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GeekWire

Kymeta and OneWeb move ahead with satellite terminals

Kymeta Corp., the antenna venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has signed onto a joint development agreement with OneWeb to develop a flat-panel user terminal for OneWeb’s global satellite internet network.

The plan calls for modifying Kymeta’s u8 antenna system for fixed-terminal applications on land, with an eye toward supporting additional applications including mobile service in land-based and maritime settings.

Today’s announcement comes just weeks after Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta and OneWeb reported a successful test of Kymeta’s u8 technology, which takes advantage of an exotic category of electronics known as metamaterials. The technology makes it possible to “steer” an antenna electronically rather than physically moving it.

OneWeb is one of several ventures that is creating satellite constellations in low Earth orbit, or LEO, to broaden access to broadband internet service. SpaceX’s Starlink service is furthest along, but OneWeb is planning to begin limited service in the Arctic within the next few months. The plan calls for Kymeta’s terminals to enter the market as an option by the third quarter of 2022.

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Cosmic Tech

Commercial fusion ventures bring in billions of dollars

Commonwealth Fusion Systems has topped off a banner year for investment in commercial fusion projects with a $1.8 billion funding round for a concept that takes advantage of super-powerful superconducting magnets.

When you add in funding for other ventures, total private investment in fusion over the past year amounts to more than $2.7 billion.

Among the investors: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who’s backing Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Fusion Systems, or CFS; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who’s supporting Vancouver, B.C.-based General Fusion; PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who’s investing in Everett, Wash.-based Helion Energy; and Google, which is getting behind California-based TAE Technologies.

CFS said its Series B funding round, led by Tiger Global Management, will provide enough capital to get its SPARC fusion machine up and running in Devens, Mass., in cooperation with MIT. In addition to Gates, the list of investors includes Google, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Soros Fund Management LLC and actor Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition.

“The world is ready to make big investments in commercial fusion as a key part of the global energy transition. This diverse group of investors includes a spectrum of capital from energy and technology companies to venture capitalists, hedge funds, and university endowments that believe in fusion as a large-scale solution to decarbonize the planet,” CFS CEO Bob Mumgaard said in today’s news release.

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GeekWire

Walmart and DroneUp set up drone delivery hubs

Walmart is partnering with Virginia-based DroneUp on a network of drone delivery hubs, starting with a neighborhood market in Farmington, Ark.

The move appears to put Walmart ahead of its retail rival, Amazon, in expanding the frontier for aerial deliveries. Amazon announced its drone development program back in 2013, and two years ago, the company said regular drone deliveries were mere months away. Recent reports, however, have hinted that Amazon Prime Air’s progress has slowed down significantly.

Today’s announcement about the first delivery hubs in Arkansas comes five months after Walmart made a strategic investment in DroneUp and signed a contract that expanded the companies’ pilot project for drone deliveries.

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GeekWire

TerraPower picks Wyoming site for its first nuclear plant

TerraPower, the nuclear power venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has chosen a soon-to-be-retired coal-fired power plant in Wyoming as its preferred location for a next-generation demonstration reactor.

After an evaluation process that included meetings with community members, the Bellevue, Wash.-based venture selected Kemmerer, Wyo., for the site of its Natrium reactor, which will make use of technology from TerraPower and GE-Hitachi.

The project is one of two projects supported by the U.S. Department of Energy with an initial funding round totaling $160 million. The other project is planned by Maryland-based X-energy, with Washington state’s Hanford nuclear reservation selected as the preferred location. The Department of Energy plans to invest a total of $3.2 billion over a seven-year period to turn the concepts into reality by 2028, with matching funds provided by industry partners.

TerraPower had previously signaled that it planned to build the demonstration reactor at one of PacifiCorp’s four retiring coal-fired plants in Wyoming, but today’s announcement revealed the precise location.

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Fiction Science Club

Sci-fi icon dives into climate crisis — and the metaverse

This whole metaverse thing hasn’t turned out exactly the way Seattle novelist Neal Stephenson thought it would when he came up with the idea 30 years ago.

Back then, Stephenson was getting ready to write his breakout science-fiction novel, “Snow Crash.” He was musing about how expensive it was to buy the equipment for a computer art project he was working on, as opposed to how inexpensive it was to buy a television set and watch state-of-the-art programming.

What would it take to make computer equipment as cheap as a TV set? “The answer, of course, is that lots of people watch TV,” Stephenson told me in an interview for the Fiction Science podcast that also touched on his new science-fiction thriller about climate change, “Termination Shock.”

During our chat, Stephenson noted that TV sets were once expensive lab curiosities, but became cheaper when programs like “I Love Lucy” created a huge market. Could that happen for computer graphics? Remember, this was at a time when the World Wide Web wasn’t much more than a glint in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.

Thus was the metaverse born, as a plot device for “Snow Crash” in 1992. Stephenson’s characters could turn to an entire world created from 3-D computer graphics, offering programming as popular as 1990s-era television.

Fast forward to today, when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella are touting the metaverse as the next frontier for online interaction through computer-generated avatars.

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Cosmic Tech

Fusion research gets a $500M boost at Helion

Helion is revving up its quest to commercialize nuclear fusion power with a $500 million funding round led by tech investor Sam Altman.

Altman, who’s the CEO of OpenAI and the former president of the Y Combinator startup accelerator, will help raise another $1.7 billion if Helion reaches key milestones on the way to producing a net electricity gain by 2024.

Fusion power takes advantage of the nuclear chain reaction that takes place in the sun, unleashing massive amounts of energy in accordance with Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2. The process is more energetic and potentially less polluting than the more familiar type of nuclear power, produced in fission reactors.

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GeekWire

Echodyne wins $20M contract for border-scanning radar

Kirkland, Wash.-based Echodyne says it’s won a $20 million, five-year contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection Innovation Team to widen deployment of the company’s compact radar systems — and to explore new applications for the radars at America’s borders and ports.

Today’s announcement marks the latest round of good news for the Seattle-area startup, which was spun off from Intellectual Ventures in 2014 with backing from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Madrona Venture Group and other investors.

Echodyne is one of several Gates-backed ventures that make use of metamaterials, a type of electronic array that makes it possible to “steer” a flat-panel antenna without moving parts. The company has been working with the Department of Homeland Security and industrial partners to adapt its radar systems to monitor movements across border areas — including drone flights.

Thirty EchoGuard radar systems have already been delivered under the terms of the indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, Echodyne said in a news release.

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GeekWire

Amazon partners with UCLA on AI science hub

Amazon and UCLA are launching a research hub that will draw upon industry and academic research to address the social issues raised by the rapid rise of artificial intelligence.

The Science Hub for Humanity and Artificial Intelligence will be based at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering in Los Angeles, with Amazon providing $1 million in funding for the initial year of the partnership. The two parties may renew the agreement for up to four additional years.

In a news release, UCLA said faculty from across its campus will collaborate with Amazon’s AI specialists to identify and solve research challenges in the field of artificial intelligence, with particular attention to issues such as algorithmic bias, fairness, accountability and responsible AI. The collaboration will support doctoral fellowships and research projects as well as community outreach programs.

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GeekWire

AWS’ quantum computing center is alive at Caltech

It’s been nearly two years since Amazon Web Services announced a quantum computing initiative that included the establishment of an AWS Center for Quantum Computing — and today AWS is opening the box, Schrödinger-style, to reveal that the center is alive and delving into quantum weirdness in a new building on Caltech’s campus in Pasadena, Calif.

Caltech says the two-story, 21,000-square-foot facility is the first corporate partnership building on its campus. “Day One” came in August, said Oskar Painter, a Caltech physics professor who’s leading the center.

“We’re in the building,” Painter, the AWS center’s head of quantum hardware, told GeekWire. “Our people have been working there, which has been great. Obviously, we would have been remote regardless, given the COVID [pandemic], but it’s been a really great time to come back and see each other, and celebrate this facility.”

The center will bring together AWS developers and academic researchers, not just from Caltech but from other institutions around the country, to solve problems standing in the way of a quantum computing revolution. Among the collaborators are researchers from the University of Washington, Stanford, MIT, Harvard and other computer science powerhouses.

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GeekWire

Tech titan dishes with Martha Stewart about pizza

When it comes to pizza, is there really anything new under the sun-dried tomatoes? Well, how about an all-black pizza, made with squid ink and black mozzarella? Or saffron pizza? Or a cheddar-apple-bacon pizza made with “Frankencheese”?

Nathan Myhrvold, the techie/foodie who was Microsoft’s first chief technology officer and founded Intellectual Ventures, laid out that menu today during an online chat with lifestyle guru Martha Stewart focusing on Myhrvold’s latest magnum opus, “Modernist Pizza.”

To Myhrvold’s mind, the sheer breadth of the pizza palette is one of the reasons why it was worth putting in four years of his time to research a subject that has now yielded a three-volume, 1,708-page guide (including more than 1,000 recipes and a kitchen manual).

“It’s amazing how the world took to pizza — street food for poor people from Naples in the 19th century that became the world’s most popular, important dish,” Myhrvold said. “Maybe this could have launched some other way, but that’s a hell of a start.”