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November 24, 2017

BROWSE NEWS RESULTS

42 Results | Prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | Last Page
 
StartupExchange
May 11, 2015

Making Digital Content Management Fast and Simple

Aerva offers browser-based content management for digital assets anywhere in the world.
Innovation can spring from a lab, classroom, or weekly meeting. In the case of Aerva, it came in a tunnel. Sanjay Manandhar was on his usual train ride about 20 years ago when he realized that all the signs and posters would inevitably be digital. The MIT graduate, BS ‘89 and Media Lab MS ‘91, went about developing a kind of blank canvas that would allow for real-time content interaction from any location, with any device, and on any scale.


Sanjay Manandhar
Aerva Founder & CEO


Since its founding in 2005, the Cambridge, Massachusetts company’s technology has been used by the military for employee communications, Dr. Dre and Anheuser-Busch for retailing, and universities for message managing. The range isn’t an accident. From its inception, Aerva wasn’t looking to be flashy or pretty, just practical. “We constantly listened to the marketplace and we went to where the demand was,” Manandhar says.

The Power of Little Money
During the mid-1990s, Manandhar was working in European technology finance. He rode the London Underground and saw impressive signage, but it was all print. It was going to have to be digital, and there was going to need to be a way to manage and coordinate such non-static information, he says.

While the idea was born, Aerva didn’t come about until Manandhar moved back to Cambridge in the mid-2000s. In a chance encounter at the Media Lab, he met a recent MIT graduate who knew software and was disenchanted with his first corporate job. Manandhar hired him, and, in 2005, they built a technical foundation that would use a browser, the Cloud and universal connectivity. The creation could manage any digital asset at any digital endpoint, such as billboards, indoor screens, tablets and mobile devices, on a platform that was “very wide, very deep and very much a horizontal plane and quite global,” Manandhar says.

To achieve that, Manandhar says that he made some key initial decisions. One was to be customer-funded. Venture capital can allow a company’s early survival, but it can also provide false confidence. “The prime driver in any business, I think, is market demand. If there’s no demand, it won’t work,” he says.



The choice to not chase seed money came with limitations, namely limited funds, and required wise allocations. Trade shows would have provided needed visibility, but five-figure attendance fees were prohibitive. Instead, Manandhar says that he put money into software development and creating a supportive workplace culture, one move being fully covering employee health insurance. It was a cost, but a necessary one in order to not only build a stable team but also retain it. “My best assets have two legs. They may not come back tomorrow,” he says.

The funding route also brought a certain freedom. Rather than worry about investors, Manandhar says that he could focus on customer needs. As he says, the company makes a generic platform – the user decides the application and manages the content. With no geographic restrictions, initial success came in Europe where mobile technology and SMS messaging were more prevalent. Anheuser-Busch used Aerva to run a polling campaign in European sports bars. A question would come onto the screen – Who’s the MVP of tonight’s game? Patrons would text their answers, and pint glasses would fluctuate with the incoming results. That visualization of data, at a time when social media was less developed, gave Aerva an early foothold, he says.

Ensuring Safety and Scope
Another early necessity was reliable security. For that, Manandhar says that he chose to build in Java for only Linux OS, rather than then industry-standard Microsoft Windows. Linux allowed code to be inspected and updated at will – Aerva wouldn’t have to wait for an outside company to send a needed patch. Because of this focus, the United States Navy became a client in 2009 and continues to use Aerva for employee communication within its facilities.

Scalability was also a central tenet. While no project was too small, Manandhar says that the platform had to be limitless for short- and long-term projects. For a short-term project, Aerva teamed with Beats by Dr. Dre in 2012 for the company’s introduction of colorful headphones. The one-day, New York City campaign involved people trying on their preferred headphones in a photo booth and choosing one personal, descriptive word. By the time they left the booth, their images were up on three giant digital billboards above Times Square.

It was problem-free for 12 continuous hours, which it needed to be, since in that kind of set-up, “You can’t have a do-over,” Manandhar says.

For a long-term project, Aerva drives Anheuser-Busch Inbev’s current network of 8-foot display coolers with translucent screens, which can be clear to show product or can turn opaque for video. Aerva technology not only manages the visuals on the doors, but also manages the various sensors that can detect proximity and customize content, which in turn help sell more product throughout the store because of the digital cooler’s overall cachet.

Manandhar says that it’s a necessary kind of targeting. In a mature market, such as beer, a company only increases sales from stealing a competitor’s customers. “You have to continue to innovate like this,” he says.

Keeping it Friendly
One other fundamental of Aerva’s technology was that the interface had to be simple. Technical products often look technical, when the complexity needs to be hidden, Manandhar says. One quality of the company’s platform is that it works with the four major browsers, and while all use HTML, all use them differently. To make it seamless, the innards of each is known and Aerva’s AerWave platform is regularly updated for its customers at no charge, he says, adding that the result is a flexible platform, feature-rich enough for the avid user but kind to the novice.

This practical attitude was a result of Manandhar’s time at MIT. His undergraduate work in electrical engineering and computer science gave him discipline and theory, but during his two graduate years in the Media Lab, he collaborated with musicians and graphic designers and learned that form and function need to have equal weight. “If it cannot be used by end users in a meaningful way, it doesn’t matter how beautiful or vast your functionality is. It’s not going to be popular in the marketplace,” he says.

That endemic approach provides a geographical advantage. Manandhar regularly travels to New York City and says that he regularly hears suggestions to re-locate. But his office is a quarter mile from campus, and, at MIT, people with established companies have access to research and expertise, and people who are building start-ups have access to those larger companies. It would be too much to give up. “We can sell anywhere in the world, but we’ll only build next to MIT,” Manandhar says.



MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.
StartupExchange
April 6, 2015

Putting the Squeeze on Cells

SQZ Biotech's CellSqueeze platform delivers a diverse range of macromolecules to a variety of cell types, enabling new possibilities in cellular research and therapeutics.
The CellSqueeze chip, discovered at MIT's Department of Chemical engineering, and now being developed by Boston-based startup SQZ Biotech, is so conceptually straightforward that the SQZ website effectively explains it with a cartoon. The tiny microfluidic-based, intracellular delivery device has already been demonstrated to provide a fast, effective, less destructive way to introduce foreign agents into cells.


Professor Klavs Jensen, Co-Founder
Armon Sharei, Co-Founder & CEO
Agustin Lopez Marquez, Co-Founder, President
Jonathan Gilbert, Business Development


CellSqueeze is being evaluated as a delivery platform by several dozen academic institutions and biotech firms. The technology lends itself to a wide variety of drug discovery and target validation applications, and one day, it could even emerge as an adoptive cell transfer technology to more effectively treat cancer and other diseases.

The response has been promising: SQZ Biotech received the highest honors in the MassChallenge 2014 awards, and was named by Scientific American as one of 2014’s 10 world-changing ideas.

The CellSqueeze chip currently integrates 75 parallel microfluidic channels with diameters that are just slightly smaller than the cells that are squeezed through them. Up to 1,000,000 cells per second can be pumped through the device, with plans to double or triple that volume. The cells are forced through the tight channels, causing transient pores to open in their membranes for a minute or two. This allows selected materials to enter the cell’s cytosol from the surrounding fluid via diffusion.

The technology supports over 20 cell types, including many primary cells, as well as materials ranging from genetic materials to nanoparticles. The cells emerge from the device with an 80-90 percent survival rate — much higher than with alternative techniques.

“What enabled this technology was the ability to make narrow microfluidic channels very precisely, and then control the width accurately,” says Dept. of Chemical Engineering head Klavs Jensen, who led the research. “We found a way to make multiple channels in parallel so that we could work with large quantities of cells while using standard techniques like flow cytometry to measure the introduced material.”



Though the SQZ concept appears simple, it would never have happened without a lot of complex foundational research work at MIT, primarily in microfluidics. Meanwhile, at MIT and SQZ Biotech, research continues to help customize the device for different materials, cell types, and applications.

It helped that the project had the guidance and input of two MIT heavyweights: Jensen, one of the world’s top researchers in microfluidics, as well as MIT Institute Professor and biotech superstar Robert Langer. Both are cofounders of SQZ Biotech along with Armon Sharei, who came up with the CellSqueeze concept as a doctoral student working in Jensen’s lab under the direction of Jensen and Langer. Sharei, who is now CEO at SQZ Biotech, runs the company with another MIT alumnus and SQZ Biotech cofounder, Agustin Lopez Marquez, who is President.

SQZ Biotech is now seeding CellSqueeze with academic research projects and partnering with drug discovery and pharma companies to implement it in custom applications. The ultimate goal is to turn CellSqueeze into a therapeutics platform for cancer that could replace chemo and radiation therapy.

“Our system works very well in getting materials into the immune cells,” says Sharei. “Once you’re inside you can start to manipulate their internal mechanisms and engineer them to do almost anything you want.”

Inside CellSqueeze
Intracellular delivery has been a limiting bottleneck for many biotech and therapeutic endeavors. Existing methods all have tradeoffs ranging from limiting the quantity of injected material to damaging or killing the cell.

“Traditionally, a skilled operator would use a pipette, which is very slow,” says Jensen. More recent techniques have included chemical methods using self-penetrating peptides, electric stimulation, which suffers form a high cell-death rate, and the use of viral vectors, “which has a chance of foreign DNA contamination,” says Jensen. “You can also introduce nanoparticles with particular chemical functionalities on them. Yet, each of these techniques has drawbacks, and is limited to very particular applications.”

The NIH-funded research at MIT that led to CellSqueeze tested a new idea. “We were curious whether we could design microfluidic systems in which we use a narrow channel and a jet to introduce materials,” says Jensen. The device was very complex, however, and the results were not very promising.

One day, Armon Sharei realized that a much simpler device using physical deformation might prove more effective. “This led to developing microfluidic systems with parallel channels which squeeze the cells to provide maximum transfer of macro-materials,” says Jensen. Early results showed a much higher volume of introduced materials and a higher survival rate than other techniques. The process occurs so quickly that cells don’t have time to react.

Designing the right fit between cell size and channel was a key challenge. “There’s a delicate balance. If the channel is too wide, you don't get anything into the cell,” says Jensen. “If the channel is too narrow, you squeeze the cell so hard you tear it apart. You need different sizes for different cell types.”

It was also crucial to adjust the pressure perfectly for each cell type. The research team has largely solved these problems, however, and quickly ramped up to support over 20 cell types.

The next challenge was “to show we could get different type of materials into the cells,” says Jensen. “We’ve done DNA, mRNA, siRNA, proteins, and nanoparticles such as quantum dots. We worked with MIT’s Moungi Bawendi to show that these QDs can remain luminescent inside the cell. We’ve also introduced carbon nanotubes with the help of MIT’s Michael Strano, and have shown that we can see them individually.”

The researchers had to find a way to bypass the cell’s own machinery in processing the materials, which often ends up destroying them, says Jensen. “We wanted to show we could get all the way into the cytosol,” he says. With the help of Bawendi, Jensen’s team was able to accomplish this with QDs by making a special FRET complex that changed fluorescence if the particle entered the cytosol.

Another challenge was that the chip’s channels clog up with materials over time, reducing their viability. Further refinements such as adding multiple parallel channels has greatly mitigated this issue. “The chips ultimately fill up, but it takes a while,” says Jensen. “Even if some channels fill up, we always have exactly the same speed in the remaining channels, which is important for squeezing.”

Despite the simplicity of CellSqueeze, no one fully understands how the membrane disruption process works. While Jensen and Langer advise SQZ Biotech on the Board of Directors, both continue to explore the underlying biology at MIT. The project has received additional funding through MIT from the Koch Institute and Ragon Institute.



MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.
StartupExchange
March 9, 2015

A Spot Market for Water

Sourcewater pioneers an exchange for trading and recycling water for oil and gas production and other operations.
Studying energy ventures as a Sloan Fellow in 2012, Josh Adler was struck by the enormous expansion of unconventional oil and gas production in recent years. “Anything that’s become that big that fast has to have all kinds of chaos in its supply chains and operations, and all kinds of problems to solve,” he points out. Josh Adler
Sourcewater Founder & CEO
One big problem quickly became apparent: challenges in acquiring water to complete the wells. Each well requires millions of gallons of water to complete. Most hydraulic-fracturing takes place in water-stressed areas. And water supplies can be less than fluid, Adler notes.

“Imagine you’re a manager for oil and gas production in Midland, Texas, and you’re ready to complete one of your wells,” he says. “You start to send a fleet of hundreds of trucks to pick up the ground water supply you reserved months ago, but now you find out that there’s a drought and the well’s dry or the water authorities want to conserve its water. You’ve got a delay cost of $400,000 a day, and you don’t have the water to start the well completion. What do you do?”

Such difficult but far from uncommon scenarios were the genesis of Sourcewater, an online exchange founded by Adler, a serial entrepreneur in Internet matchmaking, medical devices and real estate startups. Sourcewater will provide petroleum producers and other industrial users a marketplace to source, recycle and manage the water they need — “something that’s completely new to the water industry,” he says.

With Sourcewater, Adler says, a petroleum production manager or water engineer “can go online and locate all the sources of water near them, see the qualities of those sources, see their prices, and book these different sources in whatever volume they need — basically completing that water planning and booking process that used to take days or weeks in ten minutes.”A second major Sourcewater strength is the ability to avoid the use of freshwater and instead use recycled water, often produced from a nearby oil or gas well.

“Oil and gas wells produce way more water than they produce oil or gas, and there’s really not a whole lot you can do with that water unless you heavily treat it,” Adler points out. “But it turns out that there’s very little treatment needed in order to reuse that water in place of freshwater in a new oil or gas well.”

The potential cost benefits could be significant. As one example, Adler notes that it can cost more than $20 per barrel to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas production in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale area, with the wastewater often trucked to disposal wells hundreds of miles away. But if Sourcewater shows that another energy firm nearby is ready to complete wells, the wastewater could travel just a few miles down the road.

In this scenario, one company might end up spending $5 or $10 a barrel for wastewater disposal where they would have spent $20 a barrel, and the other company might get paid $5 or $10 a barrel rather than paying $3 a barrel, Adler says. “Everybody comes out ahead, mainly because of that reduction in trucking cost.”

The primary expense for incoming and outgoing water supplies is transportation, he emphasizes. “Overall, we’re creating greater efficiency by reducing the average distance of truck travel between the source point and the use point for water, because we’re creating so many more locations from which you can obtain or send water.”

Reducing the amount of truck travel via the new online marketplace also brings environmental benefits. So does maximizing the recycling of wastewater from oil and gas production, which currently has two disposal options, neither of them great, Adler says. Water that is injected into disposal wells is removed from the hydrological cycle forever, and there is some evidence linking it to seismic events in certain geographic areas. The other option is wastewater treatment, but treatment plants generally were not built to handle oil and gas wastewater, so the discharged water may meet regulatory standards without matching the existing water quality in surrounding rivers and streams.

Sourcewater is now in beta testing, getting usability feedback from several energy companies (some contacted through the MIT Energy Initiative). The company is looking for more participants as it rolls out a pilot trial this spring that will generate real world transactions, and Adler expects that the marketplace will be fully live shortly thereafter.

He also plans to move briskly ahead to broaden Sourcewater’s infrastructure to cover the entire water management cycle. “It will be about finding the water, but also about finding the transport, the storage, the treatment and ultimately either the recycling or disposal for the water,” he says.

While the market initially is concentrating on oil and gas production, Sourcewater will help to create new sources of supply in the water market “that just weren’t findable before, and weren’t even considered assets,” Adler says. Those could include wastewater from mining operations, treated effluent from municipal and private water treatment facilities, and agricultural runoff.

Over the long run, bringing all of those non-freshwater sources into a market will help to create discount water supplies, he suggests. “We’re creating a greater supply of water by making wastewater liabilities into industrial assets, and we’re making freshwater into the premium product.”


MIT Startup Exchange is an initiative of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) that seeks to connect ILP member companies with MIT-connected startups. Visit the MIT Startup Exchange website and log in to learn more about Sourcewater and other startups on MIT Startup Exchange.
StartupExchange
December 1, 2014

Commercializing A New Generation of Polymer Coatings

GVD’s vapor deposited polymer coatings improve performance efficiency in critical applications across industries.
In some cases, a company has a product and knows immediately where it should go. GVD Corporation was not one of those cases. The MIT spin-off had developed a new approach to making polymer coatings, which had substantial industry interest. The problem was finding the specific market.


Hilton Pryce Lewis
Co-founder, President and CEO

GVD Corporation


The company had a few things in its favor. The founders had confidence in the technology and had demonstrated its commercial potential on a small scale. They had initial funding from government grants and commercial research and development sponsors. They had patience. And they also found an initial partner who helped them perfect the application.

Eight years after it was founded, GVD finally could hit the market with an innovation that has made tire manufacturing more efficient. By applying the same patience, supplemented with years of experience, it looks to have the same impact on aerospace, gas and oil exploration and electronic circuitry protection.

Making its First Dent
The roots of GVD started in an MIT lab over a decade ago. Karen Gleason, Professor of Chemical Engineering, now Associate Provost, had developed a vapor deposition process that produced thin, durable polymer coatings. Gleason and Hilton Pryce Lewis, a Ph.D. student working in her lab, teamed up and founded GVD Corporation in 2001, just as Pryce Lewis was graduating with his doctorate.

Initially, the company was virtual; in 2003, GVD established its first lab facility less than a mile from campus. As Gleason and Pryce Lewis developed their business plan and finalized licensing agreements with MIT, they also decided to raise funds through sponsored R&D and commercial revenue instead of venture capital. Pryce Lewis says that move gave the company the autonomy to explore every opportunity and to reach its ultimate goal. “We wanted to make an impact in the coating industry,” he says.



Traditionally, applying a polymer coating is wet and messy. The process makes it difficult to control the finish and thickness. The coating often doesn’t stick well, and, because it needs high processing temperatures, it only works on high-temperature materials, such as metals, ceramics, and a few plastics. Simply put, it’s fairly crude, Pryce Lewis says.

GVD’s process was something new. It used a dry chemical reaction, required no liquids or solvents, and could change the surface properties of parts on the nano-level. Because it didn’t require a heating step, it was able to coat a greater range of materials, including organic materials like rubber, textiles, paper, and almost any plastic.

The first success for the company was in the automotive industry, working with a tire manufacturer. The key reason was GVD’s PTFE fluoropolymer coating, which works like Teflon®, Pryce Lewis says. The coating is applied to the tire molds; because it’s thin and non-stick, the layer maintains the integrity of fine features, does not block air vents, and facilitates rapid release. The result is less scrap, higher quality tires, and less downtime due to cleaning, allowing the company to produce more tires and use more advanced rubbers and features. “They see a significant economic upside,” Pryce Lewis says.

Building a Relationship
It sounds pretty straightforward, but the GVD-automotive marriage wasn’t pre-ordained. In 2002, the tire company sensed that over the coming years its manufacturing processes were going to become more difficult as the complexity of tire designs evolved. In a preemptive attempt to find a solution, the company approached MIT and was introduced to a company that held potential, the nascent GVD, Pryce Lewis says.

There was risk on both sides. The tire manufacturer was relying on an untested company. GVD was faced with having to scale up in size and capacity and make the enterprise economically viable. At the beginning of the relationship, GVD was only able to accommodate parts similar in size to an envelope — flat and just a few inches square, Pryce Lewis says. The company needed to get the process working for three-dimensional parts that were several feet in diameter.

After promising initial testing, the tire company provided funds for GVD to design and build bigger equipment. By 2006, GVD had a large enough machine to coat molds at a commercial scale. In 2009, the application became a commercial reality, and, in 2010, GVD established a facility near its partner’s plant in the southeastern United States, shifting GVD from a technology-based R&D entity to a service business.

The set-up has been mutually beneficial; the company can manufacture quickly and GVD has a revenue stream to re-invest in further applications. While success wasn’t a guarantee, the elements were there. “Any successful industry-small business partnership needs to come with a healthy dose of patience, a willingness to understand your partner’s needs and concerns, and a commitment to the long-term,” Pryce Lewis says.

Looking for the Next Market
With its success in the automotive industry, GVD is making other market inroads. One is with internal components, particularly rubber seals used in aerospace and oil and gas exploration. In harsh environments, and with constant exposure to aggressive fluids at high temperatures, sealing reliability is essential. The thin coating gives chemical resistance, lubricity, and extends the life without compromising performance. “This improves uptime and reliability in high-value industries, allowing customers to focus on maximizing their production,” Pryce Lewis says.

The company is now looking to expand existing markets and break into new ones. A specific target is encapsulation for high-frequency electronics, like those used in radar systems. The thinness and chemistry of GVD’s coatings mean they don’t interfere with signal transmission or heat management, allowing manufacturers to do away with industry-standard heavy protective encasements, says Pryce Lewis, adding that the reduction in size, weight and power requirements are especially critical in defense applications. GVD has funding from the Department of Defense and is currently working on qualifying its coatings with several large defense contractors.

As with the tire manufacturer, the company is looking for industry partners to help shape applications and bring them to market. And, as before, the relationship will take patience, feedback, and internal support to create a mutually beneficial product. The difference is that this time, GVD brings 13 years of experience. It also, as it always has, brings its MIT credentials and philosophy. “MIT, and its ecosystem, is a place that expects you to keep learning, seek new frontiers, and rewards you for taking risks,” Pryce Lewis says.



MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.
StartupExchange
October 20, 2014

A world of wireless power

WiTricity delivers wireless power at distance to electric vehicles. No cables,no hassles. Transforming the way we live, work and move.
If you buy a 2016 Toyota Prius, you won’t need to worry about keeping your hybrid car charged — just get the option for wireless power transfer that lets you drive into your garage and have your battery automatically topped up from a pad on the floor.


Morris Kesler
WiTricity CTO



A year or two from now you’ll also be able to purchase laptops, tablets, mobile phones and other consumer electronic devices that don’t need any wires, because their power needs will be met by wireless transmission.

“Instead of having a different charging cord for every device you own, you can have one location where you put your mobile phone or your laptop, and it will stay charged automatically,” says Morris Kesler, Chief Technology Officer at WiTricity of Watertown, Massachusetts. “There’s no reason that these devices need a cord anymore.”

WiTricity, an MIT spinoff, offers highly resonant wireless power transfer technology that “is applicable in any situation where a device has a cord or a battery that needs to be charged,” Kesler says.

An Idea that Resonated
In magnetic induction, an alternating magnetic field is generated in a transmitter coil and then converted into electrical current in a receiver coil. Wireless power systems that exploit this technique have been around for decades, with cordless toothbrushes offering one example. But traditional wireless power systems based on magnetic induction come with severe operational limitations, especially in transfer distance and positioning.

In 2006, MIT physics professor Marin Soljačić and his colleagues demonstrated a highly resonant form of magnetic induction that can carry wireless power efficiently over larger distances — the breakthrough being commercialized by WiTricity.


“The use of resonance enables efficient use of energy transfer over greater distances and with greater positional freedom than you get with a traditional inductive system,” says Kesler. “For example, your cordless toothbrush only works when the toothbrush is in the holder. Resonance technology lets you move that receiver farther apart and still transfer energy efficiently, and the orientation of the device is less critical than it is in a traditional system. You also can transfer energy from one source to more than one device, the source and the devices don’t have to be the same size, and you can charge through materials like tables.”

Most importantly, “the technology allows you to charge things without even thinking about it,” he emphasizes. “You put your device on a table or a workspace, and it charges as you go.”

Like other magnetic inductive power transmissions, the WiTricity technology interacts only very weakly with the human body, Kesler adds. From a safety perspective, it satisfies the same regulatory limits as common household electronics and appliances.

As the holder of the foundational patents, WiTricity is helping to drive standardization efforts around wireless power transfer over distance using magnetic resonance, including those for automobiles run by the Society of Automotive Engineers and those for consumer electronics pursued by the Alliance for Wireless Power, whose Rezence™ specification incorporates WiTricity technology.

Powering Up Under Difficult Conditions
In addition to offering compelling increases in convenience for cars and consumer electronics, the WiTricity technology will provide dramatic enhancements in applications where power is difficult to deliver.

In one example, WiTricity licensee Thoratec is leveraging the improved wireless power transfer to develop better heart-assist pumps. Today, such pumps are typically powered by implanted wires that exit the body. Wireless power transfer offers the potential to improve quality of life for patients, giving them greater freedom of movement, and removing the wires that are uncomfortable and likely to trigger infections. Medical devices implanted several centimeters below the skin could be charged safely and with high efficiency, Kesler says.

In addition to a host of medical applications, the technology is finding many uses in industrial settings. Wireless power transfer that works over a distance offers important advantages, for instance, in powering equipment that gets wet. “You don’t necessarily want to have a charge port on a device like that,” Kesler points out. “By embedding our technology into that device, you can charge it wirelessly without having to plug it in, which basically offers a safer usage model.”

For example, the remotely operated undersea vehicles employed in offshore petroleum operations must dock very precisely to connect up for charging. “WiTricity technology would allow you to charge them without requiring that precise positioning and without having any electrical components exposed,” Kesler says.

The company also envisions a host of military applications, ranging from powering remotely operated vehicles to rationalizing the collections of batteries carried by foot combatants.

Readying for Fast-growing Markets
WiTricity’s publicly announced licensees include Intel and Mediatek for consumer electronics, and Delphi, IHI, TDK and Toyota for automotive applications. The total market for wireless power systems of all kinds will reach $8.5 billion in 2018, driven most strongly by adoption in mobile phones and tablet computers, predicts IHS Technology. In this highly competitive market, numerous companies will offer different technologies and system designs. Many products will work by traditional magnetic induction, but those using magnetic resonance technology will need a WiTricity license, Kesler says.

“The market has started to catch up with the technology now, and we are working on standardized licensing agreements to make it easier for our customers to put it into practice,” he says. The firm develops prototypes and reference designs that help licensees get started on their applications, and offers the WiCAD simulation environment, a design tool that allows companies to create specifications for their designs virtually before building expensive prototypes.

WiTricity also sells demonstration products that allow companies considering the technology to see it in action. “Additionally, at our facility, we can demonstrate the technology in ways that are difficult to explain on a piece of paper,” Kesler says. “Usually when people see the technology they say, ‘Wow, that looks like magic, how do you do that?’”

Read more: WiTricity and IHI Partner to Bring Wireless Charging to Electric Vehicles



MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.
StartupExchange
August 25, 2014

Re-inventing the grid

Cambridge-based MIT startup Ambri is building a novel liquid metal battery for grid-level storage to revolutionize energy in the 21st century.
The challenge of selling any new idea is that it has to compete with every other new idea. The process is more difficult when the idea’s technology hasn’t existed and addresses an issue that some industries don’t see as a problem. Such is the reality of Ambri.


Ambri Co-founders David Bradwell & Donald Sadoway


The Cambridge, Massachusetts company started in an MIT laboratory with Donald Sadoway and David Bradwell. The former had a concept to overhaul energy storage; the latter needed a thesis project. The eventual result was a spin-off dedicated to creating a simply designed, low-cost, liquid metal battery. After almost 10 years of research, Sadoway and Bradwell have a prototype to test. It’ll be a first step in answering the essential question of whether the device can work. If it does, it’s not a minor shift. “The technology can really revolutionize the way the entire electric grid infrastructure is operated,” Bradwell says.

The Concept Takes Shape
Before there was Ambri, Donald Sadoway had an idea. The professor of materials chemistry wanted to find a way to stabilize conventional power and allow for the full-on adoption of renewable energy. Without a reliable source, wind and solar would remain endlessly talked about without ever taking hold because of their intermittency, Sadoway says. The solution would be a battery, but it had to be different from the industry-standard lithium-ion. It would need to be stationary, for commercial use and long-lasting.

It also, most importantly, needed to be affordable from inception, not an issue to be worked out in the manufacturing process. That fix-it-later approach doesn’t work with energy, since the competition isn’t from other batteries but from hydrocarbons. In order to take them on and make any industry make a dramatic shift in power usage, something innovative needed to be done, Sadoway says.

Part of the inspiration to make the battery liquid came from Sadoway’s expertise in electrochemistry as applied to the production of metals, specifically aluminum. He knew that aluminum smelting both consumes a massive amount of energy and is inexpensive. The question was could the manufacturing process apply to a battery in which electricity can be both consumed and supplied on demand. Sadoway had two things that proved helpful. He had a concept and a master’s degree student in need of a topic.



David Bradwell started working on the project in 2005, made critical insights and corrections, Sadoway says, and ultimately co-invented an early model. Bradwell eventually earned his Ph.D., and the research advanced enough to require a dedicated off-campus office. Sadoway and Bradwell co-founded Ambri in 2010, and, to date, the company has raised over $50 million in equity financing from the likes of Bill Gates, Total, Khosla Ventures, KLP Enterprises and GVB.

Rolling Out the Chemistry
The specific materials have changed and the chemistry is confidential, Bradwell says, but the battery is composed of three layers of liquid — a light metal on top, a dense one on the bottom, and molten salt in the middle that acts as the electrolyte. The metals want to alloy with each other, thereby creating a current, and every time the battery is charged, the constituents are remade and purified with minimal degradation over time, about 0.0002 percent per cycle, Sadoway says.

Sadoway says he’s confident the electrochemistry is long-term stable and will work with a variety of chemistries. Add to that, the components are abundant and inexpensive. But Sadoway says that he’s also realistic. What Ambri has so far works on the single-cell level, but battery systems are a plurality of cells that need to be balanced. Like an ice cube tray, each compartment essentially needs to be tilted so there’s an even charge coming from each cell.

A first generation cell “balancing” system has already been developed at Ambri and demonstrated in the laboratory, and now the battery is ready for initial testing. In the next year, five prototypes will be sent to four locations around the United States, with each providing different practical feedback. On a Cape Cod military base, the battery will enable operations absent from the civilian grid, for example during a power outage. In New York City, the battery will help relieve congestion in a region with high power prices and a stressed grid. In Alaska and Hawaii, Ambri will test the battery’s ability to support renewable energy. As Bradwell says, Hawaii is dominated by expensive, imported diesel fuel. Rooftops are already overcrowded with wind and solar devices, so much so that much of the potential energy is being wasted and the existing system is being burdened.

Renewable energy is a particular target for Ambri’s work, but energy independence is an overall goal. The battery, and the storage it provides, makes operations more predictable and less vulnerable to fluctuations. Weather is an obvious uncertainty, but conventional plants are also inefficient, designed to handle maximum usage, even though that happens about 5 percent of the time, Sadoway says. The battery would mean stable operations and an ability to control costs. For any partner, “Having energy available on demand is at the core of their business,” Sadoway says.

But as Sadoway adds, without field data, any projections would be premature. And one of the challenges of selling this battery to conventional industries is that while they could benefit, they’ve never had to consider it, especially because it’s never been done before at an appreciable scale. It’s difficult to ask any industry to react to, let alone buy, a technology that doesn’t exist, he says.

The Risk and the Reward
Sadoway also knows that green technology would be an easier sell if it was still 2004. But with all the seeming risks and drawbacks, what the battery has is the MIT pedigree. The research, science and approach come from the campus. “It’s an environment where nonsense will wither and excellence will flourish,” Sadoway says.

The office is located within walking distance of the university to take advantage of MIT colleagues, and Cambridge itself is a place where energy-related projects that involve years of work in a lab are taken on. “It’s really about building hardware to solve major issues in our world,” Bradwell says.

It’s that attitude that influences Ambri. Overhauling energy storage is a significant issue, one that requires big ideas and comes with unavoidable uncertainly. Bradwell and Sadoway accept that reality and realize their device might not appeal to every investor. That’s another reality that comes with the zip code. “Low risk ideas mean incremental change and the integral of many increments is not a radical departure,” Sadoway says. “People who are interested in incremental change and safe bets probably shouldn’t come to MIT. They’d be scared away.”



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