Wing’s drone makes a delivery. (Wing Photo) Alphabet’s has stolen a march on Amazon’s plans for drone domination by winning air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. “Air Carrier Certification means that we can begin a commercial service delivering goods from local businesses to homes in the United States,” celebrating the milestone. Wing was from (formerly known as Google X), and has been taking part in an in Southwest Virginia. The company has also conducted a test program in Australia that involved more than 3,000 drone deliveries to doorsteps, backyards and driveways. In all, Wing’s drones have flown more than 70,000 test flights, and is starting up . Wing said the data submitted to the FAA for certification showed that “a delivery by wing carries a lower risk to pedestrians than the same trip made by car.” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao hailed the certification. “This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy. Safety continues to be our No. 1 priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential,” she said in a statement. Wing said its next step will be to further its participation in the Virginia pilot program. “For the next several months, we’ll be reaching out to businesses and community members in the Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas to demonstrate our technology, answer questions, and solicit feedback with the goal of launching a delivery trial later this year,” the company said. Amazon has been conducting its own drone delivery test flights in locations ranging from Israel and France to . The Seattle-based online retailing giant showed off more than two years ago. Amazon missed out on participating in the FAA’s first wave of drone pilot programs, however. We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment, and will update this item with anything we hear back.
University of Washington biochemists David Baker and Neil King show off molecular models of proteins at UW’s Institute for Protein Design. (UW IPD Photo / Ian Haydon) The era of engineering proteins for medical applications just got a lot closer, thanks to a five-year, $45 million grant from at TED to the at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The institute, headed by UW biochemist , is among eight recipients of Audacious grants announced today at the annual TED conference in Vancouver, B.C. “We’re really thinking of this as a protein design revolution, parallel to the digital revolution at Bell Labs. … If you can design proteins exactly to order from first principles, you can solve a lot of problems that are facing humans today — primarily in medicine, but also in materials and energy,” Baker told GeekWire. Among the potential products are a , , smart proteins capable of or the out-of-control cells that cause , potential and self-assembling proteins for or . “They are things that we’ve been thinking about for a while, and are starting to work toward,” said Neil King, who leads the institute’s vaccine design efforts. “We’re really excited by the opportunity that’s opening up here because of this additional funding, to scale up and focus our efforts toward solving these ‘grand challenge’ problems.” That fits right in with the mission of The Audacious Project, which was launched by TED’s organizers last year with support from The Bridgespan Group. The project pulls together philanthropic funds from a variety of contributors — including the Skoll Foundation, Virgin Unite and the Dalio Foundation — and distributes the money to boost bold ideas. The five-year grant adds to funding that the institute receives from the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Right now, the institute has about 100 people on its staff, “and we are going to be ramping that number up considerably,” Baker said. Baker’s reference to Bell Labs — which pioneered innovations ranging from transistors and lasers to radio astronomy and photovoltaic cells in the mid-20th century — isn’t merely a historical allusion. He sees Bell Labs as the model for what he wants to do with the Institute for Protein Design, and expects to collaborate with other research institutions in the Seattle area and around the world. “We want to build dream teams for all of these areas,” Baker said. “Coming back to the Bell Labs analogy, an important part of this is recruiting. We’re really excited about attracting people at all levels, ranging from visiting students to graduate students to postdoctoral fellows to people later in their careers to faculty.” One of the priorities will be to upgrade the institute’s Rosetta protein design software, which has spawned a citizen-science program called Rosetta at Home as well as a . “We’re incredibly indebted to the Rosetta at Home participants who have really contributed a huge amount to our efforts through the donation of spare cycles on their computers,” Baker said. “In fact, we will be even more dependent on them as we scale up and have more designs to test.” The extra funding should raise the game to another level for Foldit’s puzzle-solving players, who are already designing virtual proteins from scratch. Baker and King say they’ll be raising their game as well. “We’re looking at this as a catalytic event,” King said. “This influx of resources and talent … is going to take us up a level, but it’s not a perpetual funding source. Once we take that step or two up, we’ll have to continue to attract traditional funding, or maybe alternative forms of funding, to keep things going at that higher level.” So when will The Audacious Project’s $45 million bet pay off? How long will it be before the institute has a universal flu vaccine ready for testing? “I think single-digit years,” King said. “Not double-digit years.” This year’s eight Audacious projects were chosen from more than 1,500 applications. The financial commitments made to the eight projects over the next five years add up to more than half a billion dollars, said Chris Anderson, curator of TED Conferences. The other seven 2019 Audacious projects include: Center for Policing Equity, which plans to use data capture technology to bring measurable behavior changes to police departments that collectively serve 100 million people a year — approximately one in three Americans — by 2024. Educate Girls, which is partnering with 35,000 village-based volunteers to address collective mindsets and persuade parents and elders in remote, rural communities of India to register all out-of-school girls for school and support them so that they stay enrolled. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which aims to improve the ability of plants to capture and store carbon in their roots in a long-lived molecule calledsuberin — better known as cork. The END Fund, which proposes to bring deworming treatment to 100 million people and support partnerships to increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene education. The Nature Conservancy, which intends to protect 4 million square kilometers of the ocean over the next five years by buying up the of debt of 20 island and coastal nations — in exchange for governmental commitments to use the savings to protect at least 30% of their marine areas. Thorn, which seeks to eliminate child sexual abuse material from the internet by empowering those on the front lines with the technology and data they need to find children faster, and end the circulation of violent abuse content before it starts. Waterford UPSTART, which hopes to provide access to early education to 250,000 children across the country. Waterford UPSTART empowers parents through proactive family coaching and provides personalized learning for every child, preparing them for kindergarten.
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.
Alex Guirguis, co-founder of Off the Record, holds the app up on his phone as he poses in 2016 with the car that has gotten him a few speeding tickets. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire) A Seattle startup that helps drivers fight traffic tickets is celebrating what it calls “a big win” this week in a dispute brought by attorneys who claim the service is unethical. The Washington State Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel dismissed a grievance brought against Off the Record, a 3-year-old startup that streamlines the process of fighting traffic tickets in court. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the decision, which means it cannot be appealed. “This really is a David vs. Goliath story — hot shot, establishment attorneys coming after a local startup because of our quick and unexpected success,” Off The Record co-founder Alex Guirguis said via email. In the complaint, Lisa Donaldson and 11 other Washington state traffic attorneys claimed that Off The Record’s business model raised ethical red flags. The grievance alleged Off The Record controls attorneys fees, which causes them to yield “their professional independence to the company.” Off The Record users provide a photo of their traffic ticket, answer a few questions, and are assigned a lawyer with an established track record fighting tickets. Customers communicate with their attorneys using the app, which Donaldson and co-signing attorneys said could threaten “the privileged nature of such communications.” Other allegations included deceptive advertising and compromising attorneys’ “duty of diligence” by pushing to streamline the process. The Washington State Bar Association regulates legal disputes pertaining to attorneys, known as grievances. Donaldson filed hers against Jacques LeJeune, an attorney who works with Off The Record. The disciplinary board recognized that “there is considerable nationwide discussion of the issues surrounding the use of marketing and matching services like OTR” but chose to dismiss the grievance because there isn’t “specific evidence of client/consumer harm.” Off The Record’s services are available in 30 states and the company fighting tickets. The company is fending off a similar grievance in California. Guirguis sees the friction as par for the course for a disruptive business. “We expect we’ll have to deal with this in each state in which we operate,” he said.
The HyperAI team, from left to right: Benji Barash, Yves Albers, Dave Matthew, and Elizabeth Nelson, with TiE Seattle board member Shirish Nadkarni and Madrona Venture Labs CTO Jay Bartot. (Not pictured, from the Hyper AI team: Ritesh Desai and Joaquin Zapeda) (Photo via Madrona) Food safety is a pressing issue. The latest example came last month when an elusive strain of E. coli linked to romaine lettuce sickened 121 people across 25 states and killed one, for how food is screened for safety and quality. Now a newly-formed group of entrepreneurs wants to use machine learning technology to help keep food free of harmful bacteria and containments before it reaches the dinner table. Hyper AI took home the first place prize at a hosted by TiE Seattle and Madrona Venture Labs, the startup studio housed inside Seattle-based venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group. The event featured eight teams who came together last month and spent this past weekend creating startup ideas that incorporated the latest machine learning and deep learning technology. Eight teams participated in the Machine Learning Startup Creation Weekend at Madrona Venture Labs. (Photo via Madrona) The winning team, Hyper AI, aims to help the food industry with hyper-spectral imaging tech that can detect everything from foreign objects to deadly bacteria. It plans to deploy edge devices on customer premises and do the heavy lifting for image analysis with machine learning in the cloud. The group, made up of Amazon vets and experienced technologists, explained that existing solutions are either too manual and expensive, or too specialized. It hopes to use machine learning to improve the food scanning technology over time as it learns how to detect more and more contaminants. “They were able to demonstrate why there is increasing awareness of the issue and demand for new, innovative solutions,” said Mike Fridgen, CEO of Madrona Venture Labs who helped judge the pitches. “They had defined their beachhead opportunity, where they would start, through in-depth conversations with potential food processor customers.” As the first place prize winner, the Hyper AI team will now meet with Madrona Venture Labs with a chance to land a $100,000 investment and participate in , which just . Accepted startups in the accelerator will use Madrona Venture Labs resources — expertise in company creation, design, engineering, etc.; access to Madrona’s advisor and investor network; and more. It will be housed in Madrona’s that opens later this summer underneath its existing downtown Seattle office. Madrona Venture Labs held in the past and ended up investing in the winning companies. The studio is focusing on supporting “vertical” machine learning and artificial intelligence startups, as explained . The second place team from last weekend’s event was FireWise, which aims predict wildfires before they happen. The third place team, HealthShop, wants to help guide healthcare patients to surgery centers. (Editor’s note: I was one of the six judges at the event. Others included Madrona Venture Labs CEO Mike Fridgen; Flying Fish Managing Partner Heather Redman; Madrona Ventures Venture Partner and University of Washington professor Dan Weld; Koru CEO Kristen Hamilton; and Microsoft GM Sona Vaish Venkat )