Apple-picking robots gear up for U.S. debut in Washington state

Apple-picking robots gear up for U.S. debut in Washington state

9:06am, 13th May, 2019
Abundant Robotics’ apple picking system was developed in collaboration with Washington state apple growers. (Abundant Robotics Photo) Next fall, as you browse the produce section at your local grocery store, pay close attention to the apples. You might be witnessing American history. For the first time, some of the apples sold in the U.S. will be picked by a robot rather than human hands. That’s thanks to agricultural automation startup , the maker of apple harvesting machines that will partake in Washington state’s next harvest. “This will be the first season that we’re actually ready to harvest commercially,” said Abundant CEO . “It’s incredibly exciting.” Abundant’s picker has more in common with a really smart Hoover vacuum than a human hand. The robot moves down rows of orchards and uses artificial intelligence with a dash of LIDAR to search for ripe apples. Once spotted, a robotic arm with a vacuum gently sucks the apples from the tree into a bin. The achievement is owed to advances not only in machine learning and robotics but also in agriculture. The architecture of apple trees has evolved over the decades, and it’s now common to grow them on trellises like you would tomatoes or cucumbers. Modern apple trees are also smaller, derived from dwarf varietals that yield more per acre and produce fruit more quickly after being planted. These horticultural leaps have allowed farmers to double their apple yields. They’ve also made the job of picking easier for humans and, now, for robots. Karen Lewis, a tree fruit specialist at Washington State University who has worked with Abundant and other robotics startups, said that apple trees have reached a “sweet spot” for robotic harvesting. Orchards are now sufficiently uniform and predictable for machines to reliably pick fruit, and canopies are narrow enough for sunlight, the human eye and vision systems to penetrate. Successful tech companies, she said, are the ones that listen to what farmers need. “We’re not going to let technology be the driver here. Horticulture needs to be the driver.” The U.S. debut comes following a rollout in New Zealand, where Abundant began a commercial harvest earlier this year. Steere said the decision to make the global debut in New Zealand rather than Washington was based purely on seasonal luck. He added that Abundant owed a lot to the Washington growers, who gave the startup crucial support and feedback in its early years. “The special thing about Washington is the scale, the sophistication and the openness to supporting innovation,” he said. Steere declined to say how many machines would be put to use this fall or which growers Abundant is working with. Menlo Park, Calif.-based Abundant has raised $12 million with backing from GV, formerly Google Ventures, among others. The startup formed out of the robotics division at SRI International, a research lab in California. Abundant’s main competition is Fresh Fruit Robotics, an Israeli startup that’s developing a picker that uses a claw-like appendage. Both companies have received funding from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. Steere and his team have been developing the robots with help from growers in Washington state for the past six years. The process has involved both give and take: Abundant received feedback on how to improve the machines, and growers have adapted their practices to work with automation. “It’s not that people haven’t wanted to automate harvesting fruit, it’s that it’s never been possible,” Steere said. “Now we’re making it possible.” Modern apple orchards often feature smaller trees with narrow canopies. (WSU Photo) Wherever automation appears, so does the question of whose jobs might be displaced. But American farmers have for years an are increasingly dependent on foreign seasonal labor. Approvals for H-2A visas, which allow foreigners to do agriculture-related work in the U.S. temporarily, increased by a factor of five over the past 13 years, according to the USDA. The program now accounts for around 8 percent of the total agricultural workforce. In Washington state, those seasonal worker visas exploded from 3,014 to 24,862 in the past eight years. “We’re being squeezed,” said Lewis. “There’s substantial pressure from not being able to attract and retain a workforce.” That labor shortage has been accompanied by higher wages. In Washington state, the minimum wage is set to jump by $1.50 to $13.50 an hour next year, an increases that Lewis said could amount to a quarter of a million dollars for a grower that manages 250 acres. The typical American farm worker makes $11.84 per hour. (USDA data / GeekWire chart) Farmers have also been battered by trade wars, which have , and they face threats from . Robots could help carry some of the weight of Washington state’s enormous apple harvest, which supplies nearly in the U.S., according to the U.S. Apple Association. The U.S. ranks second globally in apple production, behind China. Agricultural robot shipments are from 60,000 units today to more than 727,000 in 2025, according to market research firm Tractica. Still, replacing people with new technology is “scary and expensive,” Lewis said. Lewis is hopeful that the robots are finally reaching a point where they can make growers more profitable. “We’ve had a bit of over promise, under deliver” from tech companies, she said. “That has led to fatigue among growers.” Abundant’s leadership boasts some agricultural street cred. Steere grew up in a family of farmers, spending time on his grandfather and uncle’s cotton and soybean farms. Abundant co-founder Michael Eriksen was raised on a dairy farm in Denmark. And Curt Salisbury, another co-founder, is a native of the Columbia Basin, one of Washington state’s main apple-growing regions. “When I was a kid, I was fascinated with combines, the big machines that would go through and harvest soybeans, or cotton pickers that would drive through and pick cotton,” Steere said. “We get to make these machines for an industry that’s never had that kind of automation before.”
Washington Hyperloop slims down its pod racer for Elon Musk’s next big contest

Washington Hyperloop slims down its pod racer for Elon Musk’s next big contest

12:51am, 13th May, 2019
Washington Hyperloop team members show off their Husky spirit at an on-campus unveiling of this year’s pod racer. Veteran team member Mitchell Frimodt peeks out from within the pod’s carbon composite shell, while the guts of the racer are on display on a table at left. (Margo Cavis Photo) Could this year be the year for ? For the fourth time, the students on University of Washington’s pod-racing team are taking aim at the top prize in tech titan Elon Musk’s competition, and this time they’ve got their racer down to fighting weight. This year’s purple pod racer, which looks like a cross between a bobsled and a miniaturized bullet train, was unveiled Friday night at UW’s Husky Union Building. “Our pod this year is about 60 percent of the weight of last year’s pod, with the same propulsion specs,” engineering senior Mitchell Frimodt, one of the veterans on the Hyperloop team, told GeekWire. “That’s our performance boost.” Propulsive oomph per pound is a key factor in what’s become an annual tradition that plays out at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. This year, Washington Hyperloop and a dozen other collegiate teams are . Competitors will show off the racers they’ve built, and the best of the pack will face off in time trials conducted in a mile-long tube that’s been built just across the street from SpaceX’s rocket factory. The fastest team wins. And in the previous three competitions, the fastest team has been WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. This year, Munich’s student engineers are racing under a different team name — — but they’re expected to be every bit as formidable. “We’re looking to give them a run for the money,” Frimodt said. Frimodt is speaking figuratively: There’s no prize money as such, but the Hyperloop contest gives those who do well an enviable spotlight in the engineering world. Frimodt said some of Washington Hyperloop’s alumni are now working at SpaceX, Tesla, Apple and other cutting-edge ventures — including Musk’s very own tunneling venture, . “One of our old business guys is actually with the Boring Company currently, down in L.A.,” he said. “I haven’t heard exactly what he’s up to down there, but that’s pretty cool. We’ve had one alum go on to .” Musk as a way to short-circuit traffic snarls within and between urban areas. The original concept called for pods to travel through low-pressure tubes at near-supersonic speeds, cutting the travel time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles to about a half-hour. To cite another example, a Pacific Northwest Hyperloop could . Since then, the intercity Hyperloop concept has given rise to commercial ventures that don’t involve Musk, including and . For now, Musk is concentrating on the Boring Company’s somewhat less speedy tunnel travel concept, which is known as the Loop. Loop projects are in various stages of development in , , and the . Frimodt said most of the 40 or so members of the Washington Hyperloop team see their involvement as a way to exercise their general engineering skills, rather than creating a commercially viable Hyperloop pod. “For us, it’s more on pushing the edge of technology. … Our focus is very much on the competition,” he said. Only about half of the team’s members are veterans of past Hyperloop contests. Thanks to the team’s previous successes, including an , Washington Hyperloop’s organizers received “a ton of applicants” seeking to join the team last fall, Frimodt said. So what’s the secret sauce for this year? It’s not necessarily the propulsion technology: The team is going with a cold-gas thruster system that’s similar to the one that won them fourth place in last year’s competition. Basically, pressurized nitrogen blasts through a rocket-like nozzle to shoot the pod down the Hyperloop track. “It’s a rocket without the combustion,” Frimodt explained. One big change from last year has to do with weight reduction. This year’s team members were rigorous about enforcing weight budgets for each of the pod’s components, and were lots more liberal about using lightweight carbon composites rather than metal parts. Another change has to do with advance preparation, particularly when it comes to the software side of the project. Last year, “people were working on our code on the day of the competition,” said Fedor Paretsky, a UW junior in applied physics who works on the control and power subsystem team. This year, the Washington Hyperloop team is ahead of the game, development-wise. And one of the reasons for that has to do with one of the team’s sponsors, a California-based tech company named , which is providing the team with financial support as well as help with an open-source programming language for cloud-based applications known as . “Ballerina acts as our data relay,” Paretsky said. “It relays data every 25 milliseconds. … If we decide that something’s going wrong, or we need to do an emergency stop, Ballerina ensures that the pod is communicated with, efficiently.” Ballerina also serves to coordinate software development. “Anybody can literally just pull the image [for the pod’s software] off the cloud,” he said. In addition to WSO2, Ballerina and various UW departments, the team has recruited ranging from Boeing to Pagliacci Pizza (and it doesn’t take an engineer to guess what Pagliacci is contributing). Their logos are all emblazoned on what Washington Hyperloop hopes will be this year’s top pod. It could be a nail-biter: Last year’s competition at SpaceX saw the WARR team set a new world record for Hyperloop travel, with a . Can Washington Hyperloop improve on that mark? “We’re not 100 percent sure yet, until we get a final pod weight based off everything we put on there, and do our static-fire testing to characterize our propulsion system,” Frimodt said. “But it’s probably looking like somewhere from 260 miles an hour to 300 miles an hour.”
Washington Hyperloop slims down its racing pod for Elon Musk’s next big contest

Washington Hyperloop slims down its racing pod for Elon Musk’s next big contest

1:49pm, 11th May, 2019
Washington Hyperloop team members show off their Husky spirit at an on-campus unveiling of this year’s pod racer. Veteran team member Mitchell Frimodt peeks out from within the pod’s carbon composite shell, while the guts of the racer are on display on a table at left. (Margo Cavis Photo) Could this year be the year for ? For the fourth time, the students on University of Washington’s pod-racing team are taking aim at the top prize in tech titan Elon Musk’s competition, and this time they’ve got their racer down to fighting weight. This year’s purple pod racer, which looks like a cross between a bobsled and a miniaturized bullet train, was unveiled Friday night at UW’s Husky Union Building. “Our pod this year is about 60 percent of the weight of last year’s pod, with the same propulsion specs,” engineering senior Mitchell Frimodt, one of the veterans on the Hyperloop team, told GeekWire. “That’s our performance boost.” Propulsive oomph per pound is a key factor in what’s become an annual tradition that plays out at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. This year, Washington Hyperloop and a dozen other collegiate teams are . Competitors will show off the racers they’ve built, and the best of the pack will face off in time trials conducted in a mile-long tube that’s been built just across the street from SpaceX’s rocket factory. The fastest team wins. And in the previous three competitions, the fastest team has been WARR Hyperloop from the Technical University of Munich in Germany. This year, Munich’s student engineers are racing under a different team name — — but they’re expected to be every bit as formidable. “We’re looking to give them a run for the money,” Frimodt said. Frimodt is speaking figuratively: There’s no prize money as such, but the Hyperloop contest gives those who do well an enviable spotlight in the engineering world. Frimodt said some of Washington Hyperloop’s alumni are now working at SpaceX, Tesla, Apple and other cutting-edge ventures — including Musk’s very own tunneling venture, . “One of our old business guys is actually with the Boring Company currently, down in L.A.,” he said. “I haven’t heard exactly what he’s up to down there, but that’s pretty cool. We’ve had one alum go on to .” Musk as a way to short-circuit traffic snarls within and between urban areas. The original concept called for pods to travel at near-supersonic speeds, cutting the travel time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles to about a half-hour. To cite another example, a Pacific Northwest Hyperloop could . Since then, the intercity Hyperloop concept has given rise to commercial ventures that don’t involve Musk, including and . For now, Musk is concentrating on the Boring Company’s tunnel travel concept, which is known as the Loop. Loop projects are in various stages of development in , , and the . Frimodt said most of the 40 or so members of the Washington Hyperloop team see their involvement as a way to exercise their general engineering skills, rather than creating a commercially viable Hyperloop pod. “For us, it’s more on pushing the edge of technology. … Our focus is very much on the competition,” he said. Only about half of the team’s members are veterans of past competitions. Thanks to the team’s past successes, Washington Hyperloop’s organizers received “a ton of applicants” seeking to join the team last fall, Frimodt said. So what’s the secret sauce for this year? It’s not necessarily the propulsion technology: The team is going with a cold-gas thruster system that’s similar to the one that won them fourth place in last year’s competition. Basically, pressurized nitrogen blasts through a rocket-like nozzle to shoot the pod down the Hyperloop track. “It’s a rocket without the combustion,” Frimodt explained. One big change from last year has to do with weight reduction. This year’s team members were rigorous about enforcing weight budgets for each of the pod’s components, and were lots more liberal about using lightweight carbon composites rather than metal parts. Another change has to do with advance preparation, particularly when it comes to the software side of the project. Last year, “people were working on our code on the day of the competition,” said Fedor Paretsky, a UW junior in applied physics who works on the control and power subsystem team. This year, the Washington Hyperloop team is ahead of the game, development-wise. And one of the reasons for that has to do with one of the team’s sponsors, a California-based tech company named , which is providing the team with financial support as well as help with an open-source programming language for cloud-based applications known as . “Ballerina acts as our data relay,” Paretsky said. “It relays data every 25 milliseconds. … If we decide that something’s going wrong, or we need to do an emergency stop, Ballerina ensures that the pod is communicated with, efficiently.” Ballerina also serves to coordinate software development. “Anybody can literally just pull the image [for the pod’s software] off the cloud,” he said. In addition to WSO2, Ballerina and various UW departments, the team has recruited ranging from Boeing to Pagliacci Pizza (and it doesn’t take an engineer to guess what Pagliacci is contributing). Their logos are all emblazoned on what Washington Hyperloop hopes will be this year’s top pod. It could be a nail-biter: Last year’s competition at SpaceX saw the WARR team set a new world record for Hyperloop travel, with a . Can Washington Hyperloop improve on that mark? “We’re not 100 percent sure yet, until we get a final pod weight based off everything we put on there, and do our static-fire testing to characterize our propulsion system,” Frimodt said. “But it’s probably looking like somewhere from 260 miles an hour to 300 miles an hour.”
Here’s why two Y Combinator partners made a recruiting trip to the Univ. of Washington in Seattle

Here’s why two Y Combinator partners made a recruiting trip to the Univ. of Washington in Seattle

1:20pm, 30th April, 2019
Cherry blossoms were in full bloom at the University of Washington earlier this month. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) The University of Washington has one of the world’s best computer science programs. MBA recruiters recently the UW’s business school No. 2 for entrepreneurship reputation. Its CoMotion innovation center has helped the university spin out 80 startups over the past five years and land among the top 10 on . Yet for some reason, , the famed Silicon Valley startup accelerator, sees far fewer UW graduates applying for its program compared to other top public universities. That’s why two YC partners, and , made a quick trip north earlier this month and spent several hours on the UW campus in Seattle, hosting both “group office hours” and a two-hour workshop. The purpose was to educate students about startups and encourage them to apply to YC. Of the more than 4,000 founders who have gone through YC’s 3-month cohort program over the past 14 years, only 50 of them attended the University of Washington, according to data from YC. “There is a lot of talent at the UW and a lot of talent in Seattle — and I want to make sure people know that YC is an available path if they want to start a startup,” Manalac told GeekWire after the event. Y Combinator Partner Gustaf Alstromer speaks to UW students at the Foster School of Business as part of a YC workshop on campus earlier this month. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper) Manalac, who specializes in finding entrepreneurs that can join the accelerator, said UW students tell her that they get so heavily recruited by big companies in Seattle — Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Expedia, T-Mobile, Starbucks, etc. — and “often don’t even think about starting a company as a viable option.” Added Manalac: “The pull of the FAANGs and big companies like Boeing are strong up here.” “In some cases, students are interested in starting a startup but fall into the trap of thinking, ‘I’ll work at a large company for a couple years to get experience and then start a company,'” she explained. “Once you’re used to working at big companies, it’s harder to make the shift into startups. And working at big companies doesn’t teach you what you need to know to start a company. The best way to learn about startups is to start one — or work at an early stage startup.” The thesis that homegrown tech giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, along with the bevy of Bay Area companies with huge engineering outposts in the region, are sucking up would-be startup talent and preventing Seattle from becoming another Silicon Valley startup mecca has been for . “In the past, I have noticed that most of our students do take the ‘safer’ established industry path over the startup path,” said , a UW computer scientist who has sold startups to , and . Patel agreed with Manalac and said it is indeed hard to jump to a startup after joining a big company. But others say that experience at a place such as Amazon or Microsoft can be valuable preparation for startup life. Knock co-founders Tom Petry and Demetri “Some of the fastest-growing companies in Seattle boast 20-something and 30-something entrepreneurs fresh out of Amazon who cite that experience at integral to their startup path and success,” noted Julie Sandler, managing director at Seattle startup studio Pioneer Square Labs and a lecturer at the UW’s Foster School of Business. and graduated from the UW and worked together at UBS Wealth Management before coming back to Seattle to launch their real estate startup Knock, which just a $10 million investment round. The founders say they picked up important skills and built a network at UBS that ended up being crucial to their decision to make the startup leap. “Ultimately, my time with a big company gave me enough confidence to enable me to say goodbye to that world,” Themelis said. “And I imagine a lot of founders get the necessary motivation to start something when they see first hand the rat-race of a big company culture — it definitely was for me.” But the opposite was true for , a 2013 UW grad who a fashion startup while still in school. He’s now working at Amazon as a product manager. “Beginning my career at a startup was definitely more beneficial for me than getting a job at a big company right away,” Bartlow said. “First of all, I don’t think I would have been able to get the product management roles I wanted without being able to leverage my startup experience. Second, it is much easier to stay in the frugal and hungry mentality coming right out of school.” Bartlow credited the UW’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship for promoting startups through business plan competitions and programs such as the Jones + Foster Accelerator program. In a statement, Amy Sallin, interim director of the Buerk Center, said that “the framework is in place for students or alumni to feel prepared to launch a startup at any point in their journey.” “Our graduates leave with the entrepreneurial skills that do make them attractive to very large companies looking to innovate from within,” she said. “However, we also see graduates who do take their startup and grow it into a business — whether in retail, food and beverages, health, social impact, cleantech, biotech, etc.” Nanodropper team members Jennifer Steger, Mackenzie Andrews and Allisa Song won the $15,000 grand prize at the University of Washington Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge in March. (Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship Photo) Sandler said she hopes the UW can encourage more cross-department connections across programs such as computer science, business, and human-centered design. She said that can help expose entrepreneurship to more students. “At other universities, it not uncommon to see one big student success kickstarting a positive entrepreneurial cycle,” Sandler added. “Students see other students successfully build impactful companies during their years in school and they’re inspired to do the same.” Whether the lack of UW grads applying to Y Combinator says anything about the university itself, or the larger Seattle tech ecosystem, is up for debate. It’s true that the UW ranks lower than schools including UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, University of Texas, UCLA, and others . And some of the higher-profile startups with UW roots — Turi, Senosis Health, Vicis, etc. — originated due to the work of professors, not students. Ed Lazowska, a longtime UW computer science professor, said geographic influence must be considered when comparing what a graduate from Stanford does after school, for example, to what a UW grad might do. “Stanford sends a disproportionate number of students to startups because the startup ecosystem in the South Bay is an order of magnitude more vibrant than anywhere else in the U.S.,” he said. “UW sends a disproportionate number of students to major companies because all of those companies are either headquartered in Seattle or have engineering offices here, and UW is a public university where most students do internships, which have a high conversion rate to permanent employment, and the established companies have great internship programs.” Lazowska said the UW has taken a number of steps to “address this balance,” from work being done at CoMotion and the , to the activity at Startup Hall, which houses the Techstars Seattle program and Founders’ Co-op venture capital firm. He added that “as the startup community in Seattle expands, the involvement of UW students in startups will surely expand commensurately.” And while some UW grads, such as Jason Tan and Brandon Ballinger of , do migrate to the Bay Area and launch startups, many of them stick around Seattle, where there are plenty of startup accelerators and studios. “Yes, YC is the gold standard,” Lazowska said. “But UW students come from Washington and remain in Washington.” For some, the idea of relocating to the Bay Area to work on a startup may not be as attractive as in years past. , co-founder of Seattle startup , participated in a YC cohort last year and came right back to Seattle. “In my opinion, right now Seattle is the best place to start a software company,” Kalb said. “The talent is here, Seattle is a beautiful place to live, and it’s way cheaper to live in Seattle than in San Francisco. No wonder Bay Area VCs . I think we’ll see some of the greatest, fast-growing startups come from Seattle in the next ten years. If I were a YC partner, I would heavily index on whether a company is based in Seattle.”
‘More than just playing a game’: State-of-the-art Esports Arena powers up at Univ. of Washington

‘More than just playing a game’: State-of-the-art Esports Arena powers up at Univ. of Washington

5:40pm, 18th April, 2019
The new Esports Arena & Gaming Lounge at the University of Washington in Seattle. (UW Photo) Game on at the University of Washington. A state-of-the-art at the UW’s Husky Union Building is up and running after an official ribbon cutting on Thursday and a week of events that helped usher in a new era of competition and learning at the university in Seattle. The 1,000-square-foot gaming center makes the UW the largest public, higher education institution in the nation to have such a dedicated facility and the first university in the state of Washington to have such a space. Aimed at casual and competitive gamers, and funded in part by the Student Technology Fee, the arena provides access to 40 high-end gaming computers, two VR systems, a casting station for live streaming to Twitch and popular, unlocked PC games. The lounge will also serve as a space for sponsored tournaments. The ribbon is cut on Thursday at the grand opening of the UW’s Esports Arena. (UW video screen grab) “With the Esports Arena we have this actual physical location to match and represent our culture, our community here,” said Will Nguyen, UW student epsorts director. “People can really come together and it brings it to this next level, where it’s not just some people talking over the internet.” The intention is for the physical space, and the opportunity to play, to go beyond just gaming for students and provide the learning potential necessary to connect with companies in the Seattle area. (UW Photo) Justin Camputaro, director of the Husky Union Building, said in Seattle alone there are more than 23,000 jobs in interactive media. “What I have learned is that these games are very different from the days of Atari and Pong, or even Nintendo days. It is a lot about teamwork, it is about strategy, it is about mathematical computations, and understanding how the teams and the players works together,” Camputaro said. “There is a true educational element behind this gaming, when you dig in and start to understand that it is really really powerful. This is more than just playing a game.” A growing number of institutions are now as the industry is growing at a phenomenal rate. last year on the growth in esports scholarships among colleges and universities and how it could get as big as traditional sports on campus. The Esports Arena is located on the basement level of the HUB at 4001 E Stevens Way N.E. Check this for rates and hours of operation.
In quest to make a better battery, Univ. of Washington students win environmental innovation challenge

In quest to make a better battery, Univ. of Washington students win environmental innovation challenge

10:30am, 5th April, 2019
(Matt Hagen Photo / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship) A team that wants to make batteries more environmentally friendly won $15,000 at a competition for environmental innovation at the University of Washington. MOtiF Materials invented a way to making batteries degrade less quickly over time. “If you can fix batteries, it has an impact on so many other clean energy technologies,” said , who founded MOtiF. Rasmussen, a doctoral student of mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, said the broader aim of the project is to make next-generation materials and manufacture them in a way that is scalable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly. She was drawn to the project as a way to use her mechanical engineering knowledge to create a process that helps the environment. “It’s something that everyone can get behind,” Rasmussen said. Specifically, she wants to find ways to synthesize a class of materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) at scale without damaging the planet. A recent Scientific American article , saying they “are poised to be the defining material of the 21st century.” Rasmussen is securing intellectual property for the technology and working on a paper manuscript based on her work. She’s received grant funding from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and financial support through a fellowship with the Clean Energy Institute. MOtiF does not have a website yet. The team also includes graduate students of mechanical engineering Stuart Moore and Courtney Otani, as well as undergraduate student Molly Foley. The winners for the were selected by more than 150 entrepreneurs, investors and environmental advocates. $10,000 2nd Place Prize: Atomo Coffee (Matt Hagen Photo / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship) What’s coffee without the beans? For , it’s a better cup o’ joe. The startup, which is rethinking how coffee is made from molecular level using naturally sustainable ingredients. Atomo launched a in February and has raised more than $25,000 so far. and are the co-founders of Atomo. Kleitsch is a tech vet who once worked at Amazon and currently leads entrepreneur workshops at the University of Washington. The second-place prize was sponsored by Herbert B. Jones Foundation. $5,000 3rd Place Prize: Chibage Chip (Matt Hagen Photo / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship) Biochemistry doctoral student Tamuka Chidyausiku invented a device called the Chibage Chip to help farmers detect when plants are thirsty. Chidyausiku is from Zimbabwe and wants farmers in developing nations to benefit from the device. In addition to winning the $5,000 third-place prize, which was sponsored by the Port of Seattle, Chibage Chip also won the $5,000 community impact prize. AeroSpec, which developed a way to monitor air pollution on a large scale, and NanoPrint, which is creating a zero-waste manufacturing process, both won $1,000 for the “Judges Also Really Liked” awards.
Microsoft and University of Washington demonstrate automated DNA data storage

Microsoft and University of Washington demonstrate automated DNA data storage

8:31am, 21st March, 2019
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,
Eyedropper startup Nanodropper wins top prize at Univ. of Washington health innovation challenge

Eyedropper startup Nanodropper wins top prize at Univ. of Washington health innovation challenge

1:26pm, 7th March, 2019
Nanodropper team members Jennifer Steger, Mackenzie Andrews and Allisa Song. (Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship Photo) What if something as simple as a more precise eyedropper could cut the cost of glaucoma medication by more than half? That’s the idea behind the startup Nanodropper, which won the $15,000 grand prize at the University of Washington Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge on Wednesday night. The team also won a $2,500 medical device consulting award. created an FDA-approved adapter for eyedrop bottles that aims to reduce waste in the delivery of medication, especially for patients with glaucoma, which causes blindness. Here’s how it works: Take any eyedropper medication, screw on Nanodropper’s device, and you’ll get drops that are much smaller — but still large enough to deliver the medication effectively. Eyedroppers often deliver more medication than the eye can physically absorb, and the Nanodropper reduces the size of drops by a quarter or more. The team was inspired by about how larger-than-necessary eyedrops were increasing costs for glaucoma patients, who can spend $500 per month on medication. The issue is , in which patients sued massive drug companies like Allergan, Bausch & Lomb, Merck and Pfizer. “The problem is that the companies have no incentive to reduce the size of their drops, because then they would be selling less medication,” Nanodropper’s Allisa Song, a medical student at the Mayo Clinic, told GeekWire. Nanodropper’s team also includes UW graduate students Jennifer Steger and Mackenzie Andrews, as well as Elias Baker, a mechanical engineer who has worked with SpaceX and Spacelabs. Following its launch a year ago, Nanodropper has raised $60,000 primarily from healthcare providers. The grand prize was sponsored by Seattle-based life science incubator Intuitive X. Nanodropper said five eye care clinics are interested in presales and that it’s in talks with Premera Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente and Bartell Drugs. The startup will use the cash to start making the product, which is manufactured in Minnesota and will sell for $12.99. The device has received class I FDA approval with a 510(k) exemption. $10,000 2nd Place Prize: Appiture (Washington State University) (Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship Photo) Appiture is developing a mobile-based hardware and software system to detect autism spectrum disorder in children. The team, which includes students from Washington State University’s chemical engineering, bioengineering and veterinary medicine departments, also won a $2,500 digital health prize. The Herbert B. Jones Foundation sponsored the second-place prize. (GeekWire Photo) $5,000 3rd Place Prize: Pulmora (University of Washington) Pulmora created an autonomous ventilator that can easily be applied to patients who have stopped breathing. The company, comprised of UW bioengineering students, said that it hopes to make ventilators common and easy to use, in the same way that defibrillators are today. The third-place prize was sponsored by WRF Capital, the investment arm of the Washington Research Foundation. $1,000 “Judges Also Really Liked” Award: DopCuff and Insulin Anywhere In addition to the top prizes, the judges gave $1,000 to DopCuff, which is working on a better blood pressure device for patients with end-stage heart failure. Insulin Anywhere also won the “Judges Also Really Liked Award” for its system that is both an insulin-cooling chamber and a compact needle kit, which was designed to get insulin to diabetics in emergency situations such as natural disasters.
Univ. of Washington CoMotion innovation center chief Vikram Jandhyala to step down in June

Univ. of Washington CoMotion innovation center chief Vikram Jandhyala to step down in June

1:31pm, 18th February, 2019
Vikram Jandhyala. (UW Photo) After five years of leading the University of Washington’s innovation center, is stepping down. Jandhyala, executive director of , told GeekWire that he plans to depart this June. He’ll stay connected to the university and spend more time at the , the new U.S.-China joint technology innovation institute run by the UW and Tsinghua University in Beijing. Jandhyala became the university’s vice provost of innovation , taking over for Linden Rhodes after a 3-year stint leading the UW’s electrical engineering department. His title evolved into vice president of innovation strategy as Jandhyala led CoMotion, which helps startups through education and access to experts and funding sources. Originally started as the Center for Commercialization (C4C) at the UW’s main Seattle campus, CoMotion evolved a few years ago from a department that mainly helped commercialize ideas born at the university to what it now describes as a “collaborative innovation hub dedicated to expanding the economic and societal impact of the UW community.” Under the leadership of Jandhyala, the UW has ranked among the top 10 on for the past several years and cracked the top 10 of the Milken Institute national tech transfer rankings. CoMotion also helped open a makerspace on campus; created an Amazon Catalyst program; and launched the Mobility Innovation Center with Challenge Seattle. “These last five years have been amazing and I am really proud of the momentum and accomplishments made by the team at CoMotion,” said Jandhyala, who first joined the UW as an assistant professor in 2000 and founded his own startup in 2007. “They have produced a standout service for the community of UW innovators and built strong connections to the local and global innovation ecosystems.” Jandhyala is already the co-executive director at GIX, which recently , and will dedicate more time to the program after he leaves CoMotion in June. He’ll work closely with UW leadership to create a transition and succession plan for CoMotion.
Univ. of Washington spinout takes on $5.2B scheduling problem with custom AI analytics

Univ. of Washington spinout takes on $5.2B scheduling problem with custom AI analytics

12:00pm, 9th May, 2018
(Bigstock Photo)stock Hospitals have to solve a thousand logistical challenges every day, but perhaps none are more difficult than operating room schedules. Surgeries can be difficult to predict — in fact, less than half of surgeries in the U.S. start and end on time. That can create chaos for patients and doctors, and costs hospitals $5.2 billion every year, according to University of Washington . The startup, which develops a variety of technologies for hospitals, is taking aim at the operating room problem with a new AI technology that uses data on patients and surgeons to more accurately predict how long each surgery will take. The startup recently deployed the technology at a large academic medical institution in Seattle. So far, it has cut the number of surgeries that run over their scheduled time by 20 percent, a result that could save a hospital $1 million a year in staff overtime alone. Perimatics Co-Founder and CEO Kalyani Velagapudi. (Perimatics Photo) The startup is still studying how its technology affects underage, or the number of surgeries that end before the predicted time, and other elements including patient and employee satisfaction. Perimatics’ algorithm begins by looking at a patient’s data and seeking out information that will affect how long the surgery takes, like the patient’s prior surgeries and their age. , Perimatics co-founder and CEO, told GeekWire that the surgeons themselves also have a big impact on how long a surgery takes. Each surgeon approaches an operation differently and will bring in various factors that affect the length of the operation. “That was a surprise,” said , Perimatics’ chief solutions architect and co-founder. “We had to build machine learning models customized for each surgeon.” The algorithm also takes into account the staff that will work on the procedure, like anesthesiologists. It can also suggest last-minute scheduling adjustments when operating rooms are needed for emergency procedures. Bala Nair, Perimatics’ co-Founder and chief solutions architect. (Perimatics Photo) The end goal is to help hospitals cut down the $5.2 billion a year that results from overage and underage in surgeries. In addition to staff overtime costs, operation rooms cost an estimated to run, so any variation from the set schedule can quickly become extortionate. That’s not to mention factors like patient and employee dissatisfaction, which is also a common side effect of scheduling challenges. Although this is the first time the technology has been deployed in a hospital system, Nair said it is easily scalable. Now that Perimatics has worked out which factors impact surgery length, the basic framework can be applied to almost any hospital, he said. Velagapudi said the startup is continuing work on its other AI technologies, including its Smart Anaesthesia Manager. That program, invented by Bala, analyzes a patient’s health metrics in real-time during surgery and helps doctors make decisions that have a big impact on a patient’s health when they are recovering. She also said the company is working on new solutions for post-surgery problems and surgical supplies. “It is quite different from the data science that is being done on the market today because it is real time,” Velagapudi said of the startup’s work. Perimatics spun out from the University of Washington last year and currently employs 7 at its headquarters in Bellevue, Wash. It is also a partner of , the tech giant’s startup assistance program.