This is the start of the commercial human spaceflight era

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken familiarize themselves with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, the spacecraft that will transport them to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Their upcoming flight test is known as Demo-2, short for Demonstration Mission 2. The Crew Dragon will launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In March 2019, SpaceX completed an uncrewed flight test of Crew Dragon known as Demo-1, which was designed to validate end-to-end systems and capabilities, bringing NASA closer to certification of SpaceX systems to fly a crew.

SpaceX became the first commercial space company to ever fly humans on orbit on Saturday, and that’s going to have far-reaching impact. Just like it did with the launch industry, SpaceX has the potential to essentially create an entirely new market out of thin air now that it can successfully launch people into space for a (relatively) low price.

Take a closer look at those snazzy spacesuits

Plenty was shiny and new about SpaceX’s astronaut launch, including the touchscreen control panels that were installed on Crew Dragon for use by the astronauts in case they ever needed to take over manual control. Bob and Doug made use of those for some demonstration maneuvering before handing back over control of the ship, but the more eye-catching new toy on the ship were those SpaceX spacesuits, which come in black, gray and white and use the red NASA worm logo. Can’t wait for the general public launch of these babies.

Not all roses for SpaceX last week

SpaceX had a really great week by any measure, but it wasn’t free of hiccups. At the company’s testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas, one of its Starship prototypes met with a fiery end as it exploded following a static engine fire test. The development process for that future vehicle hasn’t been without some attention-grabbing test article rapid disassembles, but this was the most spectacular thus far.

Virgin Orbit didn’t get to orbit, but it did learn a lot

Virgin Orbit also had a key demonstration flight last week — its first-ever attempt to fly and launch its full system, including dropping its LauncherOne rocket from its carrier aircraft and having that make a try for space. LauncherOne didn’t make it to space — a malfunction caused its own flight to end just seconds after it started, but the company says a lot went right, even if it didn’t make orbit on this try.

SpaceX signs Starlink test deal with U.S. Army

SpaceX and the U.S. Army have signed an agreement for the military to test out use of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet network, in order to determine if it meets their needs in the field. If the three-year test does work out, that could mean a big and lucrative government contract for SpaceX.

#aerospace, #dragon, #falcon-9, #florida, #international-space-station, #max-q, #metal, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #texas, #u-s-army, #united-states

SpaceX wins the $117 million launch contract to explore Psyche’s heavy metal asteroid

SpaceX has won the launch contract for NASA’s 2022 mission to explore the mineral-rich asteroid known as Psyche, the space agency announced today, including launch services and other mission-related costs valued at $117 million — remarkably low for a mission of this scale.

The Psyche mission will use a Falcon Heavy rocket, which will launch from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Located between Mars and Jupiter, the Psyche asteroid is made of the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet and represents a fragment of one of the earliest building blocks of our solar system.

NASA is hoping that the exploration of Psyche will yield clues about the history of the evolution of terrestrial planets through the examination of Psyche’s own proto-planetary material.

The space agency’s Psyche mission includes two secondary payloads: The Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers, which will study the atmosphere on Mars, and the Janus mission, which will study binary asteroids.

NASA said its Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the SpaceX launch service and that the mission is led by Arizona State University .

“With the transition into this new mission phase, we are one big step closer to uncovering the secrets of Psyche, a giant mysterious metallic asteroid, and that means the world to us,” said principal investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe, in a statement when NASA announced that it was approving the mission.

Pasadena, Calif.’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will be the overall manager for the mission, including system engineering, integration, testing and mission operations. The spacecraft’s propulsion chassis is a high-power solar electric rig provided by Maxar Space Solutions.

This announcement clears the way for Phases D, E, and F of the Psyche mission — the final official phases before launch.

As we wrote last year:

Phase D will begin in early 2021, and includes the final manufacturing and testing of the spacecraft along with the planned launch in early 2022.

Phase E will happen as soon as Psyche’s exploratory craft hits the vacuum of space, NASA said. It’ll cover the deep space operations of the mission and the collection of data for science. NASA expects Psyche will arrive at its eponymous asteroid on January 31, 2026 after buzzing Mars in 2023 (two years before Elon Musk  predicted the first human astronauts would arrive).

Instruments on the Psyche craft will include a magnetometer designed to detect and measure the remnant magnetic field of the asteroid. A multi-spectral imager will be on board to provide high-resolution images to determine the composition of the asteroid (how much is metal versus how much is a silicate). The craft will also include a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer to detect, measure and map the asteroid’s elemental composition, and a new laser technology that’s designed for deep space communications.

#arizona-state-university, #california, #elon-musk, #falcon-heavy, #florida, #jet-propulsion-laboratory, #launch-services, #metal, #nasa, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc