Middle America feels left behind. Can the tech community help?

Middle America feels left behind. Can the tech community help?

May 18, 2017

By Caroline Fairchild, Senior Editor, Technology and Startups at LinkedIn Like so many things in business, the numbers speak for themselves. In 2016, venture capitalists invested nearly $70 billion across 8,000 U.S. startups. But close to 80% of that capital went to founders in just three states: California, New York and Massachusetts. This is a reality that, until recently, the tech community mostly accepted. A vast majority of the biggest venture capital firms in the country are in these coastal states, so it makes sense that investors are backing companies started in their own backyards. But then, something happened that made investors, founders and tech execs alike feel like they had to get out of their own bubbles: Donald Trump was elected president. In that moment, shellshocked leaders across tech started to think about how they could get back in touch with regions outside of the major metropolitan areas on the coasts. Only 50% of those born in 1980 or later will make more than their parents, new research shows. Trump’s election tapped into the angst about jobs disappearing and what people across the country consider to be unfair competition driven by technology. Leaders in the industry now want to see — and solve — this problem firsthand. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a tour across America to meet with families and workers in places like Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Blanchardville, Wisconsin. Y Combinator Founder Sam Altman went on a listening tour to speak with Trump’s supporters around the country. And now, investors have started to speak publicly about how they can diversify their portfolio to include founders solving problems for users outside of major city centers. Despite all this activity, the numbers have barely moved: In the first quarter of 2017, more than two-thirds of the $13.9 billion in venture capital deployed to startups went to founders in California, New York and Massachusetts, according to data from PwC and CBInsights. In this episode of Work In Progress, Chip Cutter and I explore what this concentration of capital means for business owners who aren’t based on the coasts. Steve Case, the CEO and chairman of Revolution, a venture capital firm based in Washington...

Your Shoes Will Be Printed Shortly

Your Shoes Will Be Printed Shortly

May 16, 2017

By Christopher Mims, Wall Street Journal Innovative techniques in 3-D printing mean some previously impossible design will start showing up in consumer products This may be the year you get 3-D-printed shoes. By the end of 2017, the transformation of manufacturing will hit a milestone: mass-produced printed parts. Until now, that concept was an oxymoron, since 3-D printing has been used mainly for prototyping and customized parts. But the radical innovation of 3-D printing techniques means we are finally going to see some previously impossible designs creep into our consumer goods. In the long term, it also means new products that previously would have been impractical to produce, and a geographical shift of some manufacturing closer to customers. I have two very different examples of this milestone, one plastic, the other steel. There’s a running shoe from Adidas AG, with a 3-D-printed latticed sole that looks almost organic, like the exposed roots of a plant. Then there’s a steel hinge, indistinguishable from any other metal part except for incredibly fine striations in its surface, as if it had been deposited like sandstone rather than forged. In a feat impossible with conventional manufacturing, all three moving pieces of the hinge were crafted together. 3-D printing is more than two decades old, but to date the process has been limited to making novelties, prototypes, bits of machines for factories, or expensive specialized parts, like fittings for prosthetic limbs or fuel nozzles in jet engines. After years of searching for a 3-D printing tech that is up to the challenge of sneakers, Adidas came upon a startup called Carbon Inc., which has raised $222 million to date. Instead of the plodding process of depositing plastic one layer at a time from a nozzle, Carbon’s “digital light synthesis” printers transform a liquid plastic into a solid using UV light and oxygen. This yields products comparable in quality to molded plastics at a competitive speed and cost, at least when making tens of thousands of a given object. Why Now? Because traditional manufacturing requires molds, casts and machining, it has high upfront costs. It’s great if you want to make a million of something, but not so great if you...

Carbon Fiber, Steel, Put New Twist on Automotive…

Carbon Fiber, Steel, Put New Twist on Automotive…

May 12, 2017

“Carbon Fiber, Steel, Put New Twist on Automotive Lightweighting” By Charles Murray, Design News Hybrid approach enables engineers to cut weight in high-load, high-volume auto applications. In a new twist on automotive lightweighting, engineers from Eaton Corp. are combining steel with carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastics to cut weight in high-load, high-volume powertrain applications, such as differential housings and transmission gear sets.   Eaton engineers say the new approach not only allows them to handle the high torque loads of those components, it enables them to do it in a way that’s economically palatable for automakers. “Typically, when we talk about metal replacement in vehicles, we’re looking at lower-load, thermoplastic parts, like under-hood parts that use nylon,” noted Kelly Williams, research and technology manager for polymers and nanocomposites at Eaton Corporate Research . “But higher-load, harsher-environment applications like this haven’t been done. This is a new approach, as far as we know.” Williams said that the automotive supplier is working with at least two automakers on replacement of cast iron differential housings with hybrid parts made from steel and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). The hybrid housing, which is subjected to torques as high as 4,000 lb-ft, uses a steel frame to carry the higher loads and employs the CFRP to carry medium-level loads. Even with its equivalent load-carrying capacity, it weighs about 40% less than the cast iron version, Williams said. “In terms of strength and stiffness, this approach can be comparable to cast iron,” Williams told Design News. “Carbon fiber alone is not as stiff as steel — its modulus is not as high as steel — so that’s why we use both materials.” Carbon fiber composites have a specific modulus of 14 GPa cc/g, versus 25 GPa cc/g for steel, she added. To be sure, CFRP has been used previously in vehicles and in aerospace applications, but generally not for high-load, high-volume parts, largely due to manufacturing cost constraints. Eaton was able to reduce costs, however, by combining the steel frame with the overmolded composite, enabling the creation of a quick, net-shape parts that need little secondary finishing. As a result, cycle times are shorter, making it less costly and more suitable for...

Sandia’s Solar Glitter Moves Closer to Market with New…

Sandia’s Solar Glitter Moves Closer to Market with New…

Apr 28, 2017

“Sandia’s Solar Glitter Moves Closer to Market with New Licensing Agreement” Featured on Design-2-Part Magazine ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. —An Albuquerque company founded by a Sandia National Laboratories scientist-turned-entrepreneur has received a license for a “home-grown” technology that could revolutionize the way solar energy is collected and used. The licensing agreement between mPower Technology Inc. and Sandia was signed Jan. 23. The agreement covers microsystems enabled photovoltaics (MEPV), according to a press release from Sandia. “This is an important milestone,” said Murat Okandan, founder and chief executive officer of mPower, in the press release. “It is an extremely exciting time in the solar industry with the upcoming critical, rapid change in the worldwide energy infrastructure. A lot of things are coming together and we’re excited to be part of it.” MEPV uses micro-design and micro-fabrication techniques to make miniature solar cells, also known as “solar glitter.” Dragon SCALEs are small, lightweight, flexible solar cells that fit into and power devices or sensors of any shape or size, including wearable ones. The high-efficiency cells can be integrated into satellites and drones, biomedical and consumer electronics, and can be folded like paper for easy transport. Dragon SCALEs also make possible new shapes and materials and faster, cheaper installation of solar energy systems on buildings, said Okandan. The product offers higher voltage, greater reliability, and lower energy costs than standard silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells, he added. “The key limitation to silicon is that if you bend and flex it, it will crack and shatter,” Okandan said. “Our technology makes it virtually unbreakable, while keeping all the benefits of high efficiency, high reliability silicon PV. It allows us to integrate PV in ways that weren’t possible before, such as in flexible materials, and deploy it faster in lighter-weight, larger-area modules.” Okandan said standard silicon PV operates with low voltage and high current at the cell and module level, which requires more silver or copper and adds cost. MEPV allows high-voltage and low-current configurations with less metal in the system and meshes well with integrated power electronics. “These are basic benefits that apply fundamentally to large-scale solar deployment,” Okandan said. “And the same technology provides key advantages in satellites, drones, and portable...

Robots won’t take your job—they’ll help make room…

Robots won’t take your job—they’ll help make room…

Apr 21, 2017

“Robots won’t take your job—they’ll help make room for meaningful work instead” By TL Andrews, Quartz Unencumbered by the prospect of re-election, outgoing presidents tend to use their final speeches to candidly warn against threats they believe to be metastasizing in society. For example, George Washington spoke of the ills of hyper-partisanship and excessive debt. Dwight Eisenhower denounced the waxing power of the “military industrial complex.” President Barack Obama singled out an economic peril in his otherwise doggedly hopeful final address in Chicago: “The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas,” he said. “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.” Obama articulated a fear felt by many around the world: That all our jobs will eventually be done by robots. Research backs this fear: One study found that automation will threaten at least 47% of jobs in America and up to 85% in the rest of the world. But a number of economists are beginning to argue that this view of automation excludes a lot of the story. Putting automation in context To simply argue that automation is going to gobble up jobs ignores the potential for productivity gains. The Business Harvard Review found that the IT revolution led to 0.6% labor productivity growth and 1% of overall growth in Europe, the US, and Japan between 1995 and 2005. “It all hinges on demand,” says Jim Bessen, professor of economics at Boston University. If the productivity gains are enough to significantly boost demand, then job growth may be the result. This is especially true when new technologies create jobs that simply did not exist before, such as social-media managers. In those cases, any jobs created will make a net contribution to the labor market. Though automation will cost some jobs, it will also create many others. A case in point is the rollout of ATMs in the US. Introduced in the 1970s, the number of ATMs increased from 100,000 to 400,000 between 1995 and 2010. Running an ATM is cheaper than paying a teller’s salary, so as ATMs became more numerous relative to tellers, the overall cost of each bank branch came down. As it became cheaper to operate a...