gthuang88 writes: The idea of insects as a protein source to feed the world isn’t new. But the U.S. agtech industry may be warming up to it. Now a Seattle startup called Beta Hatch is growing and harvesting mealworms and their waste, about 600 pounds a week, and packaging them as chicken feed and fertilizer. The goal is to be healthier and more eco-friendly than traditional feed, which uses soy. Together with companies like Tiny Farms, Exo, and Six Foods, this represents a new wave of efforts to commercialize insects for sustainable food and farming.
gthuang88 writes: Exploding demand for data centers at Google, Facebook, and other Web giants is driving investment in optical communications hardware. Ayar Labs, a startup with roots at MIT, has raised money from venture fund FF Science, co-led by Peter Thiel, to commercialize a new kind of optical chip that could increase bandwidth and reduce energy consumption in data centers. Meanwhile, Acacia Communications, one of the few tech companies to IPO in 2016, is making a profit on silicon-based optical interconnects for data centers and telecom applications. After more than a decade of basic research, silicon photonics seems to have found a market niche. Intel, IBM, and others with big efforts in the field are taking notice.
gthuang88 writes: Display-tech guru Mary Lou Jepsen is leaving her post at Facebook/Oculus to work on a new startup called Open Water. Jepsen, a veteran of Google X and the MIT Media Lab, says the company will develop wearable MRI devices that could help doctors do early detection of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Inspired in part by musician Peter Gabriel, Open Water also hopes to use advances in neural imaging and brain-machine interfaces to create a system for reading and communicating human thoughts electronically.
gthuang88 writes: Environmental factors like temperature, humidity, or lighting often derail life science experiments. Now Elemental Machines, a startup from the founders of Misfit Wearables, is trying to help scientists debug experiments using distributed sensors and machine-learning software to detect anomalies. The product is in beta testing with academic labs and biotech companies. The goal is to help speed up things like biology research and drug development. Wiring up experiments is part of a broader effort to create “smart labs” that automate some of the scientific process.
gthuang88 writes: Virtual digital assistants are gaining popularity with the rise of Siri, Google Now, and Facebook’s M service. Now startups are using related artificial intelligence techniques to solve business problems. Talla is building an interactive bot on Slack and HipChat for handling workflows in recruiting and human resources. The software uses natural language processing, word vectors, and some deep learning. Other startups, such as Gamalon, DataRobot, and Sentenai, are focused on probabilistic programming, data science, and machine learning for the Internet of things. Working with private data sets and business apps could help these startups avoid competing with the big players, at least for now.
gthuang88 writes: A New Hampshire tech company called Dyn is known for its Domain Name System (DNS) services that help direct traffic for big websites like Twitter, Netflix, and Zillow. Now the company has made its Internet-monitoring technology available to small teams and startups that want to see the root cause of outages and traffic problems worldwide, from Facebook to Fandango. The move represents a shift toward individual companies and sites being able to optimize and redirect traffic for their own purposes---something that could become automated in the coming years, even as the Web gets more complex.
gthuang88 writes: Desktop 3D printers may be all the rage, but laser cutters have a market, too. Seattle startup Glowforge has made its consumer-grade laser cutter and engraver available for pre-order this week, at a price point of about $2,000. As technology editor Ben Romano reports, the device uses a 40-watt laser that can cut through wood, fabric, leather, rubber, foods, and even pumpkins, to make intricate decorations and toys. You can custom engrave anything from glass to marble to a MacBook. What convinced Romano to shell out the cash, though, is something more hopeful: the promise of making industrial-quality décor in the comfort of his own home.
gthuang88 writes: Given the hype around 3D printing, you’d never guess that established leaders like 3D Systems and Stratasys have seen their stock fall by 75 percent in the last year. Big companies like HP, Amazon, and Boeing are getting into the field, too, but startups are still where a lot of the action is. Now Formlabs, a Boston-area startup, has released a new 3D printer that is supposed to be more reliable and higher quality than its predecessors. The device uses stereolithography and is aimed at professional designers and engineers. The question is whether Formlabs---and other startups like MarkForged, Voxel8, and Desktop Metal---can find enough of a market to survive until 3D printing becomes a more mainstream form of manufacturing.
gthuang88 writes: Wireless charging of electronics is an old concept, but there’s a new player in the competition between companies like WiTricity, Energous, and tech giants Apple, Samsung, and Qualcomm. A new spinout from Dina Katabi’s lab at MIT, called Pi, may have a new take on how to charge mobile devices at a distance. The company isn’t talking yet, but Katabi’s research suggests the system uses an array of coils to produce a magnetic field and detect when a device is within range, like a Wi-Fi router. The array can then focus the magnetic field on a coil attached to a phone or mobile device and induce a current to charge the battery. But it’s still very early, and the field of wireless charging needs to settle on technical standards and work out its commercial kinks.
gthuang88 writes: Even as the hype around big data has died down, opportunities for data scientists are expanding. Johns Hopkins, NYU, and MIT are among the schools offering courses in data science, and IBM and other big companies are investing heavily in training programs. Now a startup called DataCamp has raised $1 million to expand online courses in R programming, Apache Spark, and other topics. The deal speaks to the opportunity that venture capitalists see in training the next generation of data scientists and business analysts. It also shows online education is specializing beyond platforms like Codecademy, Coursera, and Udacity.
gthuang88 writes: Willy Schlacks grew up in a conservative commune in Missouri without technology like phones or computers. At age 27, he and his brother left and started a construction business. That led to their founding a Web startup called EquipmentShare that helps contractors rent and share construction machinery. The startup went through the Y Combinator program and just raised $2 million from venture capitalists. The Schlacks worldview, coming from a communal society where they never owned property, fits in an interesting way with the digital sharing economy of Uber and Airbnb that’s seeping into other industries. But there’s one big difference. “I appreciate capitalism,” Schlacks says. “I definitely prefer it.”
gthuang88 writes: Warehouse automation has become a big business, with Amazon’s Kiva robots leading the way. Now a startup called Fetch Robotics is rolling out a pair of new robots that can pick boxes off of shelves, pass them to each other, and carry the goods to a shipping station. Fetch, led by Willow Garage veteran Melonee Wise, is competing with companies like Amazon’s Kiva Systems, Rethink Robotics, and Harvest Automation to develop dexterous, mobile robots for retail, distribution, and manufacturing.
gthuang88 writes: Just days after Comcast and Time Warner Cable abandoned their mega-merger plans, wireless Internet service provider Webpass is expanding to Boston, its fifth major market. The region can boast of MIT, a rich history in Internet and Web, and lots of networking companies---but very little in the way of broadband competition, until now. Webpass’s very high-speed service, which is currently available in the Bay Area, San Diego, Miami, and Chicago, should be up and running in downtown Boston in three or four weeks. The company joins NetBlazr, Monkeybrains, and other broadband tech companies that are finding a niche as more people opt to “cut the cord” from big cable and telecom providers.
gthuang88 writes: With everyone from PayPal merchants to Rand Paul starting to accept Bitcoins as payment, the race is on to develop technical standards for the virtual currency. Now MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito is getting ready to unveil a plan for MIT to become an independent, neutral home for standards development. Ito is enlisting cryptographer Ron Rivest and economist Simon Johnson to help with the effort, which could provide an academic alternative to the Bitcoin Foundation for conversations about the currency’s future.
gthuang88 writes: Rethink Robotics has unveiled a new manufacturing robot called Sawyer. The robot has one arm, a gripper, and a head, and is equipped with new force sensors, actuators, and computer vision that make it more agile and precise than the company’s previous robot, Baxter. Founder Rodney Brooks says Sawyer is designed for two new market areas---electronics assembly and international factories in Europe and Asia. It also took only one year to build, as compared to almost four for Baxter. Still, the question is whether manufacturers are ready to adopt robots to work alongside people in factories.