Why regulators love Nuro’s self-driving delivery vehicles

Nuro’s delivery autonomous vehicles (AVs) don’t have a human driver on board. The company’s founders Dave Ferguson (president) and Jiajun Zhu’s (CEO) vision of a driverless delivery vehicle sought to do away with a lot of the stuff that is essential for a normal car to have, like doors and airbags and even a steering wheel. They built an AV that spared no room in the narrow chassis for a driver’s seat, and had no need for an accelerator, windshield or brake pedals.

So when the company petitioned the U.S. government in 2018 for a minor exemption from rules requiring a rearview mirror, backup camera and a windshield, Nuro might have assumed the process wouldn’t be very arduous.

They were wrong.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

In a 2019 letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) “[wondered] about the description of pedestrian ‘crumple zones,’ and whether this may impact the vehicle’s crash-worthiness in the event of a vehicle-to-vehicle crash. Even in the absence of passengers, AAMVA has concerns about cargo ejection from the vehicle and how Nuro envisions protections from loose loads affecting the driving public.”

The National Society of Professional Engineers similarly complained that Nuro’s request lacked information about the detection of moving objects. “How would the R2X function if a small child darts onto the road from the passenger side of the vehicle as a school bus is approaching from the driver’s side?” it asked. It also recommended the petition be denied until Nuro could provide a more detailed cybersecurity plan against its bots being hacked or hijacked. (R2X is now referred to as R2)

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (now the Alliance Automotive Innovation), which represents most U.S. carmakers, wrote that the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) should not use Nuro’s kind of petition to “introduce new safety requirements for [AVs] that have not gone through the rigorous rule-making process.”

“What you can see is that many comments came from entrenched interests,” said David Estrada, Nuro’s chief legal and policy officer. “And that’s understandable. There are multibillion dollar industries that can be disrupted if autonomous vehicles become successful.”

To be fair, critical comments also came from nonprofit organizations genuinely concerned about unleashing robots on city streets. The Center for Auto Safety, an independent consumer group, thought that Nuro did not provide enough information on its development and testing, nor any meaningful comparison with the safety of similar, human-driven vehicles. “Indeed, the planned reliance on ‘early on-road tests … with human-manned professional safety drivers’ suggests that Nuro has limited confidence in R2X’s safe operation,” it wrote.

Nuro-R2-specs-infographic

Nuro’s R2 delivery autonomous vehicle. Image Credits: Nuro

Despite such concerns, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) granted Nuro the exemptions it sought in February last year. Up to 5,000 R2 vehicles could be produced for a limited period of two years and subject to Nuro reporting any incidents, without a windshield, rearview mirror or backup camera. Although only a small concession, it was the first — and so far, only — time the U.S. government had relaxed vehicle safety requirements for an AV.

Now Estrada and Nuro hope to use that momentum to chip away at a mountain of regulations that never envisaged vehicles controlled by on-board robots or distant humans, extending from the foothills of local and state government to the peaks of federal and international safety rules.

If Nuro is to become the generation-defining company its founders desire, it will be due as much to innovation in regulation as advances in the technology it develops.

Regulate for success

“I don’t think any of the credible, big AV players want this to be a free-for-all,” said Dave Ferguson, Nuro’s co-founder and president. “We need the confidence of a clear regulatory framework to invest the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars necessary to manufacture vehicles at scale. Otherwise, it’s really going to limit our ability to deploy.”

#alliance-of-automobile-manufacturers, #auto-safety, #automation, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #california, #dave-ferguson, #department-of-defense, #ec-1, #extra-crunch, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #google, #government, #lyft, #national-highway-traffic-safety-administration, #national-science-foundation, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #robotics, #self-driving-car, #startups, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-department-of-transportation, #united-states

House Passes Bills to Bolster Scientific Research, Breaking With Senate

The legislation would invest in traditional research and development, clashing with a broad Senate measure that focuses on cutting-edge technology to compete with China.

#china, #energy-department, #house-of-representatives, #innovation, #johnson-eddie-bernice, #law-and-legislation, #national-science-foundation, #research, #science-and-technology, #senate, #united-states-politics-and-government

Senate Passes Bill to Bolster Competitiveness With China

The wide margin of support reflected a sense of urgency among lawmakers in both parties about shoring up the technological and industrial capacity of the United States to counter Beijing.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #china, #democratic-party, #energy-department, #innovation, #international-relations, #international-trade-and-world-market, #law-and-legislation, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #national-science-foundation, #politics-and-government, #research, #schumer-charles-e, #senate, #shortages, #space-and-astronomy, #united-states, #united-states-international-relations, #united-states-politics-and-government

Autonomous vehicle pioneers Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Long before the multi-million-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds pushed autonomous vehicles to the top of the hype cycle, Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson were researching and, later, developing the foundations of the technology.

These pioneers, Iagnemma coming from MIT, Urmson from Carnegie Mellon University — would eventually go on to launch their own autonomous vehicle startups in an aim to finally bring years of R&D to the public.

That task isn’t over quite yet. Urmson, who is co-founder and CEO of Aurora, and Iagnemma, who is president and CEO of Motional, are still working on unlocking the technical and business problems that stand in the way of commercialization.

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Urmson and Iagnemma will be joining us on the virtual stage of TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The one-day event, scheduled for June 9, is bringing together engineers and founders, investors and CEOs who are working on all the present and future ways people and packages will get from Point A to Point B. Iagnemma and Urmson will come to discuss the past, the present challenges and what both aim to do in the future. We’ll tackle questions about the technical problems that remain to be solved, the war over talent, the best business models and applications of autonomous vehicles and maybe even hear a few stories from the early days of testing and launching a startup.

Both guests have a long list of accolades and accomplishments — and too many, to cover them all here.

Urmson has been working on AVs for more than 15 years. He earned his Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and his BSc in computer engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1998. He was a faculty member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University where he worked with house-sized trucks, drove robots in the desert, and was the technical director of the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge teams. Urmson has authored more than 60 patents and 50 publications.

He left CMU and was one of the founding members of Google’s self-driving program, serving as its CTO. In 2017, Urmson co-founded Aurora with Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell.

Iagnemma is also considered an authority on robotics and driverless vehicles. He was the director of the Robotic Mobility Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research resulted in more than 150 technical publications, 50 issued or filed patents, and numerous edited volumes, including books on the DARPA Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. He holds MS and PhD degrees from MIT, where he was a National Science Foundation fellow, and a BS from the University of Michigan, where he graduated first in his class.

In 2013, Iagnemma co-founded autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch ride-hailing pilots. The company was acquired by Aptiv in late 2017. Aptiv and Hyundai formed the joint venture, which he now heads, in 2020. 

Iagnemma and Urmson are two of the many of the best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers is GM’s vp of global innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales ends tonight, May 7 at 11:59 pm PT. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.

#alexandr-wang, #aptiv, #aurora, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #autotech-ventures, #b, #carnegie-mellon-university, #ceo, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #cto, #director, #electric-vehicles, #frank-reig, #grand-challenge, #hyundai, #jesse-levinson, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #michigan, #mit, #mobility, #motional, #national-science-foundation, #nutonomy, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #revel, #robotics-institute, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #starship-technologies, #sterling-anderson, #tamika-l-butler, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #uber-atg, #university-of-michigan, #urban-innovation-fund, #zoox

Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

BadVR is using government grants to build a business that’s independent of venture capital

When the Los Angeles-based extended reality data visualization company, BadVR, first heard that one of its earliest benefactors, Magic Leap, was about to shed 1,000 jobs and was fighting for its life, the young startup was unfazed.

Despite the very public ties that BadVR had to Magic Leap, as one of the enterprise applications on the platform, the startup was more insulated than other businesses from the pivot away from consumer-focused apps.

The first step was finding money from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program to get more capital coming in and maintaining its headcount. Eventually, the company managed to land additional financing in the form of a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

It’s the second grant that the company has taken from the NSF and is an example of how startups can turn to government funding for capital and avoid some of the pitfalls of fundraising from venture capital.

To be sure, even Magic Leap’s trip to the brink of collapse wouldn’t have been that bad for BadVR, which makes enterprise applications for extended reality devices.

What the Magic Leap story shows is that companies don’t need to take venture capital to make it. Indeed, as costs come down for equipment and remote work democratizes access to a country that’s still teeming with engineering talent, thrifty startups can get the capital they need from government sources and corporate innovation grants.

That’s how BadVR got most of its $3.5 million in financing. Some money came from a grant from BadVR, while at least $1.25 million has come from the government in the form of two National Science Foundation cooperative agreements through the Small Business Innovation Research financing mechanisms.

A headset capture of BadVR’s climate change application, built for the Magic Leap One headset. Image Credit: BadVR

BadVR uses virtual and augmented reality tools to visualize geospatial data for a range of government and commercial applications. The startup’s tech is already being used by big telecom companies to accelerate the planning and deployment of 5G networks. And, within the public safety sector, the company’s tech is used to improve situational awareness for first responders and to reduce training, staffing, and operational costs.

“Society has become aware of the power of data and the impact it has on our daily lives.  It’s critically important that we make the access of data easy to every organization, regardless of technical skill level or background,” said Suzanne Borders, the chief executive and founder of BadVR, in a statement. 

For Borders, the key to tapping government funding is all about proper advance planning. “Those take a long time,” Borders said. “When you get awarded them, you’re looking at a year’s worth of effort. [Our grant] was a testament to us planning for that about a year ago.”

These grants are typically milestone-based, so as long as BadVR was hitting its targets, it could be fairly assured that the money would be there.

“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental  developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and  areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of  Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds,  any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful  solutions that address tremendous needs.”  

Other government competitions are providing the company with additional non-dilutive cash and a chance to kcik the tires on new capabilities.

A capture from BadVR’s augmented reality geospatial data environment, which allows users to visualize multiple live and historical datasets via overlays relevant to their environment. Image Credit: BadVR

That has translated into traction for the company’s Augmented Reality Operations Center. The AROC is a new offering for the product that visualizes data for first responders. Through a challenge hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, BadVR was able to work with the Eureka, Mo. Fire Department to develop a prototype for a specific emergency situation.

It’s an evolution of an early product the company had developed where enterprises can create digital twins of their factories or stores in virtual reality and do a walk-through to examine different conditions.

The visualization work that BadVR does isn’t necessarily all geo-spatial. The company can take all kinds of data and integrate that into an environment that makes the data easier to see. Borders sees the company’s services extending into creating all kinds of collaborative environments for companies.

“The system highlights things that are important to look at,” Borders said. “It’s virtualizing the data visualization experience and bringing it into an immersive environment — and building a more collaborative aspect to that experience.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses across the country to operate virtually, Borders said the demand for the kinds of. products her company is building — with the government’s help — has only increased.

“That’s been due to increased demand for remote collaboration tools,” Borders said. “We’ve had increased interest in people across the board — but tools that have remote collaboration capabilities — and bring people together to one immersive data experience… those are taking off.”

#magic-leap, #national-science-foundation, #tc

‘Gas stations in space’ startup Orbit Fab extends seed round to $6M with strategic investor Munich Re

On-orbit servicing startup Orbit Fab, which bills itself as the company focused on creating “gas stations in space,” has added an additional investor to its seed funding round. The add-on investment comes from Munich Re Ventures (the corporate VC arm of Munich Re Group, one of the largest insurance companies in the world). Munich Re is a key provider of insurance for satellite operators in particular, offering policies that cover pre-launch, launch and on-orbit operations.

Orbit Fab, which was a finalist in our TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in 2019, has designed a system that consists of what are essentially in-space tugs that can guide spacecraft on-orbit to refueling depots, to which they connect with the company’s custom fueling interface. It’s designed to be relatively easy to incorporate into new satellite designs, providing a way to easily refuel in space without requiring any special robotic systems for capture and docking.

The goal of the startup is to help create a more sustainable orbital commercial operating environment, extending the life of spacecraft, reducing debris and saving companies money. Bringing on Munich Re Ventures should provide it with significant advantages in terms of being able to build more sustainable, long-lived operational spacecraft into launch and operation risk models for satellite operators.

“When we look at standing up a propellant supply chain, so much of it is the financial model,” Orbit Fab co-founder and CEO Daniel Faber told me in an interview. How do we use this to move our customers’ risk, to make sure that we’re moving capital expenditure to operational expenditure, and yet not introducing additional risk? [Munich Re] is all over it in terms of financial products and insurance and risk assessment, so that’s a great partnership.”

Faber went on to explain that Munich Re Ventures Timur Davis began to show up at more and more space conferences, and Faber began to chat with him at these events. It turned out that the venture firm was putting together an investment thesis around in-space servicing and infrastructure, and Orbit Fab eventually became the first investment on the back of that new thesis.

The new investment brings Orbit Fab’s total seed raise to $6 million, including between $2 to $3 million in government funding on top of VC funds. The company has also now conceived and researched a “self-driving satellite” kit for docking that it has received National Science Foundation funding to do preliminary requirements development, and it’s now at the point where it can begin designing and building that out. 2021 looks to be a big year for many new companies in the space industry, and Orbit Fab with its new approach to sustainable, scalable satellites operations is definitely among them.

#aerospace, #daniel-faber, #insurance, #national-science-foundation, #orbit-fab, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #recent-funding, #satellite, #science, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #startups, #tc, #tc-sessions-space-2020

Atlanta-based Sanguina wants to make fingernail selfies a digital biomarker for iron deficiency

Sanguina, an Atlanta-based health technology developer, is launching its a mobile app in the Google Play Store that uses pictures of fingernails to determine whether or not someone is getting enough iron.

The app measures hemoglobin levels, which are a key indicator of anemia, by analyzing the color of a person’s fingernail beds in a picture.

These fingernail selfies could be used to determine anemia for the more than 2 billion people who are affected by the condition — including women, children, athletes and the elderly.

Iron deficiencies can cause fatigue, pregnancy complications, and in severe cases, even cardiac arrest, the company said. AnemoCheck is the first smartphone application to measure hemoglobin levels, the company said — and through its app people can not only determine whether or not they’re anemic but also use the app’s information to address the condition, the company said.

Sanguina’s technology uses an algorithm to determine the amount of hemoglobin in the blood based on an examination and analysis of the coloration of the nail bed.

Created by Dr. Wilbur Lam, Erika Tyburski, and Rob Mannino, the company was born out of research conducted at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.

“This non-invasive anemia detection tool is the only type of app-based system that has the potential to replace a common blood test,” said Dr. Lam, a clinical hematologist-bioengineer at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, and a faculty member in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory University and Georgia Tech.

So far, Sanguina has raised over $4.2 million in funding from The Seed Lab, XRC Labs, as well as grants from The National Science Foundation and The National Institutes of Health, according to a statement.

 

#atlanta, #blood, #cardiac-arrest, #fatigue, #georgia-institute-of-technology, #google, #google-play-store, #healthcare, #national-science-foundation, #smartphone, #tc, #xrc-labs

Arecibo Has Fallen Down. A Writer Looks Back.

Dennis Overbye has covered science since 1975. Here, he reflects on a great telescope’s undignified end.

#arecibo-ionospheric-observatory, #national-science-foundation, #puerto-rico, #space-and-astronomy

The Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico Collapses

Astronomers and residents of Puerto Rico mourned as an eye on the cosmos shuttered unexpectedly overnight.

#arecibo-ionospheric-observatory, #national-science-foundation, #puerto-rico, #science-and-technology, #space-and-astronomy, #telescopes-and-observatories

What’s Special About Bat Viruses? What We Don’t Know Could Hurt Us

The immune systems of bats are weird, but we don’t know how weird, how they got that way or enough about other animals.

#bats, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #genetic-engineering, #national-science-foundation, #research, #science-journal, #viruses, #your-feed-animals, #your-feed-science

Microsoft launches Premonition, its hardware and software platform for detecting biological threats

At its Ignite conference, Microsoft today announced that Premonition, a robotics and sensor platform for monitoring and sampling disease carriers like mosquitos and a cloud-based software stack for analyzing samples, will soon be in private preview.

The idea here, as Microsoft describes it, is to set up a system that can essentially function as a weather monitoring system, but for disease outbreaks. The company first demonstrated the project in 2015, but it has come quite a long way since.

Premonition sounds like a pretty wild project, but Microsoft says it’s based on five years of R&D in this area. The company says it is partnering with the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator Program and academic partners like Johns Hopkins University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to test the tools it’s developing here. In addition, it is also working with pharmaceutical giant Bayer to “develop a deeper understanding of vector-borne diseases and the role of autonomous sensor networks for biothreat detection.”

Currently, it seems, focus is on diseases transmitted by mosquitos and Microsoft actually set up a ‘Premonition Proving Ground’ on its Redmon campus to help researchers test their robots, train their machine learning models and analyze the data they collect. In this Arthropod Containment Level 2 facility, the company can raise and analyze mosquitos. But the idea is to go well beyond this and monitor the entire biome.

So far, Microsoft says, the Premonition system has scanned more than 80 trillion base-pairs of genomic material for biological threats.

“About five years ago, we saw that robotics, AI and cloud computing were reaching a tipping point where we could monitor the biome in entirely new ways, at entirely new scales,” Ethan Jackson, the senior director of Premonition, said in a video the company released today. “It was really the 2014 Ebola outbreak that led to this realization. How did one of the rarest viruses on the planet jump from animal to people to cause this outbreak? What signals are we missing that might have allowed us to predict it?”

Image Credits: Mirosoft

Two years later, in 2016, when Zika emerged, the team had already built a small fleet of smart robotic traps that could autonomously identify and capture mosquito. The system identifies the mosquito and can then make a split-second decision whether to capture it or let it fly. In a single night, Jackson said, the trap has already been able to identify up to 10,000 mosquitos.

In the U.S., the first place where Microsoft deployed these systems was Harris County, Texas.

Image Credits: Microsoft

“Everything we do now in terms of mosquito treatment is reactive – we see a lot of mosquitoes, we go spray a lot of mosquitoes,” said Douglas E. Norris, an entomologist and Johns Hopkins University professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, who was part of this project. “Imagine if you had a forecasting system that shows, in a few days you’re going to have a lot of mosquitoes based on all this data and these models – then you could go out and treat them earlier before they’re biting, spray, hit them early so you don’t get those big mosquito blooms which then might result in disease transmission.”

This is, by all means, a very ambitious project. Why is Microsoft announcing it now, at its Ignite conference? Unsurprisingly, the whole system relies on the Microsoft Azure cloud to provide the storage and compute power to run — and it’s a nice way for Microsoft to show off its AI systems, too.

#artificial-intelligence, #bayer, #cloud-computing, #computing, #internet-of-things, #johns-hopkins-university, #machine-learning, #microsoft, #microsoft-ignite-2020, #mosquito, #national-science-foundation, #science, #tc, #texas, #united-states, #vanderbilt-university, #zika

A Rip in the Fabric of Interstellar Dreams

The iconic Arecibo radio telescope is temporarily crippled by an accident.

#black-holes-space, #drake-frank, #hurricane-maria-2017, #national-aeronautics-and-space-administration, #national-science-foundation, #puerto-rico, #space-and-astronomy, #stars-and-galaxies, #telescopes-and-observatories, #university-of-central-florida, #your-feed-science

VenoStent has a new technology to improve outcomes for dialysis patients

Timothy Bouré and his co-founder Geoffrey Lucks were both near broke when they moved to Dallas to join the first accelerator they entered after forming VenoStent, a company that aims to improve outcomes for dialysis patients.

Failed dialysis surgeries occur in roughly 55% to 65% of patients with end-stage renal disease, according to the company. Caring for these patients can cost the Medicare and Medicaid Services system roughly $2 billion per year — and Bouré and Lucks believed that they’d come up with a solution.

So after years developing the technology at the core of VenoStent’s business at Vanderbilt University, the two men relocated from Nashville to South Texas to make their business work.

Bouré had first started working on the technology at the heart of VenoStent’s offering as part of his dissertation in 2012. Lucks, a graduate student at the business school was introduced to the material scientist and became convinced that VenoStent was on the verge of having a huge impact for the medical community. Five years later, the two were in Dallas where they met the chief of vascular surgery at Houston Medicine and were off to the races.

A small seed round in 2018 kept the company going and a successful animal trial near the end of the year gave it the momentum it needed to push forward. Now, as it graduates from the latest Y Combinator cohort, the company is finally ready for prime time.

In the interim, a series of grants and its award of a Kidney XPrize kept the company in business.

The success was hard won, as Bouré spent nearly three sleepless nights in the J-Labs, Johnson and Johnson’s  medical technology and innovation accelerator in Houston, synthesizing polymers and printing the sleeve stents that the company makes to keep replace the risky and failure-prone surgeries for end stage kidney disease patients.

The key discovery that Bouré made was around a new type of polymer that can be used to support cell growth as it heals from the dialysis surgery.

In 2012, Bouré stumbled upon the polymer that would be the foundation for the work. Then, in 2014, he did the National Science Foundation Core program and started thinking about the wrap for blood vessels. Through a series of discussions with vascular surgeons he realized that the problem was especially acute for end stage renal disease patients.

Already the company has raised $2.4 million in grant funding and small equity infusions. and the KidneyX Prize from the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology. VenoStent was one of six winners.

“It’s part of this whole ongoing effort by the executive office to improve dialysis,” said Bouré. “[They are] some of the most expensive patients to treat in the world… Basically the government is highly incentivized to find technologies that improve patient’s lives.”

Now the company is heading into its next round of animal testing and will seek to conduct its first human trials outside of the United States in 2021.

And while the company is focused on renal failure first, the materials that Bouré has developed have applications for other conditions as well. “This can be a material for the large intestine,” says Bouré. “It has tunability in terms of all its properties. And we can modify it for a particular application.”

 

#chief, #co-founder, #core, #dallas, #houston, #medicare, #medicine, #national-science-foundation, #tc, #united-states, #y-combinator

$75M in federal grants will fund a new trio of quantum institutes

Quantum science is just getting started, and although we’ve already hit some important milestones in both theory and practice, basic research is still needed in just about every nook and cranny of the field. To that end the National Science Foundation has dedicated $75M to the establishment of three brand new scientific institutes.

“Through the Quantum Leap Challenge Institutes, NSF is making targeted investments. Within five years, we are confident these institutes can make tangible advances to help carry us into a true quantum revolution,” said the agency’s director, Sethuraman Panchanathan, in a press release.

The three $25M grants aren’t for individual facilities but rather a community or researchers spread out over 16 academic institutions, 8 national labs, and 22 other partners.

Although each grant is meant to advance quantum science and engineering, each institute will be focusing on a different aspect.

  • The Institute for Enhanced Sensing and Distribution Using Correlated Quantum States will focus on creating sensors using quantum technology that could be more sensitive and accurate than anything used today. Led by the University of Colorado.
  • The Institute for Hybrid Quantum Architectures and Networks will build networks of small-scale quantum processors to design new algorithms and see if they can be used for practical purposes. Led by the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
  • The Institute for Present and Future Quantum Computing will work to advance quantum computing into its next form: larger and more error-tolerant platforms that could outpace classical computers in ways that quiet the critics of quantum supremacy theory. Led by the University of California, Berkeley.

The hope, as with much fundamental research work, is to advance the science but also to engage students and graduates in this lively and relatively well-funded field.

The NSF has a number of other opportunities for quantum-related grants and collaborations, including for startups and smaller research projects — you can browse through them here.

#government, #national-science-foundation, #nsf, #quantum-computers, #quantum-physics, #quantum-science, #science

R&D Roundup: Sweat power, Earth imaging, testing ‘ghostdrivers’

I see far more research articles than I could possibly write up. This column collects the most interesting of those papers and advances, along with notes on why they may prove important in the world of tech and startups.

This week: one step closer to self-powered on-skin electronics; people dressed as car seats; how to make a search engine for 3D data; and a trio of Earth imaging projects that take on three different types of disasters.

Sweat as biofuel

Monitoring vital signs is a crucial part of healthcare and is a big business across fitness, remote medicine and other industries. Unfortunately, powering devices that are low-profile and last a long time requires a bulky battery or frequent charging is a fundamental challenge. Wearables powered by body movement or other bio-derived sources are an area of much research, and this sweat-powered wireless patch is a major advance.

A figure from the paper showing the device and interactions happening inside it.

The device, described in Science Robotics, uses perspiration as both fuel and sampling material; sweat contains chemical signals that can indicate stress, medication uptake, and so on, as well as lactic acid, which can be used in power-generating reactions.

The patch performs this work on a flexible substrate and uses the generated power to transmit its data wirelessly. It’s reliable enough that it was used to control a prosthesis, albeit in limited fashion. The market for devices like this will be enormous and this platform demonstrates a new and interesting direction for researchers to take.

#artificial-intelligence, #autonomous-systems, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #cybernetics, #esa, #extra-crunch, #gadgets, #health, #imaging, #lidar, #machine-learning, #mit, #national-science-foundation, #plastics, #satellite-imagery, #science, #self-driving-car, #space, #tc, #technology, #telemedicine