Seattle startup raises $12M to ‘rewrite the software of life’ (with a little help from the technology behind beer)

Arzeda designs custom molecules for use in manufacturing, agriculture and more. Building each molecule requires a complex path of biological engineering, shown above. (Arzeda Photo)

Proteins are incredibly important, but incredibly complicated, molecules. They control 98 percent of all biological functions and are used in industries from manufacturing to agriculture.

(Kurt Schlosser photo)

Seattle-based synthetic biology startup Arzeda has spent the last nine years developing the technology to build custom proteins and other molecules that can do things like grow cheaper food, make tougher nylon and even build stronger plexiglass. The company announced Thursday that it has raised its first round of venture funding with a $12 million Series A, led by the OS Fund.

The technology behind Arzeda traces its roots to a delicious beverage that many of us love: beer.

“The exact same process used to make beer can be altered to ferment sugars and other renewable resources such as agricultural waste into a plethora of valuable chemicals, provided that we can reliably design and manipulate novel metabolic pathways that convert the starting material (feedstock) into the ultimate desired product,” the company writes on its Web site.

Arzeda describes its custom protein development as “rewriting the technology of life,” basically designing proteins that can make new manufacturing and biological feats possible.

The enzyme RA61, designed using Arzeda’s cloud-based platform. (Arzeda Photo)

The company starts the process by designing proteins using its software platform. Its cloud-fueled technology can run through trillions of possible molecules and come up with a handful of ones that may work for a certain job.

Each protein has dozens of unique parts that make it act a certain way, and each of those parts need to be chemically synthesized with precise engineering. Because proteins are so complex, they can’t just be cooked up in a beaker.

Instead, Arzeda has to code genetic material that instructs a cell on how to make the protein. Those genetic instructions are then inserted into a batch of yeast or other small organisms which make the protein using the process of fermentation. The company then tests the different proteins in its lab and finds the right one for the job.

The company said the new funding will help it scale up that process significantly.

“With this Series A funding, we will be able to expand the throughput capacity of our protein design platform and deploy a robust product development pipeline. From concept to industrial-scale production, Arzeda’s existing and new partners will be able to leverage protein design to make better, more sustainable chemicals, food and feed ingredients, materials, and even new molecules that are not found in nature,” Arzeda Co-Founder and CEO Alex Zanghellini said in a press release.

The company is already working with high-profile clients like materials manufacturer DuPont to design proteins that change the makeup of plants and materials.

Arzeda was founded in 2008 by Drs. Alex Zanghelini, Eric Althoff, Daniela Grabs and David Baker based on work by the University of Washington’s Institute for Protein Design, which Baker directs. He also serves on the company’s board of scientific advisors, while the other three co-founders are all executives at the company.

As part of the recent funding, OS Co-Founder Jeff Klunzinger will join Arzeda’s board. The round also includes Bioeconomy Capital, Sustainable Conversion Ventures and WRF Capital, who invested Arzeda’s seed fund of just $250,000.

Drones and phones are the next frontier for AI breakthroughs

The artificial intelligence revolution is being underwritten by the cloud. Every decision made by an AI involves sending information to vast data centres, where it’s processed before being returned. But our data-hungry world is posing a problem: while we can process data at rapid rates, sending it back and forth is a logistical nightmare. And that’s why AI is heading to your pocket.

In essence, this means adding brains to the phones and other technologies we use on a daily basis. “Machine learning and artificial intelligence not only makes devices more autonomous and valuable but also allows them to be more personal depending on what a customer likes or needs,” says Vadim Budaev, software development team leader at Scorch AI.

Much of the work in the area is being led by tech’s biggest companies, which are adding basic AI and machine learning applications to products as they develop them. Facebook has introduced deep learning that can “capture, analyse, and process pixels” in videos in real-time within its apps. Google’s latest framework lets developers build AI into their apps.

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Apps are the likely first step for introducing AI to devices, but it’s predicted this will quickly move to other products. “An expanding variety of mobile devices will be able to run machine learning,” says David Schatsky, a managing director at Deloitte. “Virtual and augmented reality headsets; smart glasses; a new generation of medical devices that will be able to do diagnostics in the field; drones and vehicles; and internet of things devices will combine sensing with local analysis.” His company predicts that during 2017, 300 million smartphones will have a built-in neural network machine-learning capability.

The first products using on-device AI and machine learning are starting to appear. Australian startup Lingmo International’s in-ear language translator claims to work without Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Meanwhile, DJI’s Phantom 4 drone, released in 2016, uses on-board machine vision to stop it from crashing.

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Technology developed by Xnor AI is using CPUs (rather than GPUs) to put AI on devices. It claims to be able to detect objects, in real-time on a cellphone. A promotional videoand a report from TechCrunch claims its systems can also be run on a lower-powered device. A Raspberry Pi, for example, could be used to detect knives and guns.

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“Where the data sets are smaller or involving more individualised data sets (such as personal information), it will be significantly more practical to process on-device,” explains Ofri Ben-Porat, from Pixoneye, a firm using on-device machine learning to scan photos.

When successful, there are multiple benefits of running machine learning on a device. To start with, the processing and decision making can be quicker as data doesn’t need to be beamed to a remote location. Keeping data local means it doesn’t have to be transmitted to the company providing the service – giving users greater privacy levels. Apple is testing the model through a system it calls differential privacy.

“Protecting customer information is a major priority for businesses, and we’ve seen in many instances the damage that can be done to a brand where customer data is hacked,” Ben-Porat adds. “Processing data on-device alleviates this issue by ensuring that the data is retained on the user’s mobile rather than being transferred to the server”.

At present, the difficulty in bringing AI to devices at scale lies in computing power. If phones can’t process data quickly enough, AI systems will run down their batteries. Electrical engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a way for neural networks – one of the key underlying systems behind machine learning – to reduce power consumption and be more portable.

There’s also a new range of chips being developed that can specifically handle machine learning applications. Google’s Tensor Processing Units powers its translate and search systems, while UK startup Graphcore has developed its own machine learning chips. Elsewhere, the field of neuromorphic computing is growing considerably.

On-device artificial intelligence is still in its infancy, but for the wider AI industry to continue to make big breakthroughs it’s going to need all the computing power it can get.

DeltaV Code School filling a need in tech, software development sector

Alexandra Connor

The Gazette

CEDAR RAPIDS — In a blue and white room wedged into the corner of the first floor of the NewBoCo building on 12th Avenue SE in Cedar Rapids, Jess Bertling and Keith Dahlby are conducting rigorous training sessions in the name of filling a need in the technology and software development sector in Eastern Iowa.

The duo’s DeltaV Code School was launched in December, said Bertling, with an initial 12-hour boot camp-style software development course targeted for beginners.

Since that time, class participants have been working their way through other, higher-level courses. An intense four-week Code 201 class recently wrapped up and the more difficult Code 301 class started earlier this month. A 10-week Code 402 class starts in August and ends in October.

By the end of it all, students will be able to apply computer science fundamentals in decision-making, create an online brand and understand professional software development techniques and practices, among other things.

And most of these students, Dahlby said, had no previous experience in coding.

“Genuinely, half the class … (had never written code) or only had three days’ worth of exposure to this stuff,” Dahlby said of the Code 201 class, adding each day participants walked away with a new technique.

“It’s definitely a roller coaster,” Bertling added. “It’s such a rapid fire of assignments and the intricacy and the detail picks up every single assignment, every day.”

The curriculum for DeltaV is powered by Code Fellows, a professional software development training program based in Seattle.

Eventually, as DeltaV expands across Iowa through new locations, Dahlby would like to look into shaping the curriculum to better fit the state by asking, “How do we adapt this (course) to Iowans?”

Bertling and Dahlby, both formerly of J P Cycles, are hoping that DeltaV eventually has locations in other parts of the state, like Des Moines or Cedar Falls. The duo is looking to hire a teaching assistant to help keep up with demand.

“We’re the ones that are getting it off the ground,” Bertling said. “We may expand at some point but for now it’s just the two of us.”

Jason Logan, 31, of Cedar Rapids, enrolled in the program after learning about the school through his wife’s mentor Stacy Van Gorp, a NewBoCo board member.

After 10 years of service with the National Guard, Logan said he wanted to pursue his interest with tech but was bored with the more traditional two- and four-year higher education route.

DeltaV, he said, is a near perfect fit.

“I enjoy this (boot camp) style a lot,” Logan said. “I haven’t been challenged this much in a very long time and that’s a good thing for me.”

Logan said he also likes the teamwork aspect of the course.

“It reinforces the fact that development is not an individual job anymore like you see in media,” he said. “It’s not someone hunched over a keyboard environment. You’re in a team-based environment so you need to know how to do that and work well with others.”

But even working in a collaborative environment, the individual work level still is fast paced.

“It is rough. It’s 12-hour days, basically. You come here, you work, you go home and you work some more. It’s very condensed,” Logan said.

Bertling and Dahlby said they are excited for their current students to graduate but hoping future classes are more diverse.

“We’d love to have people from underrepresented groups in the classes,” Dahlby said. “Our biggest failure here is that we have a class of all young white dudes. That’s the last thing programming needs.

“Not that we don’t want capable young white dudes, we just want that class to not only be (made up of them).”

Bertling and Dahlby said they are hoping that DeltaV will eventually be able to offer scholarships and other opportunities to recruit a more diverse class.

What it all comes down to, Bertling said, is the need for development talent in the area.

“There is definitely a need to get people in the workforce,” Bertling said.

UPCOMING CLASSES

Here is a look at upcoming DeltaV courses and prices for each course. Note, the courses build off each other, so one would have to enroll and pass Code 101 before applying for Code 201, for example. To apply, go to deltavcodeschool.com.

Code 101 — Next class: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. Tuition: $99.

Code 102 — Next class: Not yet determined. Tuition: $299 for two-day class.

Code 201 — Next class: Not yet determined. Tuition: $3,500 for four weeks.

Code 301 — Next class: Class is in session and runs through Aug. 4. Next class is not yet determined. Tuition: $4,500 for four weeks.

Code 401 — Next class: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays from Aug. 14 to Oct. 20. Tuition: $12,000 for 10 weeks.

l Comments: (319) 368-8531; alexandra.connor@thegazette.com

Can DECENT’s ‘Crypto-Fuelled’ Blockchain Revolutionize Content & Data Distribution?

Blockchain, the distributed ledger and innovative technology behind the crypto mogul Bitcoin that was created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009, has been attracting much attention for its growing potential and the wide range of applications. The technology is breaking out of the financial sector and testing its functionality in new markets.

Highlighting the uptick in the space, over $1.4 billion (bn) has been invested in blockchain technology in just three short years according to a report from the World Economic Forum. And, quite incredibly it has been projected that by 2027 around 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP) will be stored on blockchain platforms.

Companies in fields like distributed cloud storage, digital identity security, smart contracts and online voting are clawing at the chance to integrate this technology into their products and services to see just how far the blockchain can take them.

Decentralized and open source core features of the blockchain combined with the highest levels of encryption and security have enthralled businesses in many areas and in so doing are captivating many supporters. Not surprisingly a rising number of innovators are seeking to implement blockchain technology into their products and processes.

(Image credit: Shutterstock).

Digital Content Distribution

Whether it can now also be exercised to wrest full control of digital content and data distribution over the Internet back to the people from the big corporations remains to be seen. But that is what some are attempting with a blockchain-based content distribution platform by tech pioneers dead set on revolutionizing data distribution on the Internet.

The objective is put simply in terms of creating a “user-friendly content sharing network, which enables an effective and hassle-free way to upload, purchase and share content.” Amid all this disruption you might be thinking should you too be joining the blockchain gang?

Digital content distribution is been a sector that has highly favoured large corporations who control the price of media and take their meaty cut. This leaves the content creators with little or no choice in the matter and an inadequate share of the revenue. But moves are afoot to try and change matters, applying blockchain technology and fuelled by cryptocurrency.

Recently I wrote on Forbes about the Hollywood film industryand touched on aspects of giving more back to the artists and creatives through the blockchain and libertarian film making, as espoused by start-up 21Million.

A long overdue correction you would think, giving freedom and power back to the people. And, surely that would strike most folk as fair and equitable, although I would suspect the big boys in the corporate world won’t exactly lie down without a fight.

Zach LeBeau, the CEO of SingularDTV who is involved in the 21Million project and their recently launched initial coin offering (ICO), has high hopes to pave a way for artists to freely display their content. The concept here is an entertainment economy with blockchain technology and decentralized computing.

According to LeBeau the start-up’s goal would “empower artists and creators” with powerful tools to manage projects from development to distribution.

Now Swiss-based tech company DECENT is on a mission and tooled up to do just that. Its technology, for example, has been courted by the porn industry, with Naughty America approaching the firm over technology to protect its intellectual property and stem the piracy of its content.

The start-up company, which is lead by Slovak co-founders Matej Michalko and Matej Boda and had international offices in Bratislava, Slovakia, Shanghai in China and an RD Blockchain hub in Yerevan, Armenia, is aiming to “revolutionize data distribution” on the Internet by integrating blockchain technology into a new and innovative content distribution platform.

The Founders 

Michalko, who has been involved in the bitcoin space since 2011, quickly realized that blockchain technology could have the potential to change the modern world. At that time he met Boda, who was fascinated with new technologies and while doing some bitcoin mining of his own, he began to visualize the use of blockchain technology on a larger scale.

The founders of DECENT understood the unprecedented potential behind blockchain technology and wanted to build something that could be integrated into the everyday life of people – without any limitations.

Shortly after starting their collaboration, the DECENT Network, an open-source, decentralized content distribution platform, was born.

The platform utilizes blockchain technology to ensure trust and security. Since being established in 2015, DECENT has garnered an increasing level of support from the community for their innovative platform, which is touted as being designed for large-scale adoption.

The Funding 

Last September DECENT initiated their initial coin offering (ICO), which lasted for eight weeks and raised 5,881 bitcoin (BTC), which at the time was worth around $4.2 million. The funds raised have been allocated to finance all product development costs, marketing, organizational and legal expenses needed to prepare for the launch of DECENT Network on June 30.

The positive outcome of their ICO supported the team’s view that the community believes in a blockchain content distribution platform. But tackling a massive project with the intention of revolutionizing data distribution on the Internet is no easy endeavour.

In order to fulfil its goal DECENT has assembled a team in software development and architecture together with an extensive community of ambassadors and advisors from across the globe.

The Goal 

DECENT boldly asserted that it wants to “ensure worldwide adoption” of its Network and integration into everyday life. Well, who wouldn’t? But that aside there is still much work that needs to be done before that dream can become a reality.

To meet these requirements, the team has created their own solution. They have built a new platform based on blockchain technology, which permits third-party developers to build their own applications using the DECENT Network as a foundation.

Any industry that holds content can benefit from the use of DECENT Network’s blockchain technology because it supplies a user-friendly, stable and immutable method for storage and distribution, allowing for what is described as “thousands of use cases” that will be built on this technology.

For example, the use of DECENT Network as a distribution platform for academic institutions around the world would provide a safe, secure and accessible way to store and share educational content – including essays, reports, lectures and even whole text books.

Additionally, supply chain and logistic companies could utilize such technology to track product origins and keep an unchangeable record of distribution channels for all merchandise. Charity organizations can be protected against fraudulent donations and increase support by way of a transparent and immutable transaction ledger build into DECENT Network’s blockchain platform.

Michalko, CEO and co-founder, emphasized the impact of the platform that will “liberate everyone from unnecessary middleman controls, fees and manipulation.” By eliminating middleman constraints and censorship, the DECENT Network gives full control of digital content back to the people.

In continuing developments, this Friday (July 14) the company announced that the first third-party application built on top of DECENT Network, PUBLIQ, a free of charge application for digital content specifically news and articles, was being launched.

On this development Michalko contended: “PUBLIQ is a perfect example of a well-designed project using our technology for the purpose in which it is intended, to bring content to the consumer without middleman controls or third party censorship.”

Explained as an “innovative adaptation” of the DECENT Network is the addition of a social aspect where authors (content creators who share their digital work on the platform) will build a lifetime reputation, based on ratings from content consumers (users who purchase content on the platform), and which is stored via the blockchain.

Crypto Token DCT

DCT is the cryptocurrency of DECENT Network and the fuel that makes it run. Determined by the result of the ICO, a total of 73.29 million DCT tokens will be in circulation. And, following DECENT’s official launch, DCT will be obtainable in a number of ways.

One way to receive DCT is by individuals selling their own, authentic digital content to interested consumers directly on the DECENT platform. It can also be given as a reward for miners, creators of blocks in the blockchain, and seeders, distributors of digital content.

Cryptocurrency market exchanges will ultimately decide whether or not to list DCT. However, it understood on that score no official announcement can be made until after DECENT’s launch.

DECENT GO

The first application to be built over the top of DECENT Network’s blockchain platform, called DECENT GO, was also recently announced and touted by the firm as demonstrating some of the capabilities the network has to offer.

They boldly described it as a “Google Play-like Digital Marketplace built on top of the DECENT Blockchain Network, which allows content publishing and buying on a peer-to-peer principle.”

According the Slovak founders the premier application behind DECENT GO intends to showcase the advantages of the network’s blockchain-based content distribution platform and its “adaptability to act as the underlying technology supporting a new marketplace application.”

So, can it prove to be the breakthrough technology that it is being hailed as? If anecdotal evidence from the crypto fraternity is anything to go by the upcoming launch of the DECENT Network is eagerly anticipated. But given the record breaking amounts raised with ICOs over recent months the whole area is on a hot streak.

There is worldwide recognition of blockchains and the technology that in effect serves to provide an irrefutable record of transactions – with proof of ownership and provenance – and is increasingly being applied to various cases. This includes privacy of information, digital content storage and distribution, transparency of records and transactions. And, of course utmost security and encryption of data, is happening as we speak.

Michalko and Boda’s vision of integrating blockchain technology into the regular, daily routine of people from around the world could be approaching quicker than one might have anticipated.

As companies from tech giants to start-ups put their manpower and resources towards blockchain technology research, more and more organizations all over the globe are positioning themselves to take advantage of this exceptional technology.

A case in point for example, Samsung SDS, is reportedly seeking blockchain technology to add security to their credit card division while LG, along with GoPro have looked to utilizing the tech’s immutable ledger and time-stamped records to solidify warranty documentation. These major developments and many more in the works could mean blockchain integration will form part of the norm for everyday activities.

While DECENT’s blockchain-based content distribution platform could be paving the way for a new age of technological innovation from a team who assert they are “dead-set” on revolutionizing data distribution on the Internet, the $64bn question remains how long it will take and what challenges it will have along the way. Carpe diem.

Follow Roger, who has penned various investment stories over the years, on Twitter @AitkenRL, LinkedIn,ForbesGoogle+. He is involved with the Campaign For Fair Finance in the UK. 

 

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