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Rebellyous Foods snares $6M for faux chicken

Plant-based chicken nuggets
Rebellyous Foods’ nuggets are meant to be a healthier, less expensive and equally tasty alternative to chicken nuggets. (Rebellyous Foods Photo / Kristie Middleton)

Seattle-based Rebellyous Foods says it has raised $6 million in investment for a production operation that turns a blend of wheat, soy and other plant products into nuggets that taste like chicken.

The startup’s founder and CEO, former Boeing engineer Christie Lagally, argues that Rebellyous and other producers of plant-based meat substitutes should become more mainstream as the lessons of the global coronavirus outbreak sink in.

She noted that China’s “wet markets” are thought to have played a role in transmitting the virus from animals to humans.

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Cloud-based vertical farming at the supermarket

Infarm kiosk
Lelaina Beyer, one of Infarm’s urban farmers in the Seattle area, harvests greens at the kiosk-sized farm in the produce section of the Kirkland Urban QFC store. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

KIRKLAND, Wash. — The Seattle area offers a rich smorgasbord of geeky tech-as-a-service offerings — ranging from software as a service, to gaming as a service, to pizza as a service.

Now you can add “farming as a service” to the list.

That’s what Infarm is going for, with hydroponic plant-growth cabinets that shrink the acreage needed to grow fresh greens to fit in a grocery-store aisle. The startup, based in Berlin, Germany, has just opened up its first North American “farms” inside a pair of QFC supermarkets east of Seattle, at Bellevue Village and here at Kirkland’s Urban Plaza.

“It’s a merger of agriculture and technology,” Emmanuel Evita, Infarm’s global communications director, told me during today’s “first harvest” in Kirkland.

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Xnor teases AI gizmo that’ll keep groceries in stock

Shelf-monitoring system
Xnor.ai’s shelf-monitoring system can provide alerts about out-of-stock items. (Xnor.ai Photo via Twitter)

Artificial intelligence is coming to a grocery store shelf near you.

Xnor.ai, a spin-out from Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, has been working with partners on low-cost, low-power AI monitoring devices, including a camera with the ability to detect when a person steps in front of a webcam.

Now the startup is unveiling a wireless device that’s designed to be clipped onto a retail shelf and send out an alert when the store is running low on a particular item.

The beta demonstration is due to take place this weekend in Las Vegas at Groceryshop, a trade show for the grocery industry.

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Amazon patents spoilage-sniffing refrigerator

Spoilage-sensing refrigerator
A diagram indicates the location of chemical sensors in a proposed spoilage-detecting refrigerator. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Years after making its application, Amazon has won a patent for a refrigerator that uses cameras and chemical sensors to sniff out spoiled food.

But if you’re waiting to get one-day shipping for a fridge that knows your fruit has gone bad before you do, you might want to put those hopes on ice. Or look to similar spoilage-detecting gizmos that are already out there.

The concept is suited to our foodie age, as well as the age of the Internet of Things.

In the newly approved patent application, Amazon inventor Simon Kurt Johnston starts with the obvious: “Food or drinks in the refrigerator will eventually spoil.”

It almost sounds as if Johnston is speaking from experience when he explains why a spoilage-sensing fridge is needed: “A user may not notice that food or drinks within the refrigerator are spoiling because these items may be stored out of sight (e.g., at the back of the refrigerator, in a drawer or bin, or behind another item).”

The solution? Seal off every bin, and put cameras and sensors inside. The camera system could be programmed to capture regular images of the items inside a drawer, and then upload them for processing with machine-learning algorithms to recognize the foodstuffs and compare them with a database of food spoilage.

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Spaced-out goodies mark Apollo 11 anniversary

Space beer bottles
Elysian Brewing’s Space Dust IPA will be sporting space-themed labels this summer. (Elysian Brewing Photo via Museum of Flight)

Want a little space history in your beer? Or soda pop? Or chocolate? Seattle brands are banding together to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with the Museum of Flight leading the charge.

You’ll find a roundup of space-themed products on the museum’s “Summer of Space” website.

For instance, take Elysium Brewing Co.’s Space Dust IPA, one of the Seattle brewery’s standards: This summer, Space Dust bottles will be sporting a series of three Apollo 11 labels celebrating the mission’s liftoff, moonwalk and splashdown in July 1969.

If your tastes run more toward the softer side, check out the collectible Apollo 11 labels that’ll be part of Jones Soda’s 50th-anniversary lineup.

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Amazon’s got a brand new bag for delivery items

Hot-and-cold bag
Amazon’s newly patented concept for a convertible delivery bag has internal insulated panels that can be adjusted to accommodate hot and cold items for a single delivery. There’s even a drink holder, indicated as item 128. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Insulated bags for pizza deliveries and cooler bags for ice-cold drinks are nothing new. But how about if you put them together? Amazon’s inventors thought the idea was novel enough to apply for a patent, and now they’ve gotten it.

The patent application, titled “Convertible Food Delivery Bag With an Adjustable Divider,” describes a delivery bag that has a system of magnetic strips, Velcro-style strips or sliders on the bag’s interior.

Panels of insulating material can be moved around inside the bag to create compartments of adjustable sizes, to secure a cold drink snugly or provide enough room for the hot bucket of chicken nestled in the bag compartment next to it. The patent application even provides for built-in drink holders.

The idea is to scale up the pizza-bag concept for bigger deliveries, combining hot and cold items and thus addressing a need that the inventors say is currently going unmet.

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Vivid Robotics wins $4.9M boost for food tech

Garett Ochs
Garett Ochs is co-founder and CEO of Vivid Robotics. (Garett Ochs via Kickstarter)

The stealthy Seattle-based food automation venture formerly known as Otto Robotics has a new name: Vivid Robotics.

It also has a fresh infusion of $4.9 million in funding, thanks to an investment round reported today in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

And it has a fresh vision that could well extend beyond robotic food preparation, according to co-founder and CEO Garett Ochs. That’s one of the big reasons for the name change.

“We’re going to be creating products for food, and we’re also going to be creating other things,” Ochs told GeekWire. “We wanted to do rebranding so we are set up for a more streamlined approach to a divergent future.”

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Small seeds could spur giant leap in space farming

Plant habitat
Plants grow in a prototype of the habitat that will be used on the International Space Station to study which strains of crops do best in a weightless environment. (Washington State University Photo)

When Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket launches a robotic Cygnus cargo spaceship toward the International Space Station, as early as Monday, it’ll be sending seeds that could show the way for future space farmers.

The Antares liftoff is currently set for 4:39 a.m. ET (1:39 a.m. PT) on Monday from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather. NASA’s live-streaming coverage of the countdown begins at 1 a.m. PT Monday.

More than 7,200 pounds of supplies, equipment and experiments will be packed aboard the Cygnus. One of the smallest payloads consists of seeds for the Final Frontier Plant Habitat — part of a $2.3 million, NASA-funded initiative that involves researchers from Washington State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the University of New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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Why Walmart wants to patent robot bees

Robot bees
Robotic bees were the subject of a dystopian video four years ago. (Greenpeace via YouTube)

Robot bees have hit the big time.

In the 10 days since Walmart’s patent application for “systems and methods for pollinating crops via unmanned vehicles” came to light, the idea of building drones to do what bees do has gone viral.

The piece de resistance came on “Saturday Night Live” when Walmart’s concept got a mention on “Weekend Update” (around the 6:30 mark in this video clip).

“What is Walmart now?” comedian Colin Jost asked. “It’s a department store that became a grocery store, and a firearms dealer, and now they’re just building an army of robot bees?

“I miss the good old days, when Walmart was just a place where I saw my third-grade teacher punch a greeter on Black Friday,” he said.

CB Insights says the patent application is one of six that Walmart filed for farm automation applications, including crop monitoring, pest identification and pesticide spraying.

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This Pi Day, remember the reason for the season

Pi Day pie
The Pie shop in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood goes all-out for Pi Day. (Pie via Facebook)

Maybe it’s time to put the pi back in Pi Day.

I remember a time when 3/14 really stood for something: namely, the calendar date that came closest to the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

Yes, I’m talking about pi, or π for the purists out there. 3.14159… Arguably the best-known irrational number in mathematics.

That was the reason why physicist Larry Shaw came up with the traditional Pi Day ceremonies precisely 30 years ago, in 1988. He and his disciples celebrated the first Pi Day at San Francisco’s Exploratorium by consuming slices of pizza and fruit pie, and marching in a circle at 1:59 p.m. (Get it? 3/14 1:59?)

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