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GeekWire

Bill Gates gives a fresh boost to clean energy

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is putting his money as well as his mouth behind the push for new energy technologies.

First, about the money: Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures is doubling down on its investment in ZeroAvia, a startup that’s working on a hybrid hydrogen-electric powertrain for aircraft capable of flying more than 50 passengers.

Back in December, Breakthrough Energy Ventures led a Series A funding round that raised $21.4 million for the U.S.-British company, with Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund joining in the round. This week, ZeroAvia said Gates’ energy innovation fund is participating in a follow-up investment round amounting to another $24.3 million.

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GeekWire

PowerLight hits its targets with laser power beaming

Wireless power transmission has been the stuff of science fiction for more than a century, but now PowerLight Technologies is turning it into science fact … with frickin’ laser beams.

“Laser power is closer than you think,” PowerLight CEO Richard Gustafson told me this week.

This is much more than a lab experiment: Gustafson said his company, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash., is wrapping up a $9.5 million demonstration project for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

In 2019, PowerLight showed that its power-beaming system can transmit 400 watts of power — enough to fire up an array of lights, laptops and a coffeemaker. In 2020, it followed up with a demonstration of a lightweight power receiver suitable for drones. The project proved to the Navy’s satisfaction that PowerLight’s laser system could be operated safely without endangering people who get in the beam’s way.

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GeekWire

Electric motor venture gets an $80M boost

Turntide Technologies, a Silicon Valley venture that’s retooling electric motors for the 21st century, says it has completed an $80 million funding round that was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the clean-tech fund created by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Other investors include the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, actor Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition Ventures, Keyframe Capital, Fifth Wall and Captain Planet LP. The newly announced round brings Turntide’s total funding to $180 million.

Turntide’s executive chairman and CEO, Ryan Morris, emphasized that the company’s backers are looking for a payoff that goes beyond dollars and cents.

“Our investors recognize the critical role that technology will play in our fight against climate change,” he said today in a news release. “To curb the carbon emissions driving this crisis, we all need to change the way that we use energy. That starts with modernizing the technology that is currently powering our world.”

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Fiction Science Club

‘Machinehood’ casts humanhood in a new light

S.B. Divya has been thinking about the technologies of the future for so long, it’s hard for her to imagine living in the present.

Her debut novel, “Machinehood,” stars a super-soldier with body enhancements who packs it in to become a bodyguard for celebrities — but becomes enmeshed in an action-packed race to save the world.

Technologies ranging from human enhancement to do-it-yourself biohacking play supporting roles in Divya’s tale of 2095. And oh, if only some of those technologies were available in 2021…

“There are definitely days where I came out of the writing, and looked around and realized that I was back in the real world — and was occasionally sad about it, because there are really useful things in ‘Machinehood’ that I wish we had today,” Divya says in the latest episode of our Fiction Science podcast.

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GeekWire

Boeing ex-CEO’s new tech venture raises $240M

New Vista Acquisition Corp., the blank-check company founded by former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg to prime the pump for a future high-tech acquisition, went on the market today with an initial public offering valued at $240 million. That’s significantly higher than the originally planned $200 million offering.

The IPO comes a little more than a year after Boeing fired Muilenburg amid controversy over his handling of the company’s 737 MAX crisis. Boeing is still dealing with the financial and reputational aftermath of two catastrophic crashes in late 2018 and early 2019, the worldwide grounding of the 737 MAX fleet that resulted, and deep questions that were raised during investigations into Boeing’s practices.

Boeing is now well into the 737 MAX fleet’s return to service under Dave Calhoun, Muilenburg’s successor as Boeing CEO.

During his time at Boeing, Muilenburg was a strong advocate for technologies focusing on advanced air mobility and autonomous flight — the sorts of technologies that could spawn new types of electric-powered, vertical takeoff and landing vehicles, or eVTOLs. Such craft are also known as air taxis, personal air vehicles or flying cars. Many of Boeing’s efforts in that market have been put on hold due to the financial impacts of the 737 MAX crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

New Vista, which has Muilenburg as chairman and CEO, says it will focus on businesses operating in the space, defense and communications industries, as well as advanced air mobility and logistics. The company is widely expected to target an eVTOL venture for a merger or acquisition.

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GeekWire

Supercomputer will extend the cloud to orbit

The sky’s not the limit for the cloud: Microsoft is partnering with Hewlett Packard Enterprise to bring Azure cloud computing to the International Space Station.

HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2, which is due for launch to the station as early as Feb. 20 aboard Northrop Grumman’s robotic Cygnus cargo ship, will deliver edge computing, artificial intelligence capabilities and a cloud connection to orbit on an integrated platform for what could be the first time.

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GeekWire

Pivotal Commware’s 5G ambitions get a $50M boost

Kirkland, Wash.-based Pivotal Commware says it has closed on a $50 million funding round that will help it expand research, development and distribution for its millimeter-wave 5G network infrastructure products.

Tracker Capital Management, a venture capital investment firm that’s headquartered in New York, led the Series C investment round. Other participants in the financing include Devonshire Investors and Pivotal’s existing investors — including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Gates has been investing in Pivotal since 2017, not long after it was spun out from Intellectual Ventures. It’s one of several Gates-backed ventures that make use of metamaterials, an exotic breed of electronics that can channel signals without moving parts.

Pivotal calls its metamaterials-based technology “holographic beam forming.” The technology is used primarily to support ultra-wideband 5G communications.

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GeekWire

This software takes charge of charging up robots

It’s hard enough to remember to keep your smartphone charged up, so can you imagine how much harder it’d be to track the charging status of dozens of drones or robots? Now WiBotic has an app for that: a software platform that manages the battery-charging routines for mobile devices that use its wireless charging system.

Today the seven-year-old Seattle startup unveiled its first software product, an energy management package called Commander.

“Commander was developed mostly through listening and learning from our customers who were building robots, and then deploying robots, and then deploying fleets,” said Ben Waters, the company’s CEO and co-founder.

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Cosmic Tech

Elon Musk puts up $100M reward for capturing carbon

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is putting $100 million into a different kind of “X”: An XPRIZE competition to develop new technologies for sucking carbon dioxide out of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans.

Musk and his foundation will provide the prize money for XPRIZE Carbon Removal, an incentive-based competition that’ll be open to teams around the world.

Teams will be required to create pilot systems capable of removing 1 ton of carbon dioxide per day, and show that their systems can be scaled up economically to the gigaton level.

Reducing CO2 is considered a key requirement for heading off the worst effects of the greenhouse effect and climate change. Total annual emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide currently amount to about 33 gigatons. The long-term goal for the XPRIZE teams should be to contribute to removing 10 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2050.

In today’s news release, Musk said XPRIZE Carbon Removal “is not a theoretical competition.”

“We want to make a truly meaningful impact,” he said. “Carbon negativity, not neutrality. The ultimate goal is scalable carbon extraction that is measured based on the ‘fully considered cost per ton,’ which incudes the environmental impact.”

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GeekWire

Telecom pioneer hitches up with rocket venture

Back in the 1990s, cellular telecom pioneer Craig McCaw bought into a vision of ubiquitous wireless service via a constellation of satellites, with an assist from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Almost a quarter-century later, McCaw’s Teledesic venture is long-dead, but the dream lives on — thanks to the impending merger of McCaw’s Holicity “blank check” company and Astra, one of the rising stars of the satellite launch industry.

The deal — which takes advantage of the trend toward using special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, to take startups public — values Astra at a double-unicorn level of $2.1 billion, and would unlock up to $500 million in cash proceeds.

Not bad for a space company that hasn’t yet quite made it to orbit.