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Before yesterdayGeneral Tech

MIT engineers develop a totally flat fisheye lens that could make wide-angle cameras easier to produce

By Darrell Etherington

Engineers at MIT, in partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, have devised a way to build a camera lens that avoids the typical spherical curve of ultra-wide-angle glass, while still providing true optical fisheye distortion. The fisheye lens is relatively specialist, producing images that can cover as wide an area as 180 degrees or more, but they can be very costly to produce, and are typically heavy, large lenses that aren’t ideal for use on small cameras like those found on smartphones.

This is the first time that a flat lens has been able to product clear, 180-degree images that cover a true panoramic spread. The engineers were able to make it work by patterning a thin wafer of glass on one side with microscopic, three-dimensional structures that are positioned very precisely in order to scatter any inbound light in precisely the same way that a curved piece of glass would.

The version created by the researchers in this case is actually designed to work specifically with the infrared portion of the light spectrum, but they could also adapt the design to work with visible light, they say. Whether IR or visible light, there are a range of potential uses of this technology, since capturing a 180-degree panorama is useful not only in some types of photography, but also for practical applications like medical imaging and in computer vision applications where range is important to interpreting imaging data.

This design is just one example of what’s called a “Metalens” — lenses that make use of microscopic features to change their optical characteristics in ways that would traditionally have been accomplished through macro design changes — like building a lens with an outward curve, for instance, or stacking multiple pieces of glass with different curvatures to achieve a desired field of view.

What’s unusual here is that the ability to accomplish a clear, detailed and accurate 180-degree panoramic image with a perfectly flat metalens design came as a surprise even to the engineers who worked on the project. It’s definitely an advancement of the science that goes beyond what many assumed was the state of the art.

Founded by an Impossible Foods, and Google data scientist, Climax Foods raises $7.5 million to tackle the cheesiest market

By Jonathan Shieber

Oliver Zahn began his professional career studying the stars. The founder of Climax Foods, a startup that’s using data science to replace animal proteins with plant-based substitutes, spent years at the University of California at Berkeley with his eyes fixed firmly toward the heavens before taking up with Pat Brown and Impossible Foods as the company’s leading data scientist.

That experience focused Zahn on more terrestrial concerns and undoubtedly led the founder down the path to launching Climax Foods.

Now with $7.5 million in financing from investors including At One Ventures, founded by the GoogleX co-founder Tom Chi, along with Manta Ray Ventures, S2G Ventures, Valor Siren Ventures, Prelude Ventures, ARTIS Ventures, Index Ventures, Luminous Ventures, Canaccord Genuity Group, Carrot Capital and Global Founders Capital, Zahn is ready to take on the future of food.

The pitch to investors is similar to the one that Josh Tetrick made at Just Food (the company formerly known as Hampton Creek). It’s elegant in its simplicity — scan the natural world for proteins that have the same or better characteristics than those that are currently made by animals and make products with them.

By looking at what makes animal products so delicious, the company will find their plant-based analogs and start producing.

As with most things that depend on data science, the taxonomy is the key. So Climax Foods is building machine learning algorithms that will process and cross-reference molecular structures to find the best fit. It’s starting with cheese.

While, the replacing the humble wheel of cheese may not seem like a worthy adversary for an astrophysicist, companies have already raised hundreds of millions to defeat the big dairy industry.

“We are at a pivotal time where industrialization enabled explosive population growth and consumption of animal products. Today, more than 90% of all mammalian animals and more than 70% of all birds on the planet exist for the sole purpose of metabolizing plants and being turned into food,” said Zahn in a statement. “This industry is complex and wasteful, creating as much climate change as all modes of transportation combined, and using more than a third of the earth’s water and usable land. By speeding up food science innovation, Climax Foods is able to convert plants into equally craveable foods without the environmental impact.”

Joining Zahn on this quest to conquer the cheese industrial complex and its milk-made monstrousness are a few seasoned industry veterans including co-founder, Caroline Love, the company’s chief operating officer and former sales and operations executive from JUST foods, and Pavel Aronov, a Stanford-educated chemist who previously worked at the chemicals giant thermo-Fisher.

“Climax Foods is tackling the same opportunity to change the market and the food system, but they are doing it with an entirely novel technological approach. They are using data science to produce a new category of foods that will not merely compete with, but out-compete, animal products in terms of taste, nutritional density, and price,” said Sanjeev Krishnan, one of the largest investors in the plant protein space and Chief Investment Officer of S2G Ventures. “The machine intelligence approach Climax Foods is pioneering is critical for harnessing the vast number of ways raw ingredients and natural processes can be used to create the ultimate digital recipes.”

Krishnan would know. He’s an investor in Beyond Meat, the most successful public offering of a plant-based protein replacement company.

Majority of tech workers expect company solidarity with Black Lives Matter

By Walter Thompson
Loren Appin Contributor
Loren Appin is co-founder and COO of Fishbowl, a workplace social network bringing together professionals during the new era of remote work.

The death of George Floyd and the recent Black Lives Matter protests have drawn widespread attention to the systemic racism within the United States. Millions of individuals across every state have come together to demand change.

Yet, whether companies believe they have a responsibility to respond to, resist and address this racism remains unclear. Do customers expect, or desire, a response? Do the companies’ own employees expect a response? Corporate America has the ability to use its influence for the change many of their employees are demanding; however, historically companies have been wary of inserting themselves into the middle of any conflict.

Now more than ever, it’s important for employers to align themselves with their employees’ expectations, though. Since March 2020 professionals working remotely increased from 30% to 80%, drastically accelerating an already rapidly growing trend. This remote nature has made it increasingly difficult to maintain a strong sense of “corporate community” and trust between leaders and employees.

At Fishbowl, we have been able to observe employees’ sentiments and expectations of their employers during this time.

Fishbowl is a new workplace social network that brings professionals together in a new era of remote work. Fishbowl provides thousands of industry and community-related bowls (aka groups) that allow verified professionals to have more honest and intimate conversations with other people working in roles and industries similar to their own.

Over the past several weeks, we saw a large increase in conversations about employers’ roles in addressing systemic racism and support for the Black Lives Matter cause. Our team decided to quantify the insights from these conversations, and polled employees on whether they expect their companies to speak out. We found that the majority of employees expect a public statement, but it varies significantly by industry.

About the survey

In order to determine how many employees expect their companies to release a statement on recent events, we asked professionals one question:

“Do you expect your company to publicly speak up for the Black Lives Matter cause?”

Professionals could answer with one of two options: (A) Yes or (B) No. The survey ran from June 5 through June 7, 2020 and received responses from over 16,812 verified professionals on the Fishbowl app from across the United States. Respondents included employees at companies such as IBM, JP Morgan, Facebook, McKinsey, Deloitte, Bank of America, Amazon, Edelman, Nike, Google, KPMG and thousands of others.

Here’s what our survey revealed:

Expected company solidarity with Black Lives Matter by industry. Image Credits: Fishbowl (opens in a new window)

Most expect their company to speak up: Of the 16,812 professionals that responded, 11,638 (69.22%) answered that they expect their company to publicly speak up about the Black Lives Matter cause. A majority of professionals expect a statement of some sort from their employer.

By gender:  76.77% of women and 62.75% of men answered that they expect their company to speak up for the Black Lives Matter movement.

By industry: Human resources employees had the highest percentage of employees expecting their company to publicly respond about BLM, with a vast majority of 88.89%. Tech employees followed with 78.93%, while advertising employees were only marginally behind with 78.42%. Conversely, the law industry had the lowest percentage of employees expecting their company to speak up, with only 48.45%. Following closely behind were finance (56.92%) and teachers (57.21%).

By state: Out of the states with more than 100 responses, Californian participants were the most likely to expect their company to speak up about the movement, with 75.27%. Maryland (74.89%), Washington, D.C. (74.21%) and Massachusetts (74.02%) followed closely behind. Kansas showed the lowest percentage of employees expecting their company to show support for BLM, with 51.46%. Louisiana (57.14%), South Carolina (60.83%) and Missouri (61.93%) trailed behind.

Tech industry professionals expect statements

As noted above, the response varied greatly by industry, with tech standing out toward the top, with 79% of employees expecting public statements from their employer.

Big tech companies and their CEOs command more attention from the media than any other industry. With that attention comes certain expectations and pressure to respond to important causes like BLM from the public and their own employees.

So, when these companies speak out (or don’t), the public takes note. Social networking platforms in particular rely on how the public perceives them for business. Not making a statement could lead to a loss of business for some of these companies. For example, Facebook’s inaction on posts by Trump about the protests led to user and employee backlash last week.

Companies within other industries, on the other hand, such as law firms, are not household names, nor have the same level of scrutiny from the public eye. If anything, law firms and the individuals working there are asked to represent both sides of any argument, supporting the survey results showing less than half of attorneys expected public statements from their employers.

Looking ahead

What companies say (and don’t say) in coming weeks will greatly impact the relationship and trust with their employees. Now that tech giants like Apple, Google, Amazon and even TikTok, have made statements supporting the Black Lives Matter cause, the focus will shift from public statements to action and accountability.

As a recent Washington Post article on diversity in tech reveals, the words from these institutions might not always be representative of their actions. Employees of these companies are now rightfully asking their employers to turn their commitment to the cause into action by looking internally, and to start making the corporate environment more equitable for Black professionals.

Lordstown Motors becomes latest EV automaker to use a SPAC to go public

By Kirsten Korosec

Lordstown Motors, the one-year-old Ohio electric automaker that revealed a pickup truck prototype in June, has reached a deal to merge with special-purpose acquisition company DiamondPeak Holdings Corp., with a market value of $1.6 billion.

The agreement marks the latest company — and electric automaker — to become a publicly traded company through a merger agreement with a SPAC, or blank-check company. Electric automakers Nikola Motor and Fisker Inc. have also become public companies through a SPAC over the past two months. Shift Technologies, an online used car marketplace and sensor company Velodyne Lidar, also went public via a SPAC, sidestepping the traditional IPO path.

In this latest SPAC, the combined company will remain on the Nasdaq under a new ticker symbol, RIDE. DiamondPeak Holdings Corp. was listed on the exchange under the ticker DPHC.

The company said it was able to raise $500 million in private investment in public equity, or PIPE, including a $75 million investment by General Motors. Other institutional investors that joined include Fidelity Management & Research Company, Wellington Management Company, Federated Hermes Kaufmann Small Cap Fund and funds and accounts managed by BlackRock.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020. The new combined company’s board will include Steve Burns, the founder and CEO of Lordstown, and David Hamamoto, chairman and CEO of DiamondPeak.

SPACs have been around for decades and have gone by different names, including “blind pools” and “clean shell companies” and “blank-check companies.” A SPAC is a corporation that has no defined business plan or purpose other than to raise money from public markets to acquire a private company. The SPAC has seen a resurgence in 2020, particularly in the second and now third quarters.

Lordstown has an interesting history for such a young company. Lordstown Motors is an offshoot of Burns’ other company, Workhorse Group, a battery-electric transportation technology company that is also a publicly traded company. Workhorse is a small company that was founded in 1998 and has struggled financially at various points. Its offshoot, Lordstown Motors, revealed a prototype of an electric pickup truck called Endurance that is aimed at contractors and other buyers in the commercial market.

The plan is to produce 20,000 of these electric commercial trucks annually, starting in the second half of 2021, at the former GM Assembly Plant in Lordstown, Ohio. Lordstown Motors acquired in November the 6.2 million-square-foot factory from GM.

The combined company plans to use about $675 million of gross proceeds from the SPAC transaction to  fund production of the Endurance. Since the truck’s unveiling, the company has secured pre-orders valued at $1.4 billion (or about 27,000 total pre-orders), according to Burns.

Fisker raises $50 million to bring its all-electric Ocean SUV to market in 2022

By Kirsten Korosec

Electric vehicle startup Fisker Inc. said Wednesday it has raised $50 million, much needed capital that will go toward funding the next phase of engineering work on the company’s all-electric luxury SUV.

The startup is aiming to launch the Fisker Ocean SUV in 2022.

The Series C funding round was led by Moore Strategic Ventures LLC, the private investment vehicle of Louis M. Bacon, the billionaire hedge fund manager.

“Since we first showed the car at CES earlier this year, reaction from customers and investors has been extremely positive,” Fisker Inc. Chairman and CEO Henrik Fisker said in a statement. “We are radically challenging the conventional industry thinking around developing and selling cars and this capital will allow us to execute our planned timeline to start producing vehicles in 2022.”

The company is also beefing up its executive lineup to help push the project along.  Fisker said it has hired Burkhard Huhnke as its CTO. Huhnke was the former vice president of e-mobility for Volkswagen America and vice president of automotive at chipmaker Synopses.

As CTO, Huhnke will spread his time between the company’s R&D work in Los Angeles and its new Fisker Innovation Lab in Silicon Valley.

Building a car company isn’t easy. Just ask Fisker. The well-known automotive designer, who was behind the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8 among others, launched a startup called Fisker Automotive that aimed to produce a luxury plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The flagship vehicle, the Fisker Karma, debuted at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, and first deliveries were in 2011. But the company ran into numerous challenges and production was suspended in November 2012 and ended in bankruptcy a year later.

China’s Wanxiang Group purchased what was left of Fisker in 2014 and launched a new company called Karma Automotive . On a side note: Karma, which has had its own financial struggles, also announced Wednesday it had raised $100 million.

This time around, Fisker is focused on an SUV. The Fisker Ocean, which was officially revealed in January at CES 2020, starts at $37,499 before applying any federal income tax credit or state incentives.

Karma Automotive raises $100 million as it looks to resell it EV platform to other automakers

By Darrell Etherington

Karma Automotive has raised a $100 million lifeline from outside investors, as reported by Bloomberg, with the struggling electric vehicle maker’s fortunes likely buoyed by the current market optimism on other EV companies including Tesla. Karma is the reincarnated version of Fisker Automotive, which previously faced bankruptcy before being acquired by Wanxiang Group in 2014.

Karma Automotive has made more progress than Fisker ever did, including actually delivering around 500 of its inaugural Revero electric sport sedan in 2019. The company will be continuing to sell the Revero, which retails staring at around $140,000, and will also be looking to add a high horsepower GTE version, as well as a supercar for an even higher-tier customer.

The automaker also says that it’s in discussions with a partner for a commercial delivery truck, which it intends to develop in prototype form by year’s end. There are a number of different companies pursuing delivery vans for use by courier companies including UPS and FedEx, and the increase in e-commerce spending does present an opportunity for multiple players to succeed in this category, even as there is a rush on in terms of entrants.

Karma will also seek to leverage and extend the benefits of its fresh investment by shopping around its EV platform to other automakers and OEMs, the company says, and also will eventually expand beyond pure EVs to hybrid fuel vehicles. In short, it sounds like Karma is willing to try just about everything and anything to chart a path towards profitability, but time will tell if that’s intelligent opportunism, or scattershot desperation.

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