Researchers at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle developed a way to test for microbiome diversity from a blood sample. (Artist rendering courtesy of ISB) If you want to know what’s going on in your gut microbiome, the community of bacteria in our intestines that are tied to overall health, there are plenty of companies willing to help. You just have to pay them — and send in a poop sample. But it turns out that bottling feces isn’t the only way to gain insights into the gut. Researchers at the (ISB) in Seattle have devised a new way to look into the state of your microbiome with a blood test. Microbiome startups have proliferated in recent years. Some are going after drug discovery for specific diseases, such as Finch Therapeutics and Maat Pharma. Others, including Seattle-based , are selling microbiome insights directly to consumers for overall health. Given the relatively early stage of microbiome research, how useful insights from the gut can be. That’s why ISB researchers decided to focus on the diversity of microbes. “There’s not a good correlation between diversity in and of itself and clinical health. But there are specific cases in which it does seem to be a huge risk factor,” said, who worked with on the study, which was published today in Nature Biotechnology. Low microbiome diversity is a strong risk factor for patients with recurring Clostridium difficile (C. diff), Gibbons said. C. diff is a potentially life-threatening bacterium that comes back in nearly a third of patients following antibiotic treatment. ISB researchers Dr. Nathan Price and Dr. Sean Gibbons. (ISB Photos) “Getting these recurrent infections is super hard on patients,” Gibbons said. “If you could avoid that cycle, you could not only decrease the cost of healthcare, you would actually be saving lives and producing a lot less suffering.” Patients with C. diff can be treated with a fecal transplant, but those are only administered after antibiotics have failed. Gibbons thinks that a blood test could pre-screen patients at risk of recurring C. diff and avoid the painful cycle. Related: To create the test, researchers leaned heavily on data compiled by Arivale, a Seattle startup that aimed to help people become healthier and avoid disease through wellness. in April after it failed to find a market for its pricey service. But Dr. Lee Hood, who co-founded both Arivale and ISB, rescued much of the data and technology from the startup and brought it to ISB. That resource gave Price and Gibbons extensive data on hundreds of former Arivale customers who had their microbiomes sequenced and their blood tested, among other tests. The researchers were able to train a model to predict which individuals are likely to have very low microbiome diversity by looking at 11 blood metabolites. Arivale customers gave permission for their data to be used for research, and the information was anonymized. The ISB study is a “beautiful example” of how personal data clouds can give new insights into biology and disease, Hood told GeekWire in an email. They also found what they believe to be a “Goldilocks zone” of gut diversity. People with low diversity tended to have diarrhea and inflammation, whereas those with very high diversity tended to be constipated or have toxins in the blood. With the help of Arivale’s data, ISB researchers think more microbiome-related insights can be found. “We’re trying to build a real map that can lead to actionable insights of how to manipulate the microbiome,” Gibbons said. One disadvantage of the dataset is that it skewed toward white, health-conscious people, who were more likely to be Arivale’s customers. “It is a bit of a biased sampling,” said Gibbons. In the future, ISB intends to partner with Providence St. Joseph Health, which would give researchers access to a more representative population.
The Kaskada leadership team, from left to right: Davor Bonaci, Ben Chambers, and Emily Kruger. (Kaskada Photo) After spending several years working at Google Cloud, and saw an opportunity to help companies take better advantage of machine learning technology. Their idea turned into , a Seattle-based startup that is launching out of stealth mode and unveiling its software that uses real-time, event-based data to bolster machine learning features. Davor Bonaci. (Kaskada Photo) More and more companies are implementing machine learning capabilities into their workflows to serve up better recommendations, detect fraud, and other related applications that use the burgeoning technology. But Kaskada contends that these models aren’t using the most up-to-date information, resulting in stale data and poor predictions that don’t accurately reflect the needs of a given user. The startup’s tools let companies implement machine learning features that fully take advantage of up-to-date streaming data. “There is lots of evidence that this is not done as well as it could be done,” Bonaci said of using real-time data. “Companies are leaving money on the table.” Kaskada has raised $1.8 million from investors including Voyager Capital; NextGen Venture Partners; Founders’ Co-op; and Bessemer Venture Partners. The company, founded in January 2018, employs four people and expects to grow. In March it hired , a veteran of Amazon Web Services, as vice president of product. We caught up with Bonaci for this , a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire. What does your company do? Kaskada is a machine learning studio that uses event-based data to compute feature vectors for machine learning in real time. Kaskada empowers data scientists by allowing them to discover, test, and deploy features from event-based data sources in a collaborative, version-controlled environment. By empowering data scientists we help organizations make better predictions and drive more impact from machine learning. Inspiration hit us when: All the time — we’re inspired by progress. Every conversation with data scientists and data leaders helps us refine our vision and make a better, more impactful product. VC, Angel, or Bootstrap: VC. We’ve been incredibly lucky with our investors so far, which include Voyager Capital, NextGen Venture Partners, Founders’ Co-op, and Bessemer Venture Partners. We are also supported by a group of angels that includes directors and senior vice presidents of companies like Google, Twitter and Yelp. Not only have they provided the working capital, but they are also meaningfully helping build the company. Their insight, personal networks, and day-to-day support have been instrumental in getting where we are today. The value we have gotten from our investors is as important — if not more important — than the funding itself. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Streaming data of course! Our team has deep experience in building distributed systems for data streams and data processing and believe we can fundamentally change how ML is practiced by helping companies harness the power of real-time data. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We came to the startup world with a lot of experience in the data space which also meant we had many existing opinions and biases about it. It can be hard to listen carefully, probe, and ask the right questions if you think you already know the answer. It was important for us to forget what we thought we knew and look at the space with fresh eyes. We also had to be willing to admit when we were wrong and refocus our direction based on what we heard from customers. Putting the customer stories first allowed us to learn and ultimately make much better decisions about product and company direction than we would have made in a vacuum. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Gauging time it will take to get to major milestones. Everything takes longer than you expect that it will — particularly if you’re an optimistic person! Sometimes those same delays can end up ultimately being positive, though, as you realize a much better way of achieving the same goal. Which leading entrepreneur would you most want working in your corner? Success doesn’t depend on a single individual. We believe that building a strong team that can work together toward a common vision is more important than any single individual. Our favorite team building activity is: Game night! We have a weekly team game night and (optional) whiskey tasting. We typically play various cooperative board games, which makes it more about winning together. Our current favorite is Hanabi. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Culture fit. Building a company is a journey requiring significant growth — both personally and as a group. We’re looking for people who want to be part of that journey and actively participate in that growth. We’re looking for people who would have fun participating in lively discussions as we seek to push each other and the company to be the best we can be. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Pick your team and supporters wisely. They will make you or break you. No other early decision is more important than that one. When you start a new company, there are many people seeking to be involved. Regardless of the role, you’ll hear how much they can help you. But, there are no shortcuts; you and your team will have to solve the hard problems. Always focus on the team and the people who are committed to the long-term success of the company.
(MDMetrix Photo) Imagine knowing that all the data you need to do your job better was locked in a system that you couldn’t access. That’s the frustrating reality for many healthcare workers who aren’t able to extract useful data from their hospital’s electronic medical records systems. Seattle startup just landed $3 million to make medical records more useful with a product that lets caregivers ask data-driven questions about their patients. Warren Ratliff. (Warren Ratliff Photo) The seed round was led by Founders’ Co-op along with investors Arnold Venture Group and WRF Capital. , CEO at MDMetrix, said the company plans to use the money to speed up its plans and apply artificial intelligence to help clinicians filter out “the signal from the noise” of patient data. The idea behind MDMetrix is to give healthcare workers the ability to track improvements over time. “We give clinicians visibility they’ve never had before into what’s going on. They’re able to ask questions on the fly. They’re able to really manage clinical operations in a continuously improving way,” said Ratliff. The company, which has raised more than $4 million to date, was started in 2016 by , an anesthesiologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. It employs around a dozen full-time and contract staff. Seattle Children’s uses MDMetrix at its main campus hospital and surgery center, but the company declined to talk about its other customers. Dr. Dan Low, an anesthesiologist and co-founder of MDMetrix. (GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane) Electronic health records are a popular punching bag. They’ve been blamed for everything from among doctors to . “Something’s gone terribly wrong. Doctors are among the most technology-avid people in society; computerization has simplified tasks in many industries. Yet somehow we’ve reached a point where people in the medical profession actively, viscerally, volubly hate their computers,” wrote Haven CEO Atul Gawande last fall. Haven is a healthcare joint venture between Amazon, JPMorgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway. Ratliff says the frustration doesn’t just come from the countless hours spent clicking around poorly-designed interfaces. Doctors are also fed up with not being able to use data from the health record to answer questions. Ratliff joined the company last August. He was previously co-founder and COO of Caradigm, a healthcare joint venture between GE Healthcare and Microsoft. MDMetrix essentially tries to make it as easy as possible for a licensed practitioner to find answers to basic questions related to patient care. Ratliff said the interface was designed to be as easy to use as the Airbnb app. The platform also brings together key metrics into a control center for leaders and staff to monitor. The idea is to avoid a situation in which important questions go unasked and unanswered. With more useful data, clinicians can more easily establish best practices. Ratliff contrasts the situation facing medical professionals with that of a chief financial officer, who has tools to easily see high-level profit-and-loss statements as well as granular expenses. “In medicine, we’ve tolerated a system where clinicians don’t have the visibility you would expect in any other kind of industry or business,” Ratliff said. “Imagine trying to run a complex financial organization with a spreadsheet. There are just better ways of doing that.”
During her stint as NASA’s deputy administrator, Lori Garver visited Seattle’s Museum of Flight in 2011 for a NASA Future Forum. (Credit: Ted Huetter / Museum of Flight) Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver helped lead the charge for commercial space ventures, and now she’s leading a brand-new space campaign to address the climate change challenge. Garver is the CEO of , a philanthropic initiative that will leverage space connections and satellite data get policymakers, educators and the public fired up about climate action. She noted the connection between observing Earth from space and taking action on the environment goes back 50 years or so, to in 1968 and the in 1970. “Investment in space activities have driven scientific and technological advances that have transformed our understanding of Earth’s changing climate,” . “Earthrise Alliance was created to translate this knowledge into meaningful action and to inform critical decision making that supports and sustains humanity on planet Earth.” That action includes pulling together satellite data from companies including as well as Maxar’s subsidiary; working with partners including and ; and funding fellowships and awards to support education and public engagement on climate issues. Garver said she had been thinking seriously about such issues even during her tenure as NASA’s No. 2 official, between 2009 and 2013. (She was also NASA’s associate administrator for policy and plans from 1998 to 2001.) For decades, NASA has played a leading role in gathering data to support the scientific view that Earth’s climate is rapidly changing due to industrial carbon emissions. “I believe in climate change. I’ve seen the data. I’ve been to Antarctica with the head of NSF [the National Science Foundation] during my time at NASA. It just couldn’t be clearer,” Garver told GeekWire. “How could I not be doing everything I could to help address that?” After leaving NASA, Garver became the general manager of the , and in 2016 she helped found the for women in aerospace. But when some of her contacts from the space community approached her about the Earthrise Alliance concept, and asked whether she was interested in taking on the CEO role, Garver jumped at the chance. “That was an aha moment for me,” she said. ‘It was a good transition time for me … and I said yes.” Other members on the leadership team include chief operating officer Cassie Lee, who until recently was the head of space programs for Seattle-based Vulcan Inc. and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation; chief technology officer Dan Hammer, former White House senior policy adviser; quantum physicist Edward Boyda, who will serve as Earthrise Alliance’s chief scientific officer; and Jason Kessler, former project director of Mission Control Earth and program executive at NASA. Earthrise Alliance unites the efforts of Mission Control Earth, which has been a supporter of the ; and , which is an aimed at making satellite imagery available for humanitarian and news reporting purposes. It’s a philanthropic project of the as well as an initiative of . Garver said she’s pleased to see how many organizations came together to forge the alliance. “It’s like there’s nothing but goodness,” she said. She’s also pleased to be involved in a space venture that’s all about Earth. “My interest in space, my policy positions, my drive has been around what we can do from space,” she said. “It’s never been about the rocket. … We really would not know as much about our changing planet, and how to help save ourselves, without having made the advances we made in commercial space.”
Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO, Tewolde GebreMariam, visits the accident scene in Ethiopia hours after the March 10 crash. (Ethiopian Airlines Photo via Twitter) Readings from the recorders recovered from last month’s crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX jet reportedly suggest that the pilots tried using the recommended procedure for overriding a balky automated flight control system — but that the system was re-engaged and forced the plane into its fatal dive. The reports by and , based on interviews with unnamed sources who have been briefed on the post-crash investigation’s preliminary findings, raise deeper questions about the safety of the flight control system, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. Boeing added the MCAS system to the 737 MAX as a safeguard against stalling, but investigations into the Ethiopian crash on March 10 — and last October’s crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX in Indonesia — have focused on the possibility that spurious data from a single angle-of-attack sensor caused the system to force the planes into catastrophic nose dives. The Indonesia crash killed all 189 people on board, and the Ethiopian crash killed 157 people. In the wake of the crash in Ethiopia, all 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide. Boeing is working on a software update that it says should resolve the MCAS issue, but that fix is still thought to be weeks away. In the past, Boeing has stressed that pilots could remedy the scenario that led to the crashes by disconnecting the MCAS system and taking manual control of the jet’s stabilizer trim mechanism. But the latest reports quote sources as saying the Ethiopian Airlines pilots tried that procedure but didn’t fully execute it. Instead, the MCAS system was re-engaged, leading to the final, fatal plunge. The Journal’s sources speculated that pilots re-engaged the automated system because they couldn’t raise the nose using manual controls, while Reuters’ sources held out the possibility that the MCAS system could have re-engaged itself. a former Boeing flight control engineers, Peter Lemme, as saying that the pilots might have been stymied by excessive aerodynamic loads on the stabilizer trim control system. I *assume* the mistrim situation created excessive load opposing the manual jackscrew authority from the trim wheel. From what is reported, they must have tried to restore electric trim to get the stab to come up, but then MCAS swept in again. — Peter Lemme (@Satcom_Guru) This post includes a brilliant video showing the challenges with manual trim. The situation may be worse than portrayed, as stick shaker is going off, and the elevator feel shift will increase aft column “feel” forces as much as four times more than normal. — Peter Lemme (@Satcom_Guru) also laid out a scenario by which excessive loads could have foiled efforts to stabilize the jet. The Times noted chatter on an online aviation forum about an alternate procedure, outlined in a 1982 pilot training manual, that might have averted the manual lockup by repeatedly letting go of the control column and turning the cockpit’s stabilizer trim wheel manually. Boeing said it was premature to comment on the specifics of such reports. “We urge caution against speculating and drawing conclusions on the findings prior to the release of the flight data and the preliminary report,” the company said. The 737 MAX crashes are the subject of investigations in Ethiopia and Indonesia, with participation by Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and other entities. The FAA’s inspector general is conducting its own investigation into the process by which the 737 MAX was certified for flight, and the Justice Department has reportedly launched a grand jury investigation with participation by the FBI. Subpoenas have gone out to Lemme and other potential witnesses, .
Integris CEO Kristina Bergman. (Integris Photo). Back in 2016, a Seattle startup called Integris with a modest $3 million in funding and a vision to help companies manage customer data with integrity. Fast-forward to 2019, when privacy issues are making daily headlines as politicians seek to rein in Big Tech, and business is booming for Integris. In a little over two quarters, Integris more than tripled its team to 30 full-time employees. The startup opened a second office in Vancouver, B.C. and is working with a number of Fortune 500 companies to help them implement data protection and privacy standards. Integris’ growth is driven by new laws in the U.S. and Europe that seek to crack down on tech companies that handle consumer data. The European Union is spearheading the effort with its broad General Data Protection Regulation. In the U.S., federal regulation has been sluggish as states step in to implement their own laws. Last summer, to give consumers more control over their data and dozens of other states are considering similar laws. Related: “When we started three years ago, most people couldn’t spell GDPR … but fast forward a few years and privacy is in the headlines,” said Integris co-founder Kristina Bergman. “It’s front page news in all the major publications and so the biggest thing that we’ve seen is a huge awakening among people everywhere about the impacts of privacy, the importance of privacy, and we’ve seen a lot of market maturity happen over the last few years.” Ironic as it might sound, big tech companies are . Apple and Microsoft have been actively promoting themselves as the secure, privacy-sensitive foils to their younger tech industry peers. It’s catching on. In March, Facebook by doubling down on encrypted, ephemeral messaging. But there is a growing concern in the business community about a future in which companies that handle consumer data are forced to comply with different laws in every state. “The concern is that if the federal government doesn’t step up and unify it in the way that Europe unified privacy legislation under GDPR, we’re going to end up with a privacy legislation framework in the U.S. that’s incredibly fractured, very hard to comply with, and not really feasible and implementable,” said Bergman. That fear is leading a number of tech leaders to support a federal privacy law that would pre-empt state regulations. Related: Integris surveyed 258 business executives at companies with 500 employees or more and at least $25 million in annual revenue as part of released Monday. Of those surveyed, 80 percent believe there should be a federal privacy law, though they may not be ready for it. About half of the respondents said they take inventory of the personal data they store just once a year or in response to an audit. However, 88 percent said their companies are increasing their data privacy management budgets in 2019. “What’s been a boon to the business is not the murkiness but the opportunity that privacy presents,” Bergman said. “In our discussions with companies, they’re looking at privacy increasingly as a differentiator for their business … they look at that as an opportunity to differentiate against their competition by being able to prove that they’re operating with integrity, they’re treating customer data with the utmost care, and they can prove it.” Integris’ goal is to help companies set up best practices in data privacy. The company uses machine learning and other technology to map a company’s sensitive data, apply regulatory obligations, and automate actions like encryption and deletion. On top of its initial $3 million round, last summer to amp up its regulatory compliance services.
(Bernard Spragg Photo via Flickr) For , maritime data is both personal and professional. King grew up sailing in New England and is now the owner of “Northern Lights,” a vintage Coronado 41 sloop that he restored. ioCurrents CEO Cosmo King. (ioCurrents Photo) He’s also the CEO and co-founder of Seattle startup , which today announced a $5 million investment to grow its platform for collecting and analyzing real-time data for the maritime industry. The company’s platform, MarineInsight, collects reams of data from various pieces of ship machinery and analyzes it in the cloud whenever a connection is available. The software then suggests actions based on any problems it finds or anticipates; it can help reduce fuel costs or prevent engine failures, for example. The startup has customers in commercial shipping, fishing and passenger industries. King was formerly an engineer at Isilon Systems, a Seattle startup that was acquired by EMC in 2010 for $2.25 billion. He launched ioCurrents in 2015 with co-founder and CTO. “This additional investment will allow ioCurrents to build on our existing success, and provide even more value to the maritime industry as a whole,” King said . The Series A round, which brings the company’s total amount raised to $6.4 million, was led by . Imagen, a Seattle-based venture capital firm focused on data and software startups, has also invested in Seattle-area companies such as and outdoors app maker BaseMap. “ioCurrents is defining itself as the market leader in the development of real-time, predictive analytics to the maritime industry,” John Polchin, managing director of Imagen, said in a statement. “Imagen’s investment will help ioCurrents capitalize on the global demand for their solutions and accelerate the company’s pace of product innovation.”
Microsoft and University of Washington researchers built an automated system that was fed by bottles of chemicals to encode date in custom-designed DNA molecules. (Microsoft / UW Image) DNA data storage holds the promise of putting huge amounts of information into a test tube — but who wants to carry test tubes around a data center all day? Researchers from Microsoft ahd the University of Washington are working on a better way: a completely automated system that can turn digital bits into coded DNA molecules for storage, and turn those molecules back into bits when needed. They used their proof-of-concept system, described in a paper published today in , to encode the word “hello” in strands of DNA and then read it out. That may sound like a ridiculously simple task, but it served to show that the system works. “We have conviction that DNA molecules are good candidates for data storage. But we are, at heart, computer architects. We really want to figure out what a future computer could look like,” Luis Ceze, a professor at UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, told GeekWire. “What’s exciting for us here is that It’s one step toward showing a computer system that has a molecular component and an electronic component.” The mechanism for DNA data storage is similar to the way the DNA in our cells encodes genetic information: Instead of using electronic ones and zeros, the encoding system translates data into DNA base pairs, using the chemical “letters” for adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine (A, C, G, T). “Hello,” for example, could be coded into the chemical string TCAACATGATGAGTA. It’s important to note that the custom-made molecule doesn’t do anything genetically. Rather, the system merely uses the chemicals in DNA as code. “There are no cells, no organisms,” said Microsoft principal researcher Karin Strauss. The method dramatically increases the density of data storage. Theoretically, you could store a billion billion bytes of data (known as an exabyte) in a cubic inch of fluid, Strauss says. In past experiments, the Microsoft-UW team ranging from historical texts to cat pictures to a high-definition OK Go music video. UW’s Molecular Information Systems Laboratory even has a where you can upload your own files for DNA storage. But that work involved a lot of manual steps to figure out the code, send an order to get the molecules synthesized, wait for the DNA to come back in the mail and then run the experiments. Because so much handling was involved, there were lots of opportunities to make mistakes. That would never fly in a commercial setting. “You can’t have a bunch of people running around a data center with pipettes — it’s too prone to human error, it’s too costly and the footprint would be too large,” study lead author Chris Takahashi, senior research scientist at the Allen School, said in a news release. That’s why an automated system is a big deal. The system takes advantage of Microsoft software to translate digital code into DNA code. That code is then automatically sent to a synthesizer that combines the required chemicals and liquids, in just the right order and proportions, and then spits out the custom-made DNA molecules into a storage vessel. To read out the data, the DNA is drawn into an apparatus that adds chemicals and pushes them through a nanopore DNA sequencing machine. The sequence is automatically converted into the ones and zeros of digital data. Ceze said the procedure still took 12 to 16 hours, but the elapsed time wasn’t the point of this experiment. Rather, the point was to show that an automated system could do the work reliably from start to finish. The Microsoft-UW team has also created a on a digital microfluidic device dubbed PurpleDrop . The operating system, known as Puddle, can be used to issue commands for a microfluidic system, much as a more conventional operating system like Linux can issue commands for an electronic computing system. Here’s a sample of Puddle code: a = input(substance_A) b = input(substance_B) ab = mix(a, b) while get_pH(ab) > 7: heat(ab) acidify(ab) “What’s great about this system is that if we wanted to replace one of the parts with something new or better or faster, we can just plug that in,” Microsoft researcher Bichlien Nguyen said. Eventually, a next-generation DNA data storage system could be combined with devices like PurpleDrop and software like Puddle to create a computer environment based on microfluidics instead of electronics. Ceze said that would probably lead to hybrid computer systems that blend the processing power of electronic computing with the data storage density of DNA. “Our vision for using molecules is for applications that have a very large of data,” he said. “The kind of computing that we are exploring is pattern-matching and approximate search. If you have a large collection of images and video, how do you find similar images, how do you find similar videos?” Ceze and his colleagues already have demonstrated how for images that match a given query. That kind of capability is something that the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is . Also this week, researchers at Caltech and the University of California at Davis that uses self-assembling DNA molecules to run algorithms. “It’s super-interesting,” Ceze said. “It allows you to do computation at the molecular scale … but it’s not really about processing large amounts of data, which is our goal.” DNA-based computer systems aren’t likely to show up at Best Buy anytime soon. “We’re really imagining this being deployed in the cloud. … The scenario that we see is replacing parts of a larger-scale system that sits in a data center with system components that use molecular data storage and molecular data search,” Ceze said. Strauss isn’t willing to predict how long it will take to add DNA to Microsoft Azure, but she’s confident that Microsoft and UW will do what it takes to turn the experiment into a product. “We have a very special team here,” she said. “We’ve very lucky to be in an environment where people are willing to make bets and innovate.” The University of Washington’s Luis Ceze and Microsoft’s Karin Strauss are part of a team for the DNA data storage project. (Tara Brown Photography / University of Washington) Takahashi, Nguyen, Strauss and Ceze are co-authors of the open-access study in Nature Scientific Reports,
Ethiopian Airlines employees conduct a memorial service on March 15 to pay tribute to colleagues and passengers who lost their lives in the March 10 crash of a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet. (Ethiopian Airlines Photo) The latest word from the investigation of is that readings retrieved from the flight data recorder reportedly point to circumstances similar to those that surrounded a 737 MAX crash less than five months earlier in Indonesia. Regulators around the world suspected as much, based on data received via satellite from the plane during its minutes-long flight from Addis Ababa heading for Kenya on March 10. That’s what led them to last week. The March 10 crash killed all 157 people aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, while the October crash killed all 189 people aboard Lion Air Flight 610. In the Lion Air investigation, safety experts focused on an automatic flight control system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS. Boeing added the MCAS system to the 737 MAX to guard against having the airplane stall under extreme conditions. The measure was taken because the MAX’s engines are bigger than the engines on the previous line of 737s, changing the aerodynamics. Preliminary findings from the Indonesia probe suggested that the MCAS system was receiving spurious data about the plane’s aerodynamic “angle of attack” just after takeoff. That would lead the automatic system to force the plane’s nose downward into an uncalled-for dive. In the Lion Air case, the pilots repeatedly fought against the MCAS commands — and ultimately lost. Afterward, Boeing said pilots can use a procedure to disengage the MCAS system, but that procedure wasn’t followed by the Lion Air pilots. Today, Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying the angle-of-attack readings from the Ethiopian Airlines jet’s flight data recorder were “very, very similar” to the Lion Air readings. The similarities will be the focus of further investigation, Reuters quoted its source as saying. The double disaster has raised deeper questions about the Federal Aviation Administration’s oversight of Boeing during the certification of the 737 MAX. Over the weekend, The Seattle Times quoted sources as saying that assessing the MCAS system’s safety. The Times said those analyses understated how much leeway the automatic system was given to move the horizontal tail in order to avoid a stall — or force a dive if the system malfunctioned. Another potential flaw with the system was that it depended on readings from a single angle-of-attack sensor, rather than multiple sensors. Much of The Seattle Times’ report was based on research conducted before the Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed. Aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote that “both Boeing and the FAA were informed of the specifics of this story and were asked for responses” a few days before the crash. People shouldn’t misread this point. I was not telling Boeing or the FAA anything they didn’t know.As noted, Boeing has been working since the first crash on a fix for the flaws my story listed — Dominic Gates (@dominicgates) In a , Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said that “safety is at the core of who we are at Boeing” and that the company is working with authorities and airlines to support the investigation and “help prevent future tragedies.” “Soon we’ll release a software update for the 737 MAX that will address concerns discovered in the aftermath of the Lion Air Flight 610 accident,” Muilenburg said. That update, and revisions in pilot training procedures, should address the MCAS’ behavior in response to erroneous sensor inputs, Boeing says. that Justice Department and Transportation Department officials are reviewing how the 737 MAX was developed, and how the plane won its regulatory approvals. it gave to 737 MAX jets. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., has said he intends to hold a hearing into the issues raised by the crashes, in his capacity as the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The committee’s ranking Democratic member is Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. She touched on the matter briefly in response to a question today at the . “Paramount in all of this is safety,” Cantwell told GeekWire. “So we’re going to keep looking at all the data and information until we are sure that we understand every aspect of this.”
Igneous Systems CEO Kiran Bhageshpur (Igneous Photo) Seattle startup has reeled in a $25 million investment round to fuel growth of its software that helps companies manage their unstructured data. WestRiver Group led the Series C round, which pushes total funding to date to $70 million. Existing investors including Madrona Venture Group, NEA, Vulcan Capital, and Redpoint Ventures also participated. by veterans of Isilon Systems and NetApp, Igneous’ platform provides visibility and storage for unstructured data, or information that isn’t easily categorized, both in the cloud or on-premise. The company’s clients span across various industries and include The Allen Institute of Brain Science, OpSec, PAIGE, Tippet Studios, Altius Institute, and Bardell. Igneous has customers in the “mid-double digits,” said CEO and co-founder . “They use Igneous to see, organize, mobilize and protect their unstructured data — and for our customers this is petabytes of mission critical, often machine generated data typically living across disparate systems onsite, offsite and in public cloud,” Bhageshpur said in an email. “Igneous helps data-centric enterprises tap into their valuable unstructured data, optimize their storage and IT resources and reduce their data risk posture.” (Igneous Photo) Bhageshpur said Igneous differentiates from competitors with its focus on enabling efficiency at scale and the ability to support any file or object protocol. “Our customers are able to quickly (in days) get up and running, see all of their data, improve their backup SLAs and modernize their data protection services, surgically archive and migrate data to control tier 1 storage costs, organize their datasets for use in HPC/ML/EDA/RPA workflows … all without the need for a full-time system administrator,” he explained. The startup employs 70 people and expects to grow headcount by more than 50 percent in 2019. Bhageshpur said new sales growth has increased by 10X over the past year. Igneous originally sold a hardware data appliance for companies to help manage on-premises storage systems but has since expanded to develop services geared toward cloud computing. The global big data market size is expected to reach $70 billion by 2022, according to . Bhageshpur is the former vice president of engineering in the Isilon Storage Division at EMC, having spent five years in senior engineering roles at the company. Another Isilon engineering vet, co-founder , is CTO at Igneous. The company’s third co-founder, , was the first employee at NetApp. Madrona was also an early investor in Isilon, which sold to . Anthony Bontrager, WestRiver Group managing director, will join the company’s board as a result of the funding. “Igneous is uniquely positioned to enable enterprises to unlock the value of their datasets and simultaneously reduce their risk profile,” he said in a statement. “This is a complex problem that Igneous has tackled with impressive technology services.” Other recent Seattle-area investments by Kirkland, Wash-based WestRiver Group include , , , and .
The Armoire team has grown from four to 28 in the past two years. (Armoire Photo) If has its way, women can say goodbye to cluttered closets and hundreds of wasted hours shopping for clothes. The Seattle startup is picking up traction with its monthly subscription clothing rental service geared toward professional women. Starting at $149 per month, the 3-year-old company lets customers rent designer clothes and exchange for something new at any time. If they like something enough, members can purchase items at a discounted rate. At an event this past Thursday at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle, the company lifted the hood on its tech-fueled recommendation engine that powers Armoire’s user experience. “We’re not really like a fashion company,” , co-founder of Armoire who leads engineering, told the crowd on Thursday. “We are more like a data company.” Armoire follows a similar playbook to Rent the Runway, the 10-year-old New York City-based company that was recently at nearly $800 million. Its rental business model is built on buying from brands at wholesale prices, constantly shuffling clothes in and out of its dry cleaning warehouse below The Riveter in Capitol Hill. Armoire aims to be cheaper than hiring a wardrobe consultant and more efficient than browsing through racks at various stores. But what makes the company stand out, according to co-founder and CEO , is technology. “[Rent the Runway] has really not taken advantage of the fact that they can service customers better through curation,” she said. “We call it the hunter-gatherer method — women are still tasked with digging through literally the entire Rent the Runway inventory.” Inside the curation process (Armoire Photo) At a basic level, Armoire aims to match people with clothes they want to wear — a task that sounds simple, but is actually quite complex due to varying individual preferences for style, fit, and other needs. Armoire’s recommendation algorithms are based on vectors that represent both customer preferences and item attributes (brand, color, tightness, occasion, etc.). The technology multiplies those vectors to determine strength of correlation between the two datasets, and ultimately to figure out what to show customers in their virtual closet. Owen called it a “big matrix multiplication problem.” (Armoire Photo) The vectors can be plotted as arrows on an axis. In the example below, since the customer vector is close to the green dress, that would be a good match. The more data Armoire collects from customer feedback, the better its recommendation algorithms work. It also analyzes information such as the temperature in a given zip code to help drive the curation process. “There are a lot of holes we need to fill in to truly understand what your style and fit preferences need, and how that translates into a digital product that you can actually interact with,” said Miriam Subbiah, head of product at Armoire. A sample package of rented clothing from Armoire. (Armoire Photo) Yet despite the push for more automation, Armoire also provides in-house stylists that can help when algorithms can’t complete the job. “There is always a human element to fashion,” Owen said. From buying to renting (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The traditional way women shop for clothing is broken. That’s been the thesis ever since Singh and Owen first launched Armoire while at MIT’s accelerator program. Ambika Singh got the idea for Armoire when she was working on her MBA at MIT. (Armoire Photo) “We’re trying to change the relationship with clothes from owning to renting,” Singh said. Sustainability, efficiency, and risk are core tenets of Armoire. Singh said that 20 percent of new garments sit in a closet and are never actually worn, instead ending up in a landfill. She also said women spend more than 200 hours shopping every year. “It’s an extraordinary amount of time in terms of the productive hours that could translate to,” Singh said. “We really want to be a one-stop shop for her, and because of the power of curation, we are able to do that.” The CEO added that women can tend to fall into pattern wearing, or using the same clothes over and over because of wardrobe risk aversion. “Renting clothes gives you an opportunity to step outside what is standard for you on an individual consumer basis,” Singh said. “That is a really powerful experience.” Armoire has “thousands” of customers, with 40 percent of members living in Seattle, Singh said. The target market is professional women in the 30 to 50 year old range — a group that Singh said “has largely been ignored by the market yet is so important to the economy.” Amy Nelson, CEO of The Riveter, the Seattle-based women-focused co-working space company where Armoire is based, is a big fan of the service. Nelson said she started using Armoire after welcoming her third daughter, noting it was “perfect for that post-baby period when my size was fluctuating.” Now that Nelson is pregnant again, she’s excited that Armoire recently expanded its inventory to offer maternity clothes. “My time is my scarcest resource and Armoire allows me to change up my wardrobe on the fly — and do away with dry cleaning entirely,” she told GeekWire. Subbiah, the company’s product leader, noted how Armoire looks at fit “not as size but how people like the garment to actually drape on them.” “We know that size is constantly in flux,” she explained. “If a service like Armoire can actually understand that and support that instead of inhibiting it — that’s super liberating to me. It’s a much more positive way of thinking about sizing and interacting with clothing, than trying to fit in a numeric standard. It’s not a fashion-first approach but it’s something we can do because of the data.” From left to right: Armoire Head of Product Miriam Subbiah; Co-founder Zach Owen; and Lili Morton, community development. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Rent the Runway originally started as a rental service for party wear but now earns a bulk of revenue from its Unlimited program, which launched two years ago and, like Armoire, aims “to solve the problem of what to wear to work, for everyone from new hires to C-suite executives,” according to a story from October. “Unlimited frees mental space for women to think about more important matters: what to say in that big meeting; how to describe their employment history in a crucial job interview; how to, in the grand scheme of their professional lives, get ahead,” wrote Times reporter Sheila Marikar. Other startups trying to disrupt how we buy clothes include Stitch Fix, which went public in 2017 and is valued at $2.7 billion. And just down the road from Armoire’s office sits Amazon, a tech giant that recent rolled out a try-before-you-buy service . “Our differentiation from Stitch Fix is that we offer variety to our customers through the rental model,” Singh noted. “We’re also high end contemporary from an inventory perspective — average MSRP is $250-plus — and we strive to work with women owned and ethical fashion brands.” Armoire has raised $4.2 million from investors such as Zulily co-founder Darrell Cavens; Foot Locker exec Vijay Talwar; and a number of female backers who decided to invest after first becoming customers. They include Sheila Gulati of Tola Capital, former Drugstore.com CEO Dawn Lepore, and Angela Taylor of Efeste. The company is currently raising more investment.
Encryption is an important part of the whole securing-your-data package, but it’s easy to underestimate the amount of complexity it adds to any service or device. One part of that is the amount of processing encryption takes — an amount that could be impractical on small or low-end devices. wants to change that with a highly efficient new method called Adiantum. Here’s the problem. While encryption is in a way just transforming one block of data reversibly into another, that process is actually pretty complicated. Math needs to be done, data read and written and reread and rewritten and confirmed and hashed. For a text message that’s not so hard. But if you have to do the same thing as you store or retrieve megabyte after megabyte of data, for instance with images or video, that extra computation adds up quick. Lots of modern smartphones and other gadgets are equipped with a special chip that performs some of the most common encryption algorithms and processes (namely AES), just like we have GPUs to handle graphics calculations in games and such. But what about older phones, or cheaper ones, or tiny smart home gadgets that don’t have room for that kind of thing on their boards? Just like they can’t run the latest games, they might not be able to efficiently run the latest cryptographic processes. They can still encrypt things, of course, but it might take too long for certain apps to work, or drain the battery. Google, clearly interested in keeping cheap phones competitive, is tackling this problem by creating a special encryption method just for low-power phones. They call it Adiantum, and it will be optionally part of Android distributions going forward. , but the gist is this. Instead of using AES it relies on a cipher called ChaCha. This cipher method is highly optimized for basic binary operations, which any processor can execute quickly, though of course it will be outstripped by specialized hardware and drivers. It’s well documented and already in use lots of places — this isn’t some no-name bargain bin code. As they show, it performs way better on earlier chipsets like the Cortex A7. The Adiantum process doesn’t increase or decrease the size of the payload (for instance by padding it or by appending some header or footer data), meaning the same number of bytes come in as go out. That’s nice when you’re a file system and don’t want to have to set aside too many special blocks for encryption metadata and the like. Naturally new encryption techniques are viewed with some skepticism by security professionals, for whom the greatest pleasure in life is to prove one is compromised or unreliable. Adiantum’s engineers say they have “high confidence in its security,” with the assumption (currently reasonable) that its component “primitives” ChaCha and AES are themselves secure. We’ll soon see! In the meantime don’t expect any instant gains, but future low-power devices may offer better security without having to use more expensive components — you won’t have to do a thing, either. Oh, and in case you were wondering: Adiantum is named after the genus of the maidenhair fern, which in the Victorian language of flowers (floriography) represents sincerity and discretion.