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BlueDot founder previews his innovation factory

Image: Naveen Jain
Entrepreneur Naveen Jain takes a zero-G airplane flight. (Credit: Naveen Jain / Zero Gravity Corp. via Twitter)

Naveen Jain’s Moon Express is well along in its plans for a lunar mission next year, but the Seattle dot-com entrepreneur is also pursuing “moonshots” here on Earth through his BlueDot venture.

BlueDot, based in Bellevue, Wash., came into the open last November with the goal of turning the discoveries made at research institutions around the country into innovative products. At the time, Jain told GeekWire that the venture’s first technological targets would be charging devices that harvest ambient energy and non-invasive devices that detect pathogens.

Now we’re learning how BlueDot plans to proceed, and how much it will take.

CNBC reports that the venture has brought in $8.3 million in investment, which translates into a valuation of $60 million. And NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski has surfaced as the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

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GeekWire

Acoustic imager makes sound visible

Image: Acoustic image
A color-coded image of an industrial site pinpoints sound coming from a passing truck as well as from equipment on the other side of a buildling. (Credit: Signal Interface Group)

Not even the click of a pen or the rustle of a shirt goes undetected by Signal Interface Group’s acoustic imager. But how about a person’s, um, rude noises?

“We don’t record those,” the company’s president, Neil Fenichel, says with a smile.

The gizmo that Fenichel demonstrated this week at Signal Interface Group’s office in Bellevue, Wash., is designed for higher purposes: to find out why an elevator is whining, where an air-conditioning system is leaking, which fluorescent light is buzzing, why a car’s engine is making a funny sound, or even how a hummingbird does its buzz.

The imaging system, developed in cooperation with Bellevue-based OptiNav, combines several tricks of the acoustic trade.

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GeekWire

Low-power Wi-Fi system wins high praise

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UW researchers have generated Passive Wi-Fi transmissions that use 10,000 times less power than current methods. (Credit: UW via YouTube)

Computer scientists and engineers from the University of Washington say they’ve figured out a way to generate Wi-Fi transmissions using 10,000 times less power than conventional methods.

Not even low-power options such as Bluetooth Low Energy and Zigbee can match the system’s energy efficiency, based on a study to be presented in March at the 13th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation.

That level of performance has earned the UW team’s Passive Wi-Fi system a place on MIT Technology Review’s latest top-ten list of breakthrough technologies.

Other technologies on the list include rocket reusability, which is being pioneered by SpaceX and Blue Origin; Tesla’s Autopilot system for autonomous driving; and T-cell-based immunotherapy, which is the focus for researchers at Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics and other companies.

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GeekWire

Lithium-air battery nirvana comes nearer

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Researchers say lithium-air batteries could boost the range of electric cars. (Credit: IBM via YouTube)

A decade from now, we could all be driving low-cost electric cars for hundreds of miles without recharging, thanks to an advance in lithium-air battery technology announced today. Or maybe it’ll be some other lithium-air innovation. Or maybe we’ll see batteries with a different chemistry, such as sodium-air or sodium-lithium.

“The battery of the future is going to encompass a lot of these different technologies,” University of Cambridge chemist Clare Grey told GeekWire.

Grey is the senior author of a study describing a technological twist that promises to remove some of the obstacles that have blocked the path to battery nirvana. The research, featured on the cover of this week’s issue of the journal Science, shows how changing the nanostructure of the electrodes and shifting the chemistry can boost a lithium-oxygen battery’s efficiency and make it more stable.

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GeekWire

Amazon gets two spots on drone task force

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Amazon Prime Air is developing drones that could be used for deliveries. (Amazon photo)

The Federal Aviation Administration says the task force charged with drawing up recommendations for registering recreational drones includes two Amazon representatives: Sean Cassidy, a former Alaska Airlines pilot who’s working on the Amazon Prime Air drone venture; and Ben Gielow, who’s a senior manager for public policy at Amazon.

In today’s announcement detailing the task force’s membership, the FAA said the group’s co-chairs are Dave Vos of GoogleX and Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office.

Other task force members include Walmart’s Thomas Head, Best Buy’s Parker Brugge and GoPro’s Tony Bates, as well as representatives of drone manufacturers and operators, aviation associations, surveyors and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Amazon and Walmart are both working on drone delivery systems. GoogleX, which has served as Google’s think tank, is looking into commercial drones as well. Such operations, however, would be covered by a different set of regulations that’s working its way through the FAA system.

The task force is charged with suggesting a system for registering recreational drones by Nov. 20. The group is due to convene formally for the first time next Tuesday, the FAA said.  Public comments are being taken through Nov. 6.

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GeekWire

After Boeing and Ford, Alan Mulally’s a ‘Googler’

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Former Ford CEO Alan Mulally speaks at Seattle University. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

Alan Mulally started out designing Boeing jets in 1969, and eventually made his mark as the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Then he moved on to lead Ford Motor Co.’s revival as president and CEO, inspiring a book titled“American Icon.” Now the 70-year-old management guru has a new allegiance.

“I found a new love in Google,” Mulally told his fans on Wednesday evening, during a talk that kicked off this fall’s Albers Executive Speaker Series at Seattle University. “I’m a Googler now.”

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Forbes

NASA patents are so crazy they just might work

Image: ARGOS training
A NASA astronaut trains for a future mission task that would typically be conducted in weightlessness, using the patented Active Response Gravity Offload System, or ARGOS. (Credit: NASA)

When NASA put out the word this month that it was offering more than 1,200 of its patented technologies to startups for no money down, the spotlight naturally fell on the farthest-out ideas – for example, a collapsible airplane suitable for sending to Mars, or solar sails for interplanetary flights.

But the real point of the exercise is to make it easier to convert NASA’s out-of-this-world ideas into profitable innovations on Earth. NASA is willing to waive the patent licensing fees for the first three years of commercialization, but will take a standard net royalty fee once businesses start selling commercial products.

The resulting products might well have nothing to do with outer space. Here are seven patented ideas that may sound crazy but could work for the right kind of startup.

Get the full story on Forbes.com.

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Cosmic Environment Cosmic Tech

Carbon X Prize could turn CO2 into $20 million

Image: Power plant
The Four Corners power plant in New Mexico is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, based on measurements made by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (Credit: LANL)

Can you turn carbon dioxide emissions into gold? How about biofuel? The Carbon X Prize competition is offering $20 million for the best strategies to make use of CO2.

Past X Prizes have rewarded high-tech achievements in private-sector spaceflight and super-efficient automobiles. There are also X Prizes for moon missions“Star Trek” tricorders and educational software. The competition announced Tuesday is aimed at identifying technologies that convert industrial carbon dioxide emissions into high-value products – for example, clothing or shoes, building materials or industrial chemicals.

Carbon dioxide emissions are considered one of the factors behind global climate change, and the Obama administration is seeking steep cuts in such emissions from power plants. The Carbon X Prize could highlight high-tech solutions to the environmental problem.

“In order to demonstrate the widest possible applicability of potential solutions, the competition will have two tracks: one focused on testing technologies at a coal power plant, and one focused on testing technologies at a natural gas power plant,” Paul Bunje, principal and senior scientist for energy and environment at XPrize, said in Tuesday’s announcement.

Would-be competitors have until next June to sign up. Their proposals will be assessed by a judging panel, and the top 15 teams in each track will move on to demonstrate their technologies in controlled experiments.

In each track, the five top-rated finalists will share a $2.5 million milestone purse, based on the results of the experiments. Then they’ll try out their technologies using actual emissions from power plants. In March 2020, the highest-rated team in each track will be awarded a grand prize of $7.5 million. Check out the Carbon XPrize website for the details.

The competition is sponsored by NRG Energy and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, or COSIA. It follows up on a similar multimillion-dollar carbon conversion contest in Canada known as the CCEMC Grand Challenge.

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GeekWire

Uber in the air? NASA touts flying taxis

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An artist’s conception shows a vertical-takeoff craft rising from an urban helipad, using a distributed electric propulsion system. (Credit: Joby Aviation via YouTube)

Taking a ride on a flying air taxi could become as cheap as taking an Uber ride, and get you where you’re going in as little as a third of the time, according to a NASA concept study.

In fact, if you’re looking for your flying car, today’s Uber ride-on-demand arrangement just might provide the best model for finding it, said Mark Moore, chief technologist for on-demand ‎mobility at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.

“Uber could provide a true door-to-door system,” Moore observed during a presentation at this week’s SAE AeroTech Congress and Exhibition in Seattle. “It’s hard to beat that economic model.”

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GeekWire

6 small steps toward cooler spaceships

Image: Magbeam station
An artist’s conception shows a Magbeam station emitting a plasma beam to propel a target spacecraft beyond Jupiter. (Credit: UW Advanced Propulsion Lab)

SPOKANE, Wash. — Is there a better way to power a spaceship? The basic tools of the rocket trade have been refined over the course of nearly nine decades, but there’s only so far the physics will take us. If we ever want to send anything to another star system, as described in Kim Stanley Robinson’s newly published book“Aurora,” we’ll have to come up with new technologies.

Some of those technologies were laid out at Sasquan, the world science-fiction convention playing out this week in Spokane, during a session on the art and science of spaceships. And it turns out many of those technologies have a Seattle spin. Get a quick rundown on six research areas, with links to the local connections.

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