Tamika Butler, Remix’s Tiffany Chu and Revel’s Frank Reig to discuss how to balance equitability and profitability at TC Sessions Mobility

The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.

City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.

But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.

Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.

The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

#america, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #brands, #butler, #california, #ceo, #cities, #clara-brenner, #companies, #construct-capital, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #frank-reig, #joby-aviation, #miami, #mit, #new-york-city, #oakland, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #remix, #revel, #san-francisco, #sequoia-capital, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #washington-d-c, #world-economic-forum, #y-combinator, #zipcar

0

MIT startup Pickle raises $5.75M for its package-picking robot

There’s no doubt this past year has been a major watershed moment for the robotics industry. Warehouse and logistics have been a particular target for an automation push, as companies have worked to keep the lights on amidst stay at home orders and other labor shortages.

MIT spinoff Pickle is one of the latest startups to enter the fray. The company launched with limited funding and a small team, though it’s recently changed one of these, telling TechCrunch this week that it has raised $5.57 million in funding during this hot investment streak. The seed round was led by Hyperplane and featured Third Kind Venture Capital, Box Group and Version One Ventures, among others.

The company’s making some pretty big claims around the efficacy of its first robot named, get this, “Dill” (the company clearly can’t avoid a clever name). It says the robot is capable of 1,600 picks per hour from the back of a trailer, a figure it claims is “double the speed of any competitors.”

CEO Andrew Meyer says collaboration is a key to the company’s play. “We designed people into the system from the get-go and focused on a specific problem: package handling in the loading dock. We got out of the lab and put robots to work in real warehouses. We resisted the fool’s errand of trying to create a system that could work entirely unsupervised or solve every robotics problem out there.”

Orders for the first product targeted at trailer unloading will open in June, with an expected ship date of early 2022.

#funding, #hyperplane, #mit, #pickle, #recent-funding, #robot, #robotics, #startups

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How Pilot charted a course of not raising too much money

A few weeks ago, we wrote about fintech Pilot raising a $100 million Series C that doubled the company’s valuation to $1.2 billion.

Bezos Expeditions — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ personal investment fund — and Whale Rock Capital joined the round, adding $40 million to a $60 million raise led by Sequoia about one month prior.

That raise came after a $40 million Series B in April 2019 co-led by Stripe and Index Ventures that valued the company at $355 million.

Both raises were notable and warranted coverage. But sometimes it’s fun to take a peek at the stories behind the raises and dig deeper into the numbers.

So here we go.

First off, San Francisco-based Pilot — which has a mission of affordably providing back-office services such as bookkeeping to startups and SMBs — apparently had term sheets that offered “2x the $40M” raised in its Series B. But it chose not to raise so much capital. 

I also heard that the same investor that ended up leading a now defunct competitor’s $60 million raise first asked to invest $60 million in Pilot as a follow-on to that Series B prior to making the other investment. While I don’t know for sure, I can only presume that what is being referred to is ScaleFactor’s $60 million Series C raise in August 2019 that was led by Coatue Management. (ScaleFactor crashed and burned last year.)

According to CFO Paul Jun: “There were many periods when Pilot turned away new customers and growth capital instead of absolutely maximizing short-term growth…Pilot prioritized building the foundational investments needed for scalability, reliability and high velocity. When it was presented with the opportunity for additional funding towards further growth in 2019, it declined to do so.”

Co-founder and CEO Waseem Daher elaborates, pointing out that the first company that Pilot’s founding team ran, Ksplice, was bootstrapped before getting acquired by Oracle in 2011. (It’s also worth noting that the founding team are all MIT computer scientists.)

“Ultimately, the reason to raise money is you believe that you can deploy the capital, to grow the company or to basically cause the company to grow at the rate you’d like to grow. And it doesn’t make sense to raise money if you don’t need it, or don’t have a good plan for what to do with it,” Daher told TechCrunch. “Too much capital can be bad because it sort of leads you to bad habits…When you have the money, you spend the money.”

So despite what he describes as “a great deal of institutional interest” in 2019, Pilot opted to raise just $40 million, instead of $80 million to $100 million, because it was the amount of capital the company had confidence that it could deploy successfully.

Also, Jun shared some numbers beyond the recent raise amount and valuation.

  • The company has tripled revenue every year since inception, except for 2020 when it doubled revenue.
  • Pilot claims to have had a cash burn of $800,000 per month in 2020 against a starting balance of $40 million.
  • The startup touts a 60% GAAP gross margin. Daher notes: “We feel really good about having long-term unit economics that will work for this business without resorting to offshoring or outsourcing in a way that could compromise quality and compromise relationships.”

Bottom line is companies don’t have to accept all the capital that’s offered to them. And maybe in some cases, they shouldn’t.

#bezos-expeditions, #bookkeeping, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #index-ventures, #jeff-bezos, #mit, #pilot, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #waseem-daher, #whale-rock-capital

0

Grasping at hidden objects

Happy Robotics Week, to those who celebrate. I know a lot of us are unable to be with our loved ones this year, which means no robotics tree, robotics baskets full of robot eggs and green robot beer. Still, the National Robotics Week organization is putting on a bunch of virtual events across 50 states through April 11.

There’s been a bit of financial news over the past week, also worth noting. On Tuesday, Sarcos joined the rarified air of robotic SPACs. While it’s true there’s been a flurry of activity on that front in the startup world, robotics companies have been slower to embrace the whole blank-check-reverse-merger deal. Berkshire-Grey is the one company that immediately springs to mind.

Image Credits: Sarcos Robotics

Sarcos builds robotics and robotic exoskeletons that look like they were designed for a James Cameron movie. The company has already raised a bunch of money, including a $40 million round, back in September, but is probably most notable to mainstream readers for being at the center of Delta’s recent high-tech push. The airline plans to use some of the company’s tech to help employees lift large payloads.

Image Credits: Rapid Robotics

San Francisco-based Rapid Robotics, meanwhile, announced a $12 million Series A. That brings the company’s funding to date up to $17.5 million, hot on the heels of a decent-sized seed round. The company’s objective is providing a kind of plug and play solution for robotics manufacturing, and essentially lowering the barrier of entry for manufacturing automation across a range of industries.

SoftBank, which continues to be quite bullish on the space, just acquired 40% of AutoStore for a cool $2.8 billion, putting the Norwegian company’s valuation at $7.7 billion. The company uses robotics to maximize warehouse storage, consolidating it into around a quarter of the space. It already has a sizable footprint, as well — 20,000 robots deployed at around 600 locations. Per SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son:

We view AutoStore as a foundational technology that enables rapid and cost-effective logistics for companies around the globe. We look forward to working with AutoStore to aggressively expand across end markets and geographies.

And because it can’t all be investment news (I mean, it can, but who wants that?), some cool research out of MIT. Researchers from the school, along with ones from Harvard and Georgia Tech, showcased a robot that uses radio waves to sense hidden objects. The tech allows RF-Grasp to pick up things that are covered up or otherwise out of its line of vision. MIT Associate Professor Fadel Adib describes it as “superhuman perception.”

#mit, #rapid-robotics, #robotics, #robotics-roundup, #sarcos, #softbank

0

Education non-profit Edraak ignored a student data leak for two months

Edraak, an online education non-profit, exposed the private information of thousands of students after uploading student data to an unprotected cloud storage server, apparently by mistake.

The non-profit, founded by Jordan’s Queen Rania and headquartered in the kingdom’s capital, was set up in 2013 to promote education across the Arab region. The organization works with several partners, including the British Council and edX, a consortium set up by Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.

In February, researchers at U.K. cybersecurity firm TurgenSec found one of Edraak’s cloud storage servers containing at least tens of thousands of students’ data, including spreadsheets with students’ names, email addresses, gender, birth year, country of nationality, and some class grades.

TurgenSec, which runs Breaches.UK, a site for disclosing security incidents, alerted Edraak to the security lapse. A week later, their email was acknowledged by the organization but the data continued to spill. Emails seen by TechCrunch show the researchers tried to alert others who worked at the organization via LinkedIn requests, and its partners, including the British Council.

Two months passed and the server remained open. At its request, TechCrunch contacted Edraak, which closed the servers a few hours later.

In an email this week, Edraak chief executive Sherif Halawa told TechCrunch that the storage server was “meant to be publicly accessible, and to host public course content assets, such as course images, videos, and educational files,” but that “student data is never intentionally placed in this bucket.”

“Due to an unfortunate configuration bug, however, some academic data and student information exports were accidentally placed in the bucket,” Halawa confirmed.

“Unfortunately our initial scan did not locate the misplaced data that made it there accidentally. We attributed the elements in the Breaches.UK email to regular student uploads. We have now located these misplaced reports today and addressed the issue,” Halawa said.

The server is now closed off to public access.

It’s not clear why Edraak ignored the researchers’ initial email, which disclosed the location of the unprotected server, or why the organization’s response was not to ask for more details. When reached, British Council spokesperson Catherine Bowden said the organization received an email from TurgenSec but mistook it for a phishing email.

Edraak’s CEO Halawa said that the organization had already begun notifying affected students about the incident, and put out a blog post on Thursday.

Last year, TurgenSec found an unencrypted customer database belonging to U.K. internet provider Virgin Media that was left online by mistake, containing records linking some customers to adult and explicit websites.

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#articles, #british-council, #ceo, #computing, #cyberspace, #education, #edx, #email, #harvard, #jordan, #linkedin, #mit, #online-education, #phishing, #security, #server, #spamming, #spokesperson, #stanford, #united-kingdom, #virgin-media, #web-server

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Fishing for solutions

One of the slower weeks for robotics investments I’ve seen since I started doing this roundup. This stuff ebbs and flows, though, and there’s always bound to be a bit of a flurry at the beginning of the year. This week, most of the top news revolves around research, which, let’s be honest, is where most of the really fun stuff happens, anyway.

The other week, I spent a couple of paragraphs talking about why soft robots are interesting and important, but of course, they have their limitations. Like everything else in tech, choosing one version has its plusses and minuses. In the pro column, you can have additional compliance and flexibility. But one of the trade-offs is conductivity.

Image Credits: Carnegie Mellon University

Some clever new research out of Carnegie Mellon University applies micrometer-sized silver flakes to soft materials like hydrogels, creating what the team likens to, “a second layer of nervous tissue over your skin.” Soft robotics created in this matter could eventually be used for medical purposes, including treatments for stroke patients and people suffering from tremors related to Parkinson’s.

Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems published its own soft robotics research this week, alongside Seoul National University and Harvard University. Like a lot of the work in the category, the team is focused on a model inspired by marine life. Here we’re looking at a robotic fish that adjusts its undulation based on the water around it. It’s some interesting insight into how fish move and could be useful in producing soft underwater robots, going forward.

Researchers at MIT, meanwhile, are exploring the proper placement of sensors on soft robotics to help give them a better picture of their environment. This points to another issue with soft robotics: their compliance means they often have a more difficult time determining moving based on their environment. So the team has devised a neural network that could optimize sensor placement.

There is still some robotics investment news this week. Fort Robotics made some waves with a $13 million raise. Unlike a lot of the recent rounds we’ve looked at, the Philadelphia company has a software focus. Specifically, it develops a layer for robotic systems designed to help keep companies safe from a wide range of different issues, from cybersecurity to system failure.

Pieter Abbeel, the director of UC Berkeley’s Robot Learning Lab, has been onstage for a few of our annual TC Sessions: Robotics event. He reached out to let us know that he’s just launched an interview series about AI and robotics that will no doubt be a worthwhile listen, if you’re interested at all in the category.

#carnegie-mellon, #fort-robotics, #mit, #robotics, #robotics-roundup

0

Bill Gates wants Western countries to eat “synthetic meat”; Meatable has raised $47 million to make it

In a recent interview discussing Bill Gates’ recent book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster“, the Microsoft and Breakthrough Energy founder (and the world’s third wealthiest man) advocated for citizens of the richest countries in the world to switch to diets consisting entirely of what he called synthetic meat in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Gates’ call is being met by startups and public companies hailing from everywhere from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv, London to Los Angeles, and Berkeley to… um… Chicago.

Indeed, two of the best funded companies in the lab-grown meat market hail from The Netherlands, where Mosa Meat is being challenged by a newer upstart, Meatable, which just announced $47 million in new financing.

The company aims to have its first product approved by European regulators by 2023 and notching commercial sales by 2025.

Meatable has a long road ahead of it, because, as Gates acknowledged in his interview with MIT Technology Review (ed. note: I’m available for a call, too, Bill), “the people like Memphis Meats who do it at a cellular level—I don’t know that that will ever be economical.”

Beyond the economics, there’s also the open question of whether consumers will be willing to make the switch to lab grown meat. Some companies, like the San Francisco-based Just Foods and Tel Aviv’s Supermeat are already selling chicken patties and nuggets made from cultured cells at select restaurants.

These products don’t get at the full potential for cellular technology according to Daan Luining, Meatable’s chief technology officer. “We have seen the nugget and the chicken burger, but we’re working on whole muscle tissue,” Luining said.

The sheer number of entrants in the category — and the capital they’ve raised — points to the opportunity for several winners if companies can walk the tightrope balancing cost at scale and quality replacements for free range food.

“The mission of the company is to be a global leader in providing proteins for the planet. Pork and beef and regularly eaten cuts have on environmental and land management,” Luining said. “The technology that we are using allows us to go into different species. First we’re focused on the animals that have the biggest impact on climate change and planetary health.”

For Meatable right now, price remains an issue. The company is currently producing meat at roughly $10,000 per pound, but, unlike its competitors, the company said it is producing whole meat. That’s including the fat and connective tissue that makes meat… well… meat.

Now with 35 employees and new financing, the company is trying to shift from research and development into a food production company. Strategic investors like DSM, one of the largest food biotech companies in Europe should help. So should angel investors like Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, the executive chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and Dr. Rick Klausner, the former executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a founder of Juno Therapeutics, GRAIL, and Mindstrong Health, after leaving Illumina where he served as chief medical officer.

Institutional investors in the company’s latest round include Google Ventures founder Bill Maris’ new fund, Section 32,  and existing investors like: BlueYard Capital, Agronomics, Humboldt, and Taavet Hinrikus. 

The company’s first commercial offering will likely be a lab-grown pork product, but with expanded facilities in Delft, the location of one of the top universities in The Netherlands, a beef product may not be far behind.

“[Meatable has] a great team and game-changing technology that can address the challenges around the global food insecurity issues our planet is facing,” said Klausner. “They have all the right ingredients to become the leading choice for sustainably and efficiently produced meat.”


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#amsterdam, #articles, #bill-gates, #bill-maris, #blueyard-capital, #cellular-agriculture, #chicago, #chief-technology-officer, #cultured-meat, #eat-just, #europe, #food-and-drink, #food-production, #founder, #google-ventures, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #illumina, #juno-therapeutics, #london, #los-angeles, #meat, #meatable, #memphis, #memphis-meats, #mit, #netherlands, #san-francisco, #tc, #tel-aviv

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Will moving, ‘spacial video’ start to eat into square-box Zoom calls? SpatialChat thinks so

With most of us locked into a square video box on platforms like Zoom, the desire to break away and perhaps wander around a virtual space is strong. These new ways of presenting people – as small circles of videos placed in a virtual space where they can move around – has appeared in various forms, like ‘virtual bars’ for the last few months during global pandemic lockdowns. Hey, I even went to a few virtual bars myself! Although the drinks from my fridge could have been better…

The advantage of this spatial approach is it gives a lot more ‘agency’ to the user. You feel, at least, a bit more in control, as you can make a ‘physical’ choice as to where you go, even if it is only still a virtual experience.

Now SpatialChat, one of the first startups with that approach which launched on ProductHunt in April last year, is upping the game with a new design and the feature of persistent chats. The product debuted on ProductHunt on April 20, 2020, and rose to No. 3 app of the day. The web-based platform has been bootstrapped the founders with their own resources.

SpatialChat now adding a special tier and features for teams running town hall meetings and virtual offices, and says it now has more than 3,000 organizations as paying customers, with more than 200,000 total monthly active users.

The startup is part of a virtual networking space being populating by products such as
Teamflow, Gather, and Remo. Although it began as a online networking events service, its now trying to re-position as a forum for multi-group discussions, all the way up from simple stand-up meetings to online conferences.

SpatialChat uses a mix of ‘proximity’ video chats, screen sharing, and rooms for up to 50 people. It’s now putting in pricing plans for regular, weekly, and one-time use cases. It says it’s seen employees at Sony, Panasonic, Sega, LinkedIn, Salesforce, and McKinsey, as well as educators and staff at 108 American universities, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and MIT, use the platform.

Almas Abulkhairov, CEO and Co-founder of SpatialChat says: “Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams represent a virtual office for many teams but most of our customers say these apps aren’t a good fit for that. They don’t provide the same serendipity of thought you get working shoulder to shoulder and “Zoom fatigue” became a term for a reason. We want to bring the best from offline work.”

Konstantin Krasov, CPO at DataSouls, who used the platform, said: “We had 2500 people in attendance during a 2-day event that we hosted for our community of 50,000 Data Scientists. SpatialChat enabled us to make a cool networking event, Q/A and AMA with thought leaders in data science.”

#computing, #europe, #harvard, #linkedin, #mckinsey, #microsoft, #microsoft-teams, #mit, #panasonic, #salesforce, #software, #sony, #stanford, #tc, #web-conferencing, #workplace, #yale, #zoom

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Cables could help soft robots transform into harder structures

The sub-category of soft robotics has transformed the way many think about the field. Oft-influenced by natural phenomenon, the technology offers a dramatically different approach than the sort of rigid structures we traditionally think of when we discuss robots.

Soft designs offer a number of benefits, including compliance, which has already seen a number of real-world applications in manufacturing and fulfillment. But like their more rigid cousins, soft robots have their limitations. As such, designers generally choose between one or the other for a given job — or, best-case scenario, design swappable parts.

A team at MIT’s CSAIL lab is exploring a technology that could make choosing less of a trade-off. The project has been in the works since 2017, though it’s still in the somewhat early stages — still largely the realm of computer simulation, though the details have been outlined in a new paper.

“This is the first step in trying to see if we can get the best of both worlds,” CSAIL post-doc James Bern said in a release.

In the project (or the simulated version, at least), the robot is controlled by a series of cables. Pulling on them in the right combination turns the soft structure into a hard one. The team uses the analogy of a series of muscles controlling the human arm — if the right ones are flexed, you can effectively lock a position in place.

The team will present their findings at a conference next month. For the time being, they’re currently working on a prototype to showcase how it operates in a real-world setting. Combining the two fields could go a ways toward building safer collaborative robots for interacting with human workers.

#csail, #hardware, #mit, #mit-csail, #robotics, #soft-robotics

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MIT’s insect-sized drones are built to survive collisions

Insects are a lot of things – but fragile they’re not. Sure, most can’t withstand the full force of a human foot, but for their size, they’re evolve to be extremely rugged and resilient. Insect-sized technology, on the other hand, is general another story.

That’s certainly been the historic case with scaled-down drones. The components, in particular, tend to become more fragile the more you shrunk them. In particular, motors both lose efficiency and weaken the smaller they get.

Earlier models from the MIT lab have relied on rigid ceramic-based materials. They did the job in terms of getting the robot airborne, but as the lab notes, “foraging bumblebees endure a collision about once every second.” In other words, if you’re going to build something this small, you need to ensure that it doesn’t break down the first time it comes into contact with something.

“The challenge of building small aerial robots is immense,” says MIT Assistant Professor Kevin Yufeng Chen.

New drone models, which the lab describes as resembling, “a cassette tape with wings,” are built with soft actuators, made from carbon nanotube-coated rubber cylinders. The actuators elongate when electricity is applied at a rate up to 500 times a second. Doing this causes the wings to beat and the drones to take flight.

The drones are extremely light weight, as well, coming in at around 0.6 grams – basically as much as a big bumble bee. There are still limitations to these early models. Namely, the system currently requires them to be hardwired to deliver the necessary charge – as seen in the below gif. It can be a bit of a mess. Other modifications are being made, as well, including a more nature-inspired dragonfly shape being used for newer prototypes.

Image Credits: MIT

Should such the lab be able to to produce such a robot untethered with imaging capabilities and a decent sized battery, the potential applications are immense for the tiny drones. You’ve got everything from simple inspections currently being handled by larger models to pollination and search and rescue.

#drone, #hardware, #insects, #mit, #robotics

0

Immunai raises $60M as it expands from improving immune therapies to discovering new ones, too

Just three years after its founding, biotech startup Immunai has raised $60 million in Series A funding, bringing its total raised to over $80 million. Despite its youth, Immunai has already established the largest database in the world for single cell immunity characteristics, and it has already used its machine learning-powered immunity analysts platform to enhance the performance of existing immunotherapies, but aided by this new funding, it’s now ready to expand into the development of entirely new therapies based on the strength and breadth of its data and ML.

Immunai’s approach to developing new insights around the human immune system uses a ‘multi-omic’ approach – essentially layering analysis of different types of biological data, including a cell’s genome, microbiome, epigenome (a genome’s chemical instruction set) and more. The startup’s unique edge is in combining the largest and richest data set of its type available, formed in partnership with world-leading immunological research organizations, with its own machine learning technology to deliver analytics at unprecedented scale.

“I hope it doesn’t sound corny, but we don’t have the luxury to move more slowly,” explained Immunai co-founder and CEO Noam Solomon in an interview. “Because I think that we are in kind of a perfect storm, where a lot of advances in machine learning and compute computations have led us to the point where we can actually leverage those methods to mine important insights. You have a limit or ceiling to how fast you can go by the number of people that you have – so I think with the vision that we have, and thanks to our very think large network between MIT, and Cambridge to Stanford in the Bay Area, and Tel Aviv, we just moved very quickly to harness people to say, let’s solve this problem together.”

Solomon and his co-founder and CTO Luis Voloch both have extensive computer science and machine learning backgrounds, and they initially connected and identified a need for the application of this kind of technology in immunology. Scientific co-founder and SVP of Strategic Research Danny Wells then helped them refine their approach to focus on improving efficacy of immunotherapies designed to treat cancerous tumors.

Immunai has already demonstrated that its platform can help identify optimal targets for existing therapies, including in a partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine where it assisted with a cell therapy product for use in treating neuroblastoma (a type of cancer that develops from immune cells, often in the adrenal glands). The company is now also moving into new territory with therapies, using its machine learning platform and industry-leading cell database to new therapy discovery – not only identifying and validating targets for existing therapies, but helping to create entirely new ones.

“We’re moving from just observing cells, but actually to going and perturbing them, and seeing what the outcome is,” explained Voloch. This, from the computational side, later allows us to move from correlative assessments to actually causal assessments, which makes our models a lot more powerful. Both on the computational side and on the on the lab side, this is really bleeding edge technologies that I think we will be the first to really put together at any kind of real scale.”

“The next step is to say ‘Okay, now that we understand the human immune profile, can we develop new drugs?’,” said Solomon. “You can think about it like we’ve been building a Google Maps for the immune system of a few years – so we are mapping different roads and paths in the in the immune system. But at some point, we figured out that there are certain roads or bridges that haven’t been built yet. And we will be able to support building new roads and new and new bridges, and hopefully leading from current states of disease or cities of disease, to building cities of health.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biotech, #biotechnology, #cambridge, #cancer-immunotherapy, #funding, #health, #life-sciences, #machine-learning, #machine-learning-technology, #mit, #recent-funding, #science, #stanford, #startups, #tc, #tel-aviv

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MIT is building a ‘one-stop shop’ for 3D-printing robots

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.

#3d-printing, #csail, #drones, #hardware, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #mit, #mit-csail, #robotics

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Battery companies are the latest SPAC target as EVs get a huge regulatory boost

Batteries are the latest landing pad for investors.

In the past week alone, two companies have announced plans to become publicly traded companies by merging with special purpose acquisition companies. European battery manufacturer FREYR said Friday it would become a publicly traded company through a special purpose acquisition vehicle with a valuation at $1.4 billion. Houston area startup Microvast announced Monday its own SPAC, at a $3 billion valuation.

A $4.4 billion combined valuation for two companies with a little over $100 million in revenue (FREYR has yet to manufacture a battery) would seem absurd were it not for the incredible demand for batteries that’s coming.

Legacy automakers like GM and Ford have committed billions of dollars to shifting their portfolios to electric models. GM said last year it will spend $27 billion over the next five years on the development of electric vehicles and automated technology. Meanwhile, a number of newer entrants are either preparing to begin production of their electric vehicles or scaling up. Rivian, for instance, will begin delivering its electric pickup truck this summer. The company has also been tapped by Amazon to build thousands of electric vans.

The U.S. government could end up driving some of that demand.  President Biden announced last week that the U.S. government would replace the entire federal fleet of cars, trucks and SUVs with electric vehicles manufactured in the U.S. That’s 645,047 vehicles. That’s going to mean a lot of new batteries need to be made to supply GM and Ford, but also U.S.-based upstarts like Fisker, Canoo, Rivian, Proterra, Lion Electric and Tesla.

Meanwhile, some of the largest cities in the world are planning their own electrification initiatives. Shanghai is hoping to have electric vehicles represent roughly half of all new vehicle purchases by 2025 and all public buses, taxis, delivery trucks, and government vehicles will be zero-emission by the same period, according to research from the Royal Bank of Canada.

The Chinese market for electric vehicles is one of the world’s largest and one where policy is significantly ahead of the rest of the world.

A potential windfall from China’s EV market is likely one reason for the significant investment into Microvast by investors including the Oshkosh Corp., a 100 year-old industrial vehicles manufacturer; the $8.67 trillion money management firm, BlackRock; Koch Strategic Platforms; and InterPrivate, a private equity fund manager. That’s because Microvast’s previous backers include CDH Investments and CITIC Securities, two of the most well-connected private equity and financial services firms in China.

So is the company’s focus on commercial and industrial vehicles. Microvast believes that the market for commercial electric vehicles could be $30 billion in the near term. Currently, commercial EV sales represent just 1.5% of the market, but that penetration is supposed to climb to 9% by 2025, according to the company.

“In 2008, we set out to power a mobility revolution by building disruptive battery technologies that would allow electric vehicles to compete with internal combustion engine vehicles,” said Microvast chief executive Yang Wu, in a statement. “Since that time we have launched three generations of battery technologies that have provided our customers with battery performance far superior to our competitors and that successfully satisfy, over many years of operation, the stringent requirements of commercial vehicle operators.”

Roughly 30,000 vehicles are using Microvast’s batteries and the investment in Microvast includes about $822 million in cash that will finance the expansion of its manufacturing capacity to hit 9 gigawatt hours by 2022. The money should help Microvast meet its contractual obligations which account for about $1.5 billion in total value, according to the company.

If Chinese investors stand to win big in the upcoming Microvast public offering, a clutch of American investors and one giant Japanese corporation are waiting expectantly for FREYR’s public offering. Northbridge Venture Partners, CRV, and Itochu Corp. are all going to see gains from FREYR’s exit — even if they’re not backers of the European company.

Those three firms, along with the International Finance Corp. are investors in 24m, the Boston-based startup licensing its technology to FREYR to make its batteries.

FREYR’s public offering will also be another win for Yet-Ming Chiang, a serial entrepreneur and professor who has a long and storied history of developing innovations in the battery and materials science industry.

The MIT professor has been working on sustainable technologies for the last two decades, first at the now-defunct battery startup A123 Systems and then with a slew of startups like the 3D printing company Desktop Metal; lithium-ion battery technology developer, 24m; the energy storage system designer, Form Energy; and Baseload Renewables, another early-stage energy storage startup.

Desktop Metal went public last year after it was acquired by a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, and now 24m is getting a potential boost from a big cash infusion into one of its European manufacturing partners, FREYR.

The Norwegian company, which has plans to build five modular battery manufacturing facilities around a site in its home country intends to develop up to 43 gigawatt hours of clean batteries over the next four years.

For FREYR chief executive Tom Jensen there were two main draws for the 24m technology. “It’s the production process itself,” said Jensen. “What they basically do is they mix the electrolyte with the active material, which allows them to make thicker electrodes and reduce the inactive materials in the battery. Beyond that, when you actually do that you remove the need fo a number of traditional production steps… Compared to conventional lithium battery production it reduces production from 15 steps to 5 steps.”

Those process efficiencies combined with the higher volumes of energy bearing material in the cell leads to a fundamental disruption in the battery production process.

Jensen said the company would need $2.5 billion to fully realize its plans, but that the float should get FREYR there. The company is merging with Alussa Energy Acquisition Corp. in a SPAC backed by investors including Koch Strategic Platforms, Glencore, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Franklin Templeton, Sylebra Capital and Van Eck Associates.

All of these investments are necessary if the world is to meet targets for vehicle electrification on the timelines that have been established.

As the Royal Bank of Canada noted in a December report on the electric vehicle industry. “We estimate that globally, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will represent ~3% of 2020 global demand, while plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) will represent another ~1.3%,” according to RBC’s figures. “But we see robust growth off these low figures. By 2025, when growth is still primarily regulatory driven, we see ~11% BEV global penetration of new demand representing a ~40% CAGR from 2020’s levels and ~5% PHEV penetration representing a ~35% CAGR. By 2025, we see BEV penetration in Western Europe at ~20%, China at ~17.5%, and the US at 7%. Comparatively, we expect internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to grow (cyclically) at a 2% CAGR through 2025. On a pure unit basis, we see “peak ICE” in 2024.”

#3d-printing, #amazon, #automotive-industry, #biden, #blackrock, #boston, #cdh-investments, #china, #crv, #desktop-metal, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #energy, #energy-storage, #ford, #franklin-templeton, #gm, #houston, #itochu-corp, #lithium-ion-battery, #mit, #northbridge-venture-partners, #plug-in-hybrid, #president, #proterra, #rivian, #royal-bank-of-canada, #shanghai, #sylebra-capital, #tc, #tesla, #u-s-government, #united-states

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MIT aims to speed up robot movements to match robot thoughts using custom chips

MIT researchers are looking to address the significant gap between how quickly robots can process information (relatively slowly), and how fast they can move (very quickly thanks to modern hardware advances), and they’re using something called ‘robomorphic computing’ to do it. The method, designed by MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (CSAIL) graduate Dr. Sabrina Neuman, results in custom computer chips that can offer hardware acceleration as a means to faster response times.

Custom-built chips tailored to a very specific purpose are not new – if you’re using a modern iPhone, you have one in that device right now. But they have become more popular as companies and technologists look to do more local computing on devices with more conservative power and computing constraints, rather than round-tripping data to large data centers via network connections.

In this case, the method involves creating hyper-specific chips that are designed based on a robot’s physical layout and and its intended use. By taking into account the requirements a robot has in terms of its perception of its surroundings, its mapping and understanding of its position within those surroundings, and its motion planning resulting from said mapping and its required actions, researchers can design processing chips that greatly increase the efficiency of that last stage by supplementing software algorithms with hardware acceleration.

The classic example of hardware acceleration that most people encounter on a regular basis is a graphics processing unit, or GPU. A GPU is essentially a processor designed specifically for the task of handling graphical computing operations – like display rendering and video playback. GPUs are popular because almost all modern computers run into graphics-intensive applications, but custom chips for a range of different functions have become much more popular lately thanks to the advent of more customizable and efficient small-run chip fabrication techniques.

Here’s a description of how Neuman’s system works specifically in the case of optimizing a hardware chip design for robot control, per MIT News:

The system creates a customized hardware design to best serve a particular robot’s computing needs. The user inputs the parameters of a robot, like its limb layout and how its various joints can move. Neuman’s system translates these physical properties into mathematical matrices. These matrices are “sparse,” meaning they contain many zero values that roughly correspond to movements that are impossible given a robot’s particular anatomy. (Similarly, your arm’s movements are limited because it can only bend at certain joints — it’s not an infinitely pliable spaghetti noodle.)

The system then designs a hardware architecture specialized to run calculations only on the non-zero values in the matrices. The resulting chip design is therefore tailored to maximize efficiency for the robot’s computing needs. And that customization paid off in testing.

Neuman’s team used an field-programmable gate array (FPGA), which is sort of like a midpoint between a fully custom chip and an off-the-shelf CPU, and it achieved significantly better performance than the latter. That means that were you to actually custom manufacture a chip from scratch, you could expect much more significant performance improvements.

Making robots react faster to their environments isn’t just about increase manufacturing speed and efficiency – though it will do that. It’s also about making robots even safer to work with in situations where people are working directly alongside and in collaboration with them. That remains a significant barrier to more widespread use of robotics in everyday life, meaning this research could help unlock the sci-fi future of humans and robots living in integrated harmony.

#artificial-intelligence, #computer-chips, #computer-graphics, #computer-hardware, #computing, #fpga, #hardware-acceleration, #iphone, #mit, #robotics, #science, #tc

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MIT develops method for lab-grown plants that eventually lead to alternatives to forestry and farming

Researchers at MIT have developed a new method for growing plant tissues in a lab – sort of like how companies and researchers are approaching lab-grown meat. The process would be able to produce wood and fibre in a lab environment, and researchers have already demonstrated how it works in concept by growing simple structures using cells harvested from zinnia leaves.

This work is still in its very early stages, but the potential applications of lab-grown plant material are significant, and include possibilities in both agriculture and in ruction materials. While traditional agricultural is much less ecologically damaging when compared to animal farming, it can still have a significant impact and cost, and it takes a lot of resources to maintain. Not to mention that even small environmental changes can have a significant effect on crop yield.

Forestry, meanwhile, has much more obvious negative environmental impacts. If the work of these researchers can eventually be used to create a way to produce lab-grown wood for use in construction and fabrication, in a way that’s scalable and efficient, then there’s tremendous potential in terms of reducing the impact of forestry globally. Eventually, the team even theorizes you could coax the growth of plant-based materials into specific target shapes, so you could also do some of the manufacturing in the lab, by growing a wood table directly for instance.

There’s still a long way to go from what the researchers have achieved. They’ve only grown materials on a very small scale, and will look to figure out ways to grow plant-based materials with different final properties as one challenge. They’ll also need to overcome significant barriers when it comes to scaling efficiencies, but they are working on solutions that could address some of these difficulties.

Lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, and lab-grown plant material is even more nascent. But it has tremendous potential, even if it takes a long time to get there.

#articles, #cultured-meat, #food-and-drink, #manufacturing, #meat, #mit, #science, #tc

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Senti Bio raises $105 million for its new programmable biology platform and cancer therapies

Senti Biosciences, a company developing cancer therapies using a new programmable biology platform, said it has raised $105 million in a new round of financing led by the venture arm of life sciences giant, Bayer.

The company’s technology uses new computational biological techniques to manufacture cell and gene therapies that can more precisely target specific cells in the body.

Senti Bio’s chief executive, Tim Lu, compares his company’s new tech to the difference between basic programming and object oriented programming. “Instead of creating a program that just says ‘Hello world’, you can introduce ‘if’ statements and object oriented programming,” said Lu.

By building genetic material that can target multiple receptors, Senti Bio’s therapies can be more precise in the way they identify genetic material in the body and deliver the kinds of therapies directly to the pathogens. “”Instead of the cell expressing a single receptor… now we have two receptors,” he said.

The company is initially applying its gene circuit technology platform to develop therapies that use what are called chimeric antigen receptor natural killer (CAR-NK) cells that can target cancer cells in the body and eliminate them. Many existing cell and gene therapies use chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, which are white blood cells in the body that are critical to immune response and destroy cellular pathogens in the body.

However, T-cell-based therapies can be toxic to patients, stimulating immune responses that can be almost as dangerous as the pathogens themselves. Using CAR-NK cells produces similar results with fewer side effects.
That’s independent of the gene circuit,” said Lu. “The gene circuit gets you specificity… Right now when you use a CAR-T cell or a CAR-NK cell… you find a target and hope that it doesn’t affect normal cells. We can build logic in our gene circuits in the cell that means a CAR-NK cell can identify two targets rather than one.”

That increased targeting means lower risks of healthy cells being destroyed alongside mutations or pathogens that are in the body.

For Lu and his co-founders — fellow MIT professor Jim Collins, Boston University professor, Wilson Wong, and longtime synthetic biology operator, Phillip Lee — Senti Bio is the culmination of decades of work in the field.

“I compare it to the early days of semiconductor work,” Lu said of the journey to develop this gene circuit technology. “There were bits and pieces of technology being developed in research labs, but to realize the scale at which you need, this has to be done at the industrial level.”

So licensing work from MIT, Boston University and Stanford, Lu and his co-founders set out to take this work out of the labs to start a company.

When the company was started it was a bag of tools and the know-how on how to use them,” Lu said. But it wasn’t a fully developed platform. 

That’s what the company now has and with the new capital from Leaps by Bayer and its other investors, Senti is ready to start commercializing.

The first products will be therapies for acute myeloid leukemia, hepatocellular carcinoma, and other, undisclosed, solid tumor targets, the company said in a statement.

“Leaps by Bayer’s mission is to invest in breakthrough technologies that may transform the lives of millions of patients for the better,” said Juergen Eckhardt, MD, Head of Leaps by Bayer. “We believe that synthetic biology will become an important pillar in next-generation cell and gene therapy, and that Senti Bio’s leadership in designing and optimizing biological circuits fits precisely with our ambition to prevent and cure cancer and to regenerate lost tissue function.”

Lu and his co-founders also see their work as a platform for developing other cell therapies for other diseases and applications — and intend to partner with other pharmaceutical companies to bring those products to market.  

“Over the past two years, our team has designed, built and tested thousands of sophisticated gene circuits to drive a robust product pipeline, focused initially on allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies for difficult-to-treat liquid and solid tumor indications,” Lu said in a statement. “I look forward to continued platform and pipeline advancements, including starting IND-enabling studies in 2021.”

The new financing round brings Senti’s total capital raised to just under $160 million and Lu said the new money will be used to ramp up manufacturing and accelerate its work partnering with other pharmaceutical companies.

The current timeframe is to get its investigational new drug permits filed by late 2022 and early 2023 and have initial clinical trials begun in 2023.

Developing gene circuits is new and expanding field with a number of players including Cell Design Labs, which was acquired by Gilead in 2017 for up to $567 million. Other companies working on similar therapies include CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellius, and Editas, Lu said.

#bayer, #biology, #biotechnology, #boston-university, #cancer, #crispr-therapeutics, #emerging-technologies, #gilead, #head, #jim-collins, #manufacturing, #mit, #pharmaceutical, #semiconductor, #stanford, #synthetic-biology, #tc

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MIT Media Lab names Dava Newman as new director

MIT’s famous Media Lab, the multidisciplinary idea factory that produces many a fascinating invention and influential thinker, has found a new director in its backyard after scouring the globe for candidates. Dava Newman, MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics and former deputy administrator of NASA under Obama, will helm the intellectual hub.

The Media Lab is famed for its freewheeling techno-intellectual prowess, but for more than a year has been leaderless following the resignation of former head Joi Ito. Ito resigned when it was discovered that billionaire and alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein had given funding and reportedly received special treatment and access to the Media Lab under his leadership.

The ensuing leadership search no doubt looked for, if not exactly new blood (Newman has been involved with MIT for decades) then certainly a break from the past. Out of 60 candidates, they interviewed 13 and ended up picking Newman for a variety of reasons.

“In a field of outstanding candidates, Professor Newman stood out for her pioneering research, wide range of multidisciplinary engagements, and exemplary leadership. She is a designer, a thinker, a maker, an engineer, an educator, a mentor, a convener, a communicator, a futurist, a humanist and, importantly, an optimist,” wrote Dean Hashim Sarkis in a letter announcing the appointment.

Coincidentally (or is it?), Newman just last week was a speaker at TC Sessions: Space, where she seemed to give a preview of her new responsibilities talking about the importance of inclusion in major efforts like NASA’s Artemis.

“It’s going to bring the scientists and engineers together, but we need the artists, we need the designers, they’re the visionaries,” she said. (If you missed the event, you can watch this and all our other panels on Extra Crunch.)

Newman seems to be starting off the job by emphasizing one of the best qualities a leader should have: listening to the people she’ll be leading.

“I plan to start by doing a lot of listening and learning,” she said in the MIT announcement. “I like to meet people where they are, and to encourage them to put all their great ideas on the table. I think that’s the best way to go forward, working with the whole community — faculty, students and staff — to tap into everyone’s creativity. I can’t wait to get started.”

#aerospace, #dava-newman, #mit, #mit-media-lab, #personnel

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With $5 million in hand, The Routing Company is giving public transit authorities a ride-sharing service

James Cox spent much of his professional career at Uber trying to crack the problem of how to reduce congestion through ride-sharing.

As one of the architects of the Uber Pool service and a longtime proponent of ride-sharing as a means to slash vehicle emissions, Cox leapt at the chance to harness technology developed at MIT that purported to perfect a dynamic routing and vehicle management system for transit authorities.

That technology is at the heart of The Routing Company, the startup that Cox now leads. It’s based on sofrware developed by Routing Company co-founder and chief technology officer, Alex Wallar, when he was a doctoral student at MIT focused on optimizing vehicle distributions. Working with collaborators including Daniela Rus, the director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and post-doc researcher Javier Alonso Mora, Wallar developed a platform that could apply real-time optimization to public transit.

In April, Wallar took the research to Menno van der Zee, and the two men developed the underlying platform that would become The Routing Company.

Cox came on board as an advisor to the company initially, but decided to join the ride full-time after seeing the technology that Wallar and van der Zee had developed.

Now, with $5 million in new financing led by the MIT deeptech investment fund, The Engine, and $6.5 million in total financing, the company is taking its tech to transit authorities around the world.

“We are thrilled to support The Routing Company. They have cracked the code for dynamic shared rides at scale.” said Reed Sturtevant, general partner of The Engine. “Smart ride sharing solutions for cities will have a ripple effect. Innovation in transit could quickly reduce congestion, shorten commute times for those who can’t afford to live in the city where they work, and help the environment.”

The idea is to take the services that private companies had been trying to offer to consumers, and bring the benefits to everyone.

The startup landscape is littered with failed private commuter services, and The Routing Company hopes to circumvent the issues they faced by working with, instead of competing against, public urban transit.

In the US alone, public transportation is a $74 billion business… and during the COVID-19 pandemic it’s a business that’s suffering greatly.

“When we and all the other ridesharing companies were building shared rides algorithms in the past.. The complexity in solving the shared rides problem had not been solved in real time,” said Cox of his time at Uber. “My understanding was that it was not possible to solve it in real time. We are really making transit a customer. If you look at transit they are very good at working with high capacity routes and demand. Where they’re weaker is in low and medium density areas. This is where there’s really an opportunity to help them.”

Cox sees his new company as solving a problem that specifically impacts low-income, low density communities. These areas typically aren’t serviced as well or as frequently by traditional public transit, and the tools on offer from the Routing Company give transit authorities a way to spin up a new fleet to service those areas.

The Routing Company sells a package that includes an app for riders, an app for drivers, and a fleet management platform for the transit agency. While it experiments with different pricing options, Cox declined to disclose how much the company is charging its initial customers, but the revenue model is based on either a per vehicle, per-month fee or on a percentage of the revenue generated per vehicle, he said.

Each driver receives a link to download an app. The riders are capable of accessing the app in a push a button shuttle way. We have built tools to allow people to make a phone call and make an appointment with an operator,” he said. 

The algorithms that had been developed for ride sharing in the past used an individual’s geolocation and destination to set the parameters of who would pick them up. The Routing Company flips that model by focusing on the position of an entire fleet of vehicles first and their already established routes to determine which vehicle is the best suited to pick up a passenger for a ride.

Wait times depend on the city and the number of vehicles deployed through The Routing Company, but Cox said the goal was to have passengers wait no more than 10 minutes for a pick up.  Already, one city in Scotland is using the service and The Routing Company has signed contracts with four undisclosed cities in the US an done in Australia.

“Plenty of people who have tried to make shuttle startups. The issue with a number of those is that the unit economics don’t work. Our approach definitely has the right technology and if we can augment public transit rather than compete with it,” Cox said. 

#advisor, #australia, #computing, #cox, #crowdsourcing, #daniela-rus, #director, #driver, #mit, #public-transport, #public-transportation, #routing, #scotland, #software, #tc, #transit, #transport, #uber, #united-states

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Index ventures into Latin America to back Sofia, a Mexico City-based telemedicine and health insurer

Arturo Sanchez and his co-founders have spent the past two years developing the telemedicine and insurance platform, Sofia, as a way to give customers across Mexico better access to quality healthcare through their insurance plan.

Along with his co-founders, Sebastian Jimenez, a former Google employee who serves as the company’s chief product officer, and Manuel Andere an ex-Patreon employee who’s now Sofia’s chief technology officer, Sanchez  (a former Index Ventures employee) is on a path to provide low-cost insurance for middle class consumers across Latin America, starting in Mexico City.

Backing that vision are a clutch of regional and international investors including Kaszek Ventures, Ribbit Capital, and Index Ventures. When Index Ventures came in to lead the company’s $19 million round earlier this year, it was the first commitment that the venture firm had made in Latin America, but given the strength of the market, it likely won’t be their last.

In Sofia, Index has found a good foothold from which to expand its activity. The company which initially started as a telemedicine platform recently received approvals to operate as an insurer as well — part of a long-term vision for growth where it provides a full service health platform for customers.

Founded by three college friends who graduated from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (Mexico’s version of MIT), the company initially launched with COVID-19 related telemedicine service as the pandemic took hold in Mexico.

That service was a placeholder for what Sanchez said was the broader company vision. And while that product alone had 10,000 users signed up for it, the new vision is broader.

“We registered as an insurance company because we want to go deeper into people’s health. We have built a telemedicine solution, which is a core component of the product. The goal is to be an integrated provider that provide primary care and handles more significant types of illnesses,” said Sanchez.

The company already has a core group of 100 physicians in Mexico City and initially will be serving the city with 70 different specialist areas.

All the virtual consultations are covered without an additional payment and in-person or specialty consultations come at a 30% reduced rate to an out-of-pocket payment, according to Sanchez.

Fees depend on age and gender, but Sanchez said a customer would typically pay around $500 per-year or roughly between $40 and $50 per-month.

The company covers 70% of the cost of most treatments that’s capped at $2,000 per-year and coverage maxes out at $75,000. “In Mexico that covers north of 98% of all illnesses or treatment episodes,” said Sanchez.

In Mexico, insurance is even less common than in the US.

90% of private health spend happens out of pocket. The problem that we’re trying to solve is for these people that are already spending money on healthcare but doing it in an unpredictable and risky way,” said Sanchez. “They buy [our service] and they have access to great quality healthcare that they buy it and it’s a significant step up from what they’ve been living with.”

 

#articles, #chief-technology-officer, #google, #heal, #healthcare, #insurance, #kaszek-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #mit, #ribbit-capital, #science-and-technology, #tc, #technology, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #united-states

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MIT develops a battery-free method for navigating underwater that could transform ocean exploration

MIT has developed a new navigation system designed for use underwater that could do for underwater wayfinding what GPS has done for travel on and above the surface. GPS doesn’t really penetrate underwater, because radio waves aren’t really water-friendly. It’s why you commonly see things like sonar employed on submarines, which emit sound waves and measure their reflection off of other underwater objects and surfaces. Typical sonar and other acoustic signalling methods are power-hungry, however – which is why MIT’s new battery-free system has so much potential.

GPS is also a relatively power-efficient technology, which is part of the reason it has done so much to transform how we get around, from in-car navigation to maps on smartphones. The limitations of current underwater navigation technology has meant that we typically need to use large, quick-to-deplete battery packs to power sound generation and transmission devices. MIT’s system would replace all that with a new type of battery-free acoustic navigation systems that sues signals already found in the environment rather than creating its own.

The system works by employing piezoelectric materials, which generate an electric charge when hit with mechanical stress, including the strain resulting from a sound wave impacting against them. Researchers created a way from these sensors to translate sound wave information into binary code, which they used to measure things like the temperature of the surrounding ocean or its salt content, but they theorized that it could also be used to figure out location information.

That’s more complicated than it might appear rat first, because sound reflects off of various surfaces underwater and travels back at often unpredictable angles. But the research team was actually able to account for this with an approach called ‘frequency hopping’ and collecting information across a range of different wavelentghts. This was effective in deep water, and now they’re working on making it more effective in the even noisier environment of shallow water.

Ultimately, the system and future versions that are based upon the same technology could enable future robotic submarine explorers to better map the ocean floor, and perform all kinds of automated monitoring and sub-sea navigation.

#acoustics, #gps, #in-car-navigation, #mit, #navigation, #navigation-system, #science, #science-and-technology, #ships, #smartphones, #sonar, #sound, #submarine, #tc

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Cough-scrutinizing AI shows major promise as an early warning system for COVID-19

Asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 is a huge contributor to the pandemic, but of course if there are no symptoms, how can anyone tell they should isolate or get a test? MIT research has found that hidden in the sound of coughs is a pattern that subtly, but reliably, marks a person as likely to be in the early stages of infection. It could make for a much-needed early warning system for the virus.

The sound of one’s cough can be very revealing, as doctors have known for many years. AI models have been built to detect conditions like pneumonia, asthma, and even neuromuscular diseases, all of which alter how a person coughs in different ways.

Before the pandemic, researcher Brian Subirana had shown that coughs may even help predict Alzheimer’s — mirroring results from IBM research published just a week ago. More recently, Subirana thought if the AI was capable of telling so much from so little, perhaps COVID-19 might be something it could suss out as well. In fact, he isn’t the first to think so.

He and his team set up a site where people could contribute coughs, and ended up assembling “the largest research cough dataset that we know of.” Thousands of samples were used to train up the AI model, which they document in an open access IEEE journal.

The model seems to have detected subtle patterns in vocal strength, sentiment, lung and respiratory performance, and muscular degradation, to the point where it was able to identify 100 percent of coughs by asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers and 98.5 percent of symptomatic ones, with a specificity of 83 and 94 percent respectively, meaning it doesn’t have large numbers of false positives or negatives.

“We think this shows that the way you produce sound, changes when you have COVID, even if you’re asymptomatic,” said Subirana of the surprising finding. However he cautioned that although the system was good at detecting non-healthy coughs, it should not be used as a diagnosis tool for people with symptoms but unsure of the underlying cause.

I asked Subirana for a bit more clarity on this point.

“The tool is detecting features that allow it to discriminate the subjects that have COVID from the ones that don’t,” he wrote in an email. “Previous research has shown you can pick up other conditions too. One could design a system that would discriminate between many conditions but our focus was on picking out COVID from the rest.”

For the statistics-minded out there, the incredibly high success rate may raise some red flags. Machine learning models are great at a lot of things, but 100 percent isn’t a number you see a lot, and when you do you start thinking of other ways it might have been produced by accident. No doubt the findings will need to be proven on other datasets and verified by other researchers, but it’s also possible that there’s simply a reliable tell in COVID-induced coughs that a computer listening system can hear quite easily.

The team is collaborating with several hospitals to build a more diverse dataset, but is also working with a private company to put together an app to distribute the tool for wider use, if it can get FDA approval.

#artificial-intelligence, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #health, #machine-learning, #mit, #science, #tc

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Deep tech VC fund The Engine raises $230M for its second fund from MIT and new backer Harvard

Deep tech. Hard tech. Or, as The Engine dubs it, Tough Tech.

Venture investing today is essentially identical to what happens on Wall Street, focused on data rooms, spreadsheets, SaaS churn models and cohort analysis. Yet, the history of venture capital firms is heavily interwoven with universities and their research. Some of the most famous VC funds like Kleiner Perkins got their start funding compelling research projects out of laboratories and financing their commercialization toward scale.

Technical risk is something many VCs like to avoid, but The Engine has built an entire brand and thesis around it. Centered around Kendall Square and the broader MIT ecosystem, The Engine debuted a couple of years ago with a focus on “tough tech” problems that are perhaps a touch too early for other VCs. That’s led to investments in companies like Boston Metal, which builds environmentally-friendly steel alloys, WoHo, which is rethinking modular building construction that we profiled last week, and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, which is developing fusion power.

Indeed, the firm’s portfolio page has to be one of the most interesting in the industry today.

The good news is that the firm’s ambitious funding strategy looks set to continue. It announced this morning that it has raised $230 million toward the firm’s second fund, which on top of the firm’s first fund brings it to a total of $435 million under management. In a press statement, the firm said that it has funded 27 portfolio companies out of its first fund. While MIT continues to be the anchor LP, Harvard joined for Fund 2, creating a cross-Cambridge, MA venture platform.

Katie Rae remains CEO and managing partner of the fund, and her team has expanded over the past few years as the firm has scaled up.

The Engine’s Reed Sturtevant, Katie Rae, and Ann DeWitt prepare for the Tough Tech Summit today. Photo via The Engine.

One interesting point that we haven’t noted previously is that MIT is building The Engine a 200,000 square foot building near its campus that will offer massive space for startups and portfolio companies to start and grow over time. That building is expected to open in 2022, hopefully when this whole pandemic situation allows for in-office collaboration again.

Boston has become something of a hub for deeper technical projects. Local startup Desktop Metal, which builds 3D printers that can print metal, is going through a SPAC process that values the company at roughly $2.5 billion. With this latest news from The Engine, it seems clear that Boston’s tough tech ecosystem will continue to have a pipeline of interesting and compelling companies.

#boston, #greentech, #hardware, #harvard, #katie-rae, #mit, #the-engine, #venture-capital

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MIT engineers develop a totally flat fisheye lens that could make wide-angle cameras easier to produce

Engineers at MIT, in partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, have devised a way to build a camera lens that avoids the typical spherical curve of ultra-wide-angle glass, while still providing true optical fisheye distortion. The fisheye lens is relatively specialist, producing images that can cover as wide an area as 180 degrees or more, but they can be very costly to produce, and are typically heavy, large lenses that aren’t ideal for use on small cameras like those found on smartphones.

This is the first time that a flat lens has been able to product clear, 180-degree images that cover a true panoramic spread. The engineers were able to make it work by patterning a thin wafer of glass on one side with microscopic, three-dimensional structures that are positioned very precisely in order to scatter any inbound light in precisely the same way that a curved piece of glass would.

The version created by the researchers in this case is actually designed to work specifically with the infrared portion of the light spectrum, but they could also adapt the design to work with visible light, they say. Whether IR or visible light, there are a range of potential uses of this technology, since capturing a 180-degree panorama is useful not only in some types of photography, but also for practical applications like medical imaging, and in computer vision applications where range is important to interpreting imaging data.

This design is just one example of what’s called a ‘Metalens’ – lenses that make use of microscopic features to change their optical characteristics in ways that would traditionally have been accomplished through macro design changes – like building a lens with an outward curve, for instance, or stacking multiple pieces of glass with different curvatures to achieve a desired field of view.

What’s unusual here is that the ability to accomplish a clear, detailed and accurate 180-degree panoramic image with a perfectly flat metalens design came as a surprise even to the engineers who worked on the project. It’s definitely an advancement of the science that goes beyond what may assumed was the state of the art.

#fisheye-lens, #gadgets, #glass, #hardware, #imaging, #lenses, #massachusetts, #medical-imaging, #mit, #optics, #science, #science-and-technology, #smartphones, #tc

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Ansa Biotechnologies wants to usher in a new era of DNA manufacturing

Daniel Arlow has spent the last eighteen years studying genomics and synthetic biology. The arc of his career has taken the first-time founder of the new startup Ansa Biotechnologies from MIT to the famous Keasling Lab at the University of California at Berkeley and now to the world of startups.

Now, Arlow is ready to tell the world what he’s been working on at Ansa, which is nothing less than the delivery of the next generation of synthetic DNA manufacturing.

His company is bringing to market a new process for making DNA that Arlow said is faster and more accurate than existing technologies.

“DNA read, write, and edit are the core pillars of synthetic biology,” said Seth Bannon, a founding partner at the frontier investment firm Fifty Years, and an investor in Ansa’s recent $7.9 million investment round. “Currently the ability to write DNA is the main bottleneck in the synthetic biology industry. By enabling faster, longer, and higher quality DNA synthesis with their fully enzymatic process, Ansa will help accelerate the entire synthetic biology industry.”

Arlow likens the state of the industry now to the early days of programming. “If it took three weeks to compile your code or recompile your code to make a simple change you could never make any progress in developing software for the computer,” Arlow said. And that’s the state for programmable biology these days.

“It took a really long time to test your idea after it was designed. It forces you to plan things out much more carefully and to be less spontaneous and less agile,” he said. 

Using Ansa, companies can have DNA made based on their specific requirements at a speed and scale that Arlow said other companies in the market can’t match.

Currently, DNA molecules are made using a thirty year-old chemical method that has limitations on the length of molecules that can be made. By contrast, Ansa’s biologically inspired DNA synthesis method means that the company can make long molecules directly, without the risk of errors that can result from patching pieces of genetic material together.

The company has developed an enzyme that basically adds bases to a DNA molecule. The company basically has a cut and paste function that serves to unblock DNA and then allows another base to be attached.

It’s also important to note that Arlow’s company is doing synthesis as a service rather than selling bioprinters that can enable any researcher to make their own DNA.

“One of the reasons we’re developing our business as a DNA synthesis service… as opposed to making a printer… is because that gives us a much greater ability to vet orders for biosecurity risk before we manufacture them,” Arlow said.

Other companies like DNA Script (from France) and Nuclera (a Cambridge, UK-based company) are going to market with bioprinters that they’re selling directly to research labs, according to Arlow.

All of these businesses are the next iteration of companies like Twist Bioscience, that are manufacturing DNA to power the synthetic biology revolution (something that TechCrunch Disrupt attendees have been hearing a lot about).

Ansa hasn’t shipped any DNA yet, but the company will soon be taking orders to begin competing in a market that Arlow estimates is over $1 billion today and is growing quite rapidly.

“Writing is really the bottleneck,” Arlow said. “The business we’re in is selling to R&D.. the faster we can crank out the DNA the better it is. Part of the reason why we’re still pretty bad at engineering biology is because it takes so long to build a new design. My hope is by building more we’ll get better at designing because we’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

 

#articles, #biology, #biotechnology, #dna, #dna-script, #emerging-technologies, #fifty-years, #genomics, #mit, #seth-bannon, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #twist-bioscience

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China bans Scratch, MIT’s programming language for kids

China’s enthusiasm for teaching children to code is facing a new roadblock as organizations and students lose an essential tool: the Scratch programming language developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.

China-based internet users can no longer access Scratch’s website. Greatfire.org, an organization that monitors internet censorship in China, shows that the website was 100% blocked as early as August 20, while a Scratch user flagged the ban on August 14.

Nearly 60 million children around the world have used Scratch’s visual programming language to make games, animations, stories and the likes. That includes students in China, which is seeing a gold rush to early coding as the country tries to turn its 200 million kids into world-class tech talents.

At last count, 5.65% or 3 million of Scratch’s registered users are based in China, though its reach is greater than the figure suggests as many Chinese developers have built derivatives based on Scratch, an open-source software.

Projects on Scratch contains “a great deal of humiliating, fake, and libelous content about China,” including placing Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan in a dropdown list of “countries”, a state-run news outlet reported on August 21.

The article added that “any service distributing information in China” must comply with local regulations, and Scratch’s website and user forum had been shut down in the country.

The Scratch editor, which claims coders in every country in the world and available in more than 50 languages, is downloadable and used offline. That means Chinese users who have installed the software can continue using it for now. It’s unclear whether the restriction will extend to and hamper the software’s future version updates.

The Scratch team cannot be immediately reached for comment. Its ban in China, if proven permanent, will likely drum up support for home-grown replacements.

“Scratch is very widely used in China by student users. Inside schools, it’s used in many official information technology textbooks for primary school students,” said Anqi Zhou, chief executive of Shenzhen-based Dream Codes True, a coding startup targeting primary and secondary school kids. “There are many coding competitions for kids using Scratch.”

Indeed, the infiltration of Scratch into the public school system is what had initially alarmed the Chinese authority. An article published August 11 on a youth-focused state outlet blasted:

“Platforms like Scratch have a large number of young Chinese users. That’s exactly why the platform must exercise self-discipline. Allowing the free flow of anti-China and separatist discourse will cause harm to Chinese people’s feelings, cross China’s red line, and poison China’s future generation.”

The article headline captured Beijing’s attitude towards imported technologies, including those that are open-source and meant to be educational and innocuous: An open China is not “xenophobic” but must “detoxify”.

Regardless of the “problematic” user-generated content on Scratch, China will likely encourage more indigenous tech players to grow, as it has done in a sweeping effort to localize semiconductors and even source code hosting.

Outside textbooks, Scratch had also found its way into pricey afterschool centers across China. Some companies attribute Scratch’s open-source codes as their foundation while others build lookalikes that claim to be in-house made, several Chinese founders working in the industry told TechCrunch.

“Scratch is like the benchmark for kids’ programming software. Most parents learn about Scratch from extracurricular programs, which tend to keep all the web traffic to themselves rather than directing users to Scratch,” said Yi Zhang, founder of Tangiplay, a Shenzhen-based startup teaching children to code through hardware.

Despite Scratch’s popularity in China, competitors of all sizes have cropped up. That includes five-year-old Code Mao, a Shenzhen startup that’s an early and major player in the space — and well-financed by venture capital firms. With its own Kitten language “more robust than Scratch,” the startup boasts a footprint in 21 countries, over 30 million users, and about 11,000 institutional customers. Internet incumbents NetEase and Tencent have also come up with their own products for young coders.

“If it’s something permanent and if mainstream competitions and schools stop using it, we too will consider stopping using it,” said Zhou, whose startup is also based in Shenzhen, which has turned into a hub for early coding thanks to its emerging players like Code Mao and Makeblock.

#asia, #censorship, #china, #government, #mit, #scratch

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MIT CSAIL grad launches machine learning platform with $10M Series A

Manasi Vartak, founder and CEO of Verta, conceived of the idea of the open source project ModelDB database as a way to track versions of machine models while she was still in grad school at MIT. After she graduated, she decided to expand on that vision to build a product that could not only track model versions, but provide a way to operationalize them and Verta was born.

Today, that company emerged from stealth with a $10 million Series A led by Intel Capital with participation from General Catalyst, who also led the company’s $1.7 million seed round.

Beyond providing a place to track model versioning, which ModelDB gave users, Vartak wanted to build a platform for data scientists to deploy those models into production, which has been difficult to do for many companies. She also wanted to make sure that once in production, they were still accurately reflecting the current data and not working with yesterday’s playbook.

“Verta can track if models are still valid and send out alarms when model performance changes unexpectedly,” the company explained

Verta interface

Image Credits: Verta

Vartak says having that open source project helped sell the company to investors early on, and acts as a way to attract possible customers now. “So for our seed round, it was definitely different because I was raising as a solo founder, a first time founder right out of school, and that’s where having the open source project was a huge win,” she said.

Certainly Mark Rostick, VP and senior managing director at lead investor Intel Capital recognized that Verta was trying to solve a fundamental problem around machine learning model production. “Verta is addressing one of the key challenges companies face when adopting AI — bridging the gap between data scientists and developers to accelerate the deployment of machine learning models,” Rostick said.

While Vartak wasn’t ready to talk about how many customers she has just yet at this early stage of the company, she did say there were companies using the platform and getting models into production much faster.

Today, the company has 9 employees, and even at this early stage, she is taking diversity very seriously. In fact, her current employee makeup includes 4 Indian, 3 Caucasian, 1 Latino and 1 Asian for a highly diverse mix. Her goal is to continue on this path as she builds the company. She is looking at getting to 15 employees this year, then doubling that by next year.

One thing Vartak also wants to do is have a 50/50 gender split, something she was able to achieve while at MIT in her various projects, and she wants to carry on with her company. She is also working with a third party, Sweat Equity Ventures, to help with recruiting diverse candidates.

She says that she likes to work iteratively to build the platform, while experimenting with new features, even with her small team. Right now, that involves interoperability with different machine learning tools out there like Amazon SageMaker or Kubeflow, the open source machine learning pipeline tool.

“We realized that we need to meet customers where they are at their level of maturity. So we focused a lot the last couple of quarters on building a system that was interoperable so you can pick and choose the components kind of like Lego blocks and have a system that works end to end seamlessly.”

#artificial-intelligence, #csail, #developer, #enterprise, #funding, #intel-capital, #machine-learning-models, #mit, #modeldb, #open-source, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #verta

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Launched with $17 million by two former Norwest investors, Tau Ventures is ready for its closeup

Amit Garg and Sanjay Rao have spent the bulk of their professional lives developing technology, founding startups and investing in startups at places like Google and Microsoft, HealthIQ, and Norwest Venture Partners.

Over their decade-long friendship the two men discussed working together on a venture fund, but the time was never right — until now. Since last August, the two men have been raising capital for their inaugural fund, Tau Ventures.

The name, like the two partners, is a bit wonky. Tau is two times pi and Garg and Rao chose it as the name for the partnership because it symbolizes their analytical approach to very early stage investing.

It’s a strange thing to launch a venture fund in a pandemic, but for Garg and Rao, the opportunity to provide very early stage investment capital into startups working on machine learning applications in healthcare, automation and business was too good to pass up.

Garg had spent twenty years in Silicon Valley working at Google and launching companies including HealthIQ. Over the years he’d amassed an investment portfolio that included the autonomous vehicle company, Nutonomy, BioBeatsGlookoCohero HealthTerapedeFigure1HealthifyMe,  Healthy.io and RapidDeploy.

Meanwhile, Rao, a Palo Alto, Calif. native, MIT alum, Microsoft product manager and founder of the Accelerate Labs accelerator in Palo Alto, Calif., said that it was important to give back to entrepreneurs after decades in the Valley honing skills as an operator.

Image credit: Tau Ventures

Both Rao and Garg acknowledge that there are a number of funds that have emerged focused on machine learning including Basis Set Ventures, SignalFire, Two Sigma Ventures, but these investors lack the direct company building experience that the two new investors have.

Garg, for instance, has actually built a hospital in India and has a deep background in healthcare. As an investor, he’s already seen an exit through his investment in Nutonomy, and both men have a deep understanding of the enterprise market — especially around security.

So far, the company has made three investments automation, another three in enterprise software, and five in healthcare.

The firm currently has $17 million in capital under management raised from institutional investors like the law firm Wilson Sonsini and a number of undisclosed family offices and individuals, according to Garg.

Much of that capital was committed after the pandemic hit, Garg said. “We started August 29th… and did the final close May 29th.”

The idea was to close the fund and start putting capital to work — especially in an environment where other investors were burdened with sorting out their existing portfolios, and not able to put capital to work as quickly.

“Our last investment was done entirely over Zoom and Google Meet,” said Rao.

That virtual environment extends to the firm’s shareholder meetings and conferences, some of which have attracted over 1,000 attendees, according to the partners.

#basis-set-ventures, #biobeats, #california, #enterprise-software, #glooko, #google, #healthcare, #india, #law, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #mit, #norwest, #norwest-venture-partners, #nutonomy, #palo-alto, #product-manager, #signalfire, #tc, #technology, #two-sigma-ventures, #wilson-sonsini

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MIT and Boston Dynamics team up on ‘Dr. Spot,’ a robot for remote COVID-19 vital sign measurement

One of the most consistent pieces of advice from health organizations about COVID-19 has been that everyone do their utmost to limit contact with people who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. That’s difficult in a hospital setting, where medical professionals regularly have to take patient vital sign measurements in order to provide proper care. But a new collaborative effort by MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Dynamics and others might provide a way to get those measurements without putting frontline healthcare workers directly in harms’ way.

In a new academic paper, MIT researchers describe how they developed and used ‘Dr. Spot,’ a customized version of Boston Dynamics’ four-legged, dog-like robot, to be able to make use of contactless vital sign monitoring equipment for taking measurements. Dr. Spot is also outfitted with a tablet to make it possible for doctors and nurses to have ‘face-to-face’ interviews with patients while they conduct exams. This hyperlocal version of telemedicine has the potential to not only reduce the risk of exposure for medical personnel, but also drastically reduce use of personal protective equipment, conserving resources for when they’re needed most.

Dr. Spot is able to measure vital signs including skin temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood oxygen saturation all at once. These are all key metrics that healthcare professionals track when determining the progress of COVID-19 in a patient. For the purposes of this study, Dr. Spot was deployed in a hospital setting, but only took measurements from health volunteer research subjects in order to validate the accuracy of its measurement and sensor equipment.

This is just a study to provide some proof as to the potential of actually deploying Dr. Spot or a similar system in an actual clinical study, but the results are promising. Remote vital monitoring isn’t a new concept, but many other systems for accomplishing this require adapting the physical locations where patients are treated to accommodate that kind of distanced measurement, whereas this one could be deployed much more flexibly in existing hospitals and clinics.

#articles, #biotech, #boston-dynamics, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #disease, #hardware, #health, #mit, #monitoring, #nanomedicine, #robotics, #science, #spot, #tc, #technology, #telehealth, #telemedicine

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The race to building a fully functional quantum stack

Quantum computers exploit the seemingly bizarre yet proven nature of the universe that until a particle interacts with another, its position, speed, color, spin and other quantum properties coexist simultaneously as a probability distribution over all possibilities in a state known as superposition. Quantum computers use isolated particles as their most basic building blocks, relying on any one of these quantum properties to represent the state of a quantum bit (or “qubit”). So while classical computer bits always exist in a mutually exclusive state of either 0 (low energy) or 1 (high energy), qubits in superposition coexist simultaneously in both states as 0 and 1.

Things get interesting at a larger scale, as QC systems are capable of isolating a group of entangled particles, which all share a single state of superposition. While a single qubit coexists in two states, a set of eight entangled qubits (or “8Q”), for example, simultaneously occupies all 28 (or 256) possible states, effectively processing all these states in parallel. It would take 57Q (representing 257 parallel states) for a QC to outperform even the world’s strongest classical supercomputer. A 64Q computer would surpass it by 100x (clearly achieving quantum advantage) and a 128Q computer would surpass it a quintillion times.

In the race to develop these computers, nature has inserted two major speed bumps. First, isolated quantum particles are highly unstable, and so quantum circuits must execute within extremely short periods of coherence. Second, measuring the output energy level of subatomic qubits requires extreme levels of accuracy that tiny deviations commonly thwart. Informed by university research, leading QC companies like IBM, Google, Honeywell and Rigetti develop quantum engineering and error-correction methods to overcome these challenges as they scale the number of qubits they can process.

Following the challenge to create working hardware, software must be developed to harvest the benefits of parallelism even though we cannot see what is happening inside a quantum circuit without losing superposition. When we measure the output value of a quantum circuit’s entangled qubits, the superposition collapses into just one of the many possible outcomes. Sometimes, though, the output yields clues that qubits weirdly interfered with themselves (that is, with their probabilistic counterparts) inside the circuit.

QC scientists at UC Berkeley, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, UT Sydney and elsewhere are now developing a fundamentally new class of algorithms that detect the absence or presence of interference patterns in QC output to cleverly glean information about what happened inside.

The QC stack

A fully functional QC must, therefore, incorporate several layers of a novel technology stack, incorporating both hardware and software components. At the top of the stack sits the application software for solving problems in chemistry, logistics, etc. The application typically makes API calls to a software layer beneath it (loosely referred to as a “compiler”) that translates function calls into circuits to implement them. Beneath the compiler sits a classical computer that feeds circuit changes and inputs to the Quantum Processing Unit (QPU) beneath it. The QPU typically has an error-correction layer, an analog processing unit to transmit analog inputs to the quantum circuit and measure its analog outputs, and the quantum processor itself, which houses the isolated, entangled particles.

#api, #column, #developer, #emerging-technologies, #extra-crunch, #finance, #ionq, #market-analysis, #mit, #quantum-computing, #quantum-mechanics, #quantum-supremacy, #qubit, #rigetti, #rigetti-computing, #science, #software-vendors, #startups, #tc

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On demand mental health service provider Ginger raises $50 million

Ginger, a provider of on demand mental healthcare services, has raised $50 million in a new round of funding.

The new capital comes as interest and investment in mental health and wellness has emerged as the next big area of interest for investors in new technology and healthcare services companies.

Mental health startups saw record deal volumes in the second quarter of 2020 on the heels of rising demand caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, according to the data analysis firm CB Insights. More than 55 companies raised rounds of funding over the quarter, even though deal amounts declined 15% to $491 million. That’s still nearly half a billion dollars invested into mental health in one quarter alone.

What started in 2011 as a research-based company spun out of work from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has become one of the largest providers of mental health services primarily through employer-operated health insurance plans.

Through Ginger’s services, patients have access to a care coordinator that is the first point of entry into the company’s mental health plans. That person is a trained behavioral health coach — typically someone with a master’s degree in psychology with a behavioral health coaching certificate from schools like Duke, UCLA, Michigan or Columbia and 200 hours of training provided by Ginger itself.

These health coaches provide the majority of care that Ginger’s patients receive. For more serious conditions, Ginger will bring in specialists to coordinate care or provide access to medications to alleviate the condition, according to the company’s chief executive officer, Russell Glass.

Ginger began offering its on-demand care services in 2016 and counts tens of thousands of active users on the platform. The company charges companies a fee for access to its services on a per-employee, per-month basis and provides access to mental health services to hundreds of thousands of employees through corporate benefit plans, Glass said.

Over 200 companies, including Delta Air Lines, Sanofi, Chegg, Domino’s, SurveyMonkey, and Sephora, pay  Ginger to cost-efficiently provide employees with high-quality mental healthcare. Ginger members can access virtual therapy and psychiatry sessions as an in-network benefit through the company’s relationships with leading regional and national health plans, including Optum Behavioral Health, Anthem California, and Aetna Resources for Living, according to a statement.

“Our entire mission here is to break the supply/demand imbalance and provide far more care,” said Glass in an interview. “Ultimately we want Ginger to be available to anybody who has a need. Being accessible to anybody, anywhere is an important part of the strategy. that means direct-to-consumer will be a direction we head in.”

For now, the company will use the money to build out its partner ecosystem with companies like Cigna, an investor in the company’s latest $50 million round. Ginger will also look to getting government payers to reach more people. eventually direct-to-consumer could become a larger piece of the business as the company drives down costs of care.

It’s also investing in automation and natural language processing to automate care pathways and personalizing patient care using machine learning.

The company’s $50 million Series D round was co-led by Advance Venture Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners, with additional participation from Cigna Ventures and existing investors such as Jeff Weiner, Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, and Kaiser Permanente Ventures. To date, Ginger has raised roughly $120 million. 

 Even as Ginger is working through the existing network of employer benefit plans and stand-alone insurance providers to offer its mental health services, other startups are raising money to offer employer-provided mental health and wellness plans. SonderMind is working to make it easier for independent mental health professionals to bill insurers, AbleTo helps employers screen for undiagnosed mental health conditions, and SilverLight Health partners with organizations to digitally monitor and manage mental health care. 

Meanwhile other startups are going direct-to-consumer with a flood of offerings around mental health. Well-financed, billion dollar-valued companies like Ro and Hims are offering mental health and wellness packages to customers, while Headspace has both a consumer facing and employer benefit offering. And upstart companies like Real are focusing on providing care specifically for women.

With its funding round, Ginger is adding David ibnAle, a founding partner at Advance Venture Partners (AVP), which is the investment firm behind S.I. Newhouse’s family-owned media and technology holding company, Advance; and the digital health investment guru Steve Kraus from Bessemer Venture Partners. 

“AVP invests in companies that are using technology to tackle large-scale, global challenges and transform traditional businesses and business models,” said David ibnAle, Founding Partner of Advance Venture Partners. “Ginger is doing just that. We are excited to partner with an exceptional team to help make high-quality, on-demand mental healthcare a reality for millions of more people around the world.”

#ginger-io, #headspace, #hims, #mental-health, #mit, #roman, #silverlight-health, #sondermind, #tc

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