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Despite pandemic setbacks, the clean energy future is underway

By Walter Thompson
Roger Duncan Contributor
Roger Duncan is a former Research Fellow at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and the former General Manager of Austin Energy. He is the co-author of the upcoming book, "The Future of Buildings, Transportation and Power."

The economic lockdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic has had an immediate negative impact on renewable energy projects and electric vehicles sales, but the sustainable trends are still in place and may even be strengthened over the longer term.

For the first time in four decades, global installation of solar, wind and other renewable energy will be less than the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency, which is projecting a 13% reduction in installations in 2020 compared to 2019. Woods Mackenzie projects an 18% reduction for global solar installations in 2020. Morgan Stanley is projecting declines in U.S. solar PV installations from 48% in second quarter to 17% in the fourth quarter of 2020.

This is due to a combination of construction delays, supply chain disruptions and a capital crunch.

Installation of rooftop solar has been hit particularly hard. Access to homes and businesses was generally halted in March 2020 for several months. Installers have indicated that as much as half the workforce had to be furloughed. The supply chain was also disrupted as PV manufacturing in China was temporarily suspended. Installations and the supply chain will resume, and most contracts are still in place, but the robust projected growth in rooftop PV for 2020 will not be met, and it may take more than a year to catch up. Also, some businesses that planned installations may have higher priorities for cash and investment now as they reopen. Many of the small businesses planning solar installations may not return at all.

On the other hand, utility scale electricity generation from renewable energy continues to grow and take market share. In the first part of this year, renewable energy has produced more electricity than coal for the first time since the late 19th century, when hydropower started the power industry. Wind and solar are the cheapest alternatives for new electric generation in the U.S. The pandemic and collapse in oil prices will not change that. The closure of coal plants has been accelerating this year, and wind and solar will continue to be competitive with gas.

Furthermore, most solar and wind farms were already financed and construction underway in rural areas not affected by the lockdown. About 30 GW of new solar capacity have already been contracted, and as long as interest rates remain low, financing should not be a problem. In fact, many solar and wind projects in the U.S and China are rushing to completion this year to qualify for government incentives.

But supply chains for utility scale renewables were still disrupted. Solar panel manufacturing in China was halted during the first quarter and has now reopened, but facing reduced orders. At one point, 18 wind turbine manufacturing facilities in Spain and Italy were stopped while social distancing and sanitation measures were put in place. Mining operations in Africa and other countries were also temporarily halted and now face reduced demand.

The replacement of oil and gas electricity generation with renewables in developing countries is not going to seem as attractive as a few years ago. Emerging economies need to expand electricity as cheaply as possible, which means coal, gas and even diesel plants. New fossil fuel plants in developing nations could lock in carbon emissions for years.

Electric vehicle sales globally have also been severely impacted. The transition to electric vehicles takes place as people purchase new vehicles. The price of oil has collapsed, used-car prices are dropping and unemployment has soared to levels not seen since the Great Depression. Cheap gas, cheap cars and high unemployment will dramatically lower the expectations for multipassenger EV sales in 2020. Wood Mackenzie has projected a 43% global decline in EV sales in 2020 from 2019. Furthermore, many new electric models from the automakers are not expected until 2021.

However, the long-term transition to EVs will continue and may even accelerate. It still costs less to drive a mile on electricity compared to gasoline, and when the upfront cost of electric vehicles becomes competitive with internal combustion vehicles in a few years, the market should quickly move to EVs. Now that the battery range is adequate for the average driver, the last barrier seems to be the availability of fast charging stations between cities.

Before the collapse in oil demand this year, the oil majors were expecting peak oil demand to occur sometime during the 2040s. Now peak oil demand is expected earlier, perhaps in the mid-2020s. Some even think that 2019 might turn out to be the highest level of oil consumption historically. At any rate, it seems that it will be at least a few years until the 2019 levels are reached again, if ever.

However, the recent collapse in oil prices means the oil and gas industry will be able to supply fuel at very competitive prices for decades. This will at least make it more difficult for electric vehicles to take market share in the short term, and very difficult for alternative liquid fuels to be competitive. For biofuels and synthetic fuels, it seems to be a repeat of earlier decades when cheap oil crushed those industries. Replacing gas and diesel-powered cars is certainly going to be unattractive in the impoverished economies of developing nations.

But there are also bright spots for clean transportation alternatives emerging. Electric bicycles, for example, are a hot item. As people look for alternatives to mass transit and want something to move outdoors in the fresh air, electric-assisted bikes are a great solution and are no longer looked down upon as a vehicle for older (or lazy) cyclists.

Telecommuting struggled for years to take hold, but the pandemic seems to have finally changed that. The recent national lockdown has spurred many large businesses to set up their employees to work from home. They have found that it works fairly well, and many will not return to packed downtown offices.

Several experts have cited the potential for cleaner energy alternatives because the public is seeing cleaner air and the environmental benefits of a 30% reduction in daily oil consumption. Some consumer surveys have indicated a greater interest in electric vehicles.

There is certainly the hope that we will take the opportunity to revive the economy with cleaner technologies than before the lockdown. However, the reality is that workers and businesses need to start up again with the infrastructure they have, and investment in cleaner technology requires capital. Since many business operations are struggling to find cash and loans to just remain open, new clean technology may be delayed.

Yet the major infrastructure changes for a sustainable future are well underway. Solar and wind are rapidly replacing fossil fuels for electricity. Automakers and governments are committed to electrification of the transportation sector. The pandemic may be a near-term obstacle, but the transition to a sustainable economy is just delayed and may even be accelerated in the coming years.

How Grab adapted after COVID-19 hit its ride-hailing business

By Catherine Shu

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a heavy toll on ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft. Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing company, has also been impacted, but the company has adapted by quickly transitioning many of its ride-hailing drivers to its on-demand delivery verticals and expanding services needed by customers during social distancing measures.

The company told TechCrunch that its ride-hailing drivers saw their incomes decrease by about a double-digit percentage in April 2020, compared to October 2019, in line with a double-digit drop in gross merchandise volume for Grab’s ride-hailing business in some markets. Between March and April, more than 149,000 Grab ride-hailing drivers switched to performing on-demand deliveries. In some markets, the transition was done very quickly. For example, in Malaysia, 18,000 drivers moved to delivery in a single day. The platform also saw an influx of new driver requests, many from people who had been laid off or furloughed, as well as merchants who needed a new way to make income.

Russell Cohen, Grab’s regional head of operations, told Extra Crunch that to redeploy driver capacity to delivery verticals, the company worked with governments in its eight markets to understand how different COVID-19 responses, including stay-at-home orders, affected on-demand logistics. Anticipating shifts in consumer behavior, it also started adding new services that will continue after the pandemic.

Quickly moving driver capacity from ride-hailing to on-demand delivery

Grab currently has about nine million “micro-entrepreneurs,” or what it calls the drivers, delivery, merchants and agents on its platform. Cohen says the company began to see an effect on ride-hailing and transportation patterns in January and February as flights out of China, and air travel in general, began to decrease. Then COVID-19 started to have a material impact on its ride-hailing business in March, with a sharp drop after countries began implementing stay-at-home orders.

ChromaCode’s tech to boost COVID-19 testing gets Bill Gates’s backing

By Jonathan Shieber

Boasting a technology that can dramatically increase the capacity of existing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing used to identify people infected with COVID-19 and other illnesses, ChromaCode has attracted new funding from Bill Gates-backed Adjuvant Capital

“We want a good solution for a resource-limited environment,” says ChromaCode founder and executive chairman Alex Dickinson, a serial entrepreneur who has worked with Caltech researchers spinning out companies since the early 2000s.

The technology was based on research conducted by California Institute of Technology graduate student Aditya Rajagopal. A former researcher at Google[x] working on novel medical imaging methods, Rajagopal is the inventor of HDPCR, the tech at the heart of ChromaCode’s product.

With the help of Dickinson, Rajagopal spun out the technology he’d developed to form ChromaCode in 2012, according to Crunchbase, and raised its initial capital to develop a diagnostic tool that could use algorithms and new sensing technologies to increase the number of targets that can be analyzed by traditional PCR analysis.

The polymerase chain reaction tests were invented in 1985 by Kary Mullis, who was working as a chemist at the Cetus Corp., and use copies of very small amounts of DNA sequences that are amplified in a series of cycles of temperature changes. It’s one of the foundations of genetic analysis. 

While traditional PCR testing relies on differentiation of targets by color, the HDPCR technology developed by ChromaCode’s co-founder uses signal intensity to identify multiple different targets and signify them as curve signatures encoded into a single color channel. Think of the technology as using color gradients to identify multiple targets in a test instead of just one color.

“It’s like image compression,” Dickinson said.

For COVID-19 specifically, the use of ChromaCode’s technology could expand available testing capacity threefold, the company said.

“Right now the basic test looks at three different things,” said Dickinson. “These machines have wells and they can do 96 tests at a time. The challenge is that you would typically use three of those wells for each test. We let them do all of the test in one well, which would give you a three times multiple.”

That means instead of testing 32 individuals using existing PCR equipment, labs would be able to perform 96 tests at a time.

Even more significant is the ability for ChromaCode’s technology to identify other illnesses alongside COVID-19. “What we’re planning for is the fall when we will be taking the existing COVID test and layering in flu and other diseases,” says Dickinson.

The ability to test for multiple pathogens has important implications for the ability to adequately test, track and trace the spread of the disease in the low and medium income countries that are now undergoing their own outbreaks. “The problem in Africa is that someone has a fever and it might be COVID or that might be Dengue fever,” said Dickinson. Using ChromaCode’s technology, diagnosticians and physicians can tell the difference without having to use new machines.

It’s the ability to work on existing technology that sets ChromaCode apart from competitors like BioFire Diagnostics and Cepheid, according to Dickinson and his co-founder Greg Gosch.

“The supply chain on the tests will continue to be strained so people will be looking for more efficient mechanisms,” said Gosch.

Adjuvant Capital, the investment fund spun out from a collaboration between the Gates Foundation and JP Morgan Chase, had already identified ChromaCode as a potential investment target well before the pandemic hit, according to managing partner Jenny Yip.

The investment firm began speaking with ChromaCode in the summer of 2019, and was drawn to the company for its ability to expand testing capacity well before the COVID-19 outbreak brought the problems of adequate testing into stark relief.

From a global health perspective, ChromaCode’s technology ability to be installed in the existing technology base is very powerful,” said Yip. Given the low resource base in some of the countries where testing is needed the most, requiring the installation of an entirely new suite of hardware and software tools is untenable — let alone developing a supply chain that can service and maintain the technology.  

The lack of adequate testing in the United States remains the biggest obstacle to safely fully re-starting the country’s economy and ensuring that any future outbreaks of the disease can be managed successfully, according to experts.

“Testing is your first fundamental step in a plan to keep infected people from susceptible people,” Ashish Jha, the K. T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard and the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told The Atlantic.

“There’s a strong sense that the White House knows the amount of testing we need is far more than we have right now,” he said. “It is really stunning and disappointing.”

Gatik adds autonomous box trucks to its ‘middle mile’ game plan

By Kirsten Korosec

Gatik, the autonomous vehicle startup focused on the ‘middle mile’ of logistics, has added box trucks to its fleet as Walmart and other customers look for ways to boost efficiency and shore up the supply chain amid surging demand from consumers ordering goods online.

Gatik came out of stealth nearly a year ago with a game plan — and Walmart as a customer — to haul goods short distances for retailers and distributors using self-driving commercial delivery vans. The self-driving vehicles still have a human safety operator behind the wheel.

CEO and co-founder Gautam Narang has previously told TechCrunch that the company can fulfill a need in the market through a variety of use cases, including partnering with third-party logistics giants like Amazon, FedEx  or even the U.S. Postal Service, auto part distributors, consumer goods, food and beverage distributors as well as medical and pharmaceutical companies.

The business plan hasn’t changed. But its fleet has. In July, the startup launched a commercial service with Walmart to deliver online grocery orders from the retailer’s main warehouse to its neighborhood stores in Bentonville, Arkansas. Initially, Gatik used light commercial trucks and vans — specifically Ford Transit Connect vans — that were outfitted with its self-driving system.

Customer feedback prompted the company to add bigger temperature-controlled vehicles. Gatik’s commercial fleet of more than 10 vehicles are used to serve multiple Fortune 500 companies across North America, according to the startup. The figure doesn’t include additional vehicles being tested in California.

Gatik expects to name new partners and operations in U.S. and Canada this year.

The box trucks, which range in size between 11 and 20-feet long, can deliver ambient, cold and frozen goods. Each vehicle completes between six to 15 runs a day. Gatik has used its box trucks to deliver more than 15,000 orders for multiple customers since operations began.

The shift to autonomous box trucks taps into a trend among major retailers to use micro distribution centers to help meet increasing demand from consumers ordering goods online. Class 8 semi trucks, which once went directly to a retail store, now hauls goods to the MDCs. This allows retailers like Walmart to store more goods closer to its retail locations to meet demand for online orders.

“Micro fulfillment or distribution centers are all the rage right now — that’s basically the wave that we’re riding,” Narang said. “Companies are targeting warehouse automation for micro fulfillment centers. They’re automating the warehouses, and we’re automating the on-road logistics.”

Grocery chains were struggling to keep up with the growing demand of online grocery pickup and delivery even before the COVID-19 pandemic. But Narang expects demand for online grocery pickup and delivery to increase twofold. Gatik has already seen a 30% to 35% uptick in the number of runs it completes each day in order to meet demand.

“I think this is going to last because the crisis is shaping how consumers do their shopping,” Narang said.

Eventually, Gatik will pull the human safety driver out of the vehicle. It’s an achievable goal, Narang added, because the company has focused on repeatable pre-determined routes and has introduced constraints that simplify the technical challenge. For instance, Gatik vehicles don’t make multiple lane changes and only make right turns.

Tinvio, a communication platform for supply chain merchants, gets $5.5 million seed round

By Catherine Shu

Being a supply chain merchant often means cobbling together different ways of keeping in touch with buyers, including emails, text messages and paper invoices. Tinvio wants to simplify the process with a communication and commerce platform designed especially for managing orders.

The Singapore-based startup announced today that it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding, led by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge early-stage accelerator program, with participation from Global Founders Capital and Partech Partners.

Along with a pre-seed round from Rocket Internet, this brings Tinvio’s total raised so far to $6.5 million. The startup was founded in July 2019 by Ajay Gopal, who previously worked at Rocket Internet in Berlin. Before that, he was a fintech investment banker at Credit Suisse.

Since launching, Tinvio’s customer base has grown to over 1,000 businesses in more than 10 cities. Over the next 12 months, it plans to add more cities and languages, as well as digital financial services.

Tinvio is targeted at small-to mid-sized merchants, and many of its customers are in the food and beverage (F&B), retail and healthcare supply industries.

“At its core, Tinvio is a real-time messaging app. For every 10 orders placed on Tinvio, there’s an average of two messages sent, reinforcing that communication is critical in fragmented supply chains,” Gopal told TechCrunch.

One of Tinvio’s selling points is that merchants can continue to receive orders through their existing channels, including email, SMS or WhatsApp. By consolidating those orders in one app, Tinvio is also able to create a real-time digital ledger, making it easier for merchants to track invoices, fulfillment and finances.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, order volumes between merchants and suppliers on Tinvio have fallen about 30% to 50% in most cities, Gopal said, “though retention rates remain high, suggesting that many businesses are trying their best to stay open. We talk to them often, and we’re quite awed by their resilience to keep trying, keep finding a way to make it work.”

He added, “Our tech is designed to be fully customizable, so we’ve started organically supporting many of their new use cases.”

For example, some food and beverage merchants have started using Tinvio to manage group orders with consumers instead. Since many businesses have let go of staff, this means merchants have become more reliant on the app to keep track of orders and inbound/outbound deliveries. Tinvio has started expanding this into a new feature and also begun customizing soft-integrations for suppliers so they don’t have to manually add data to their ERP software.

Two weeks ago, Tinvio also launched a project called Save Our Nomnoms to help direct more orders to food and beverage merchants in Singapore, which is currently under partial lockdown. The project started with 40 brands, and has since grown to include more than 300 brands.

Matt Ocko saw COVID-19 coming: Here’s what his venture firm is doing about it

By Connie Loizos

Matt Ocko, co-founder of venture firm Data Collective (DCVC), was among a small group of VCs viewed as alarmists when they began tweeting about the coronavirus’s imminent appearance in the U.S. back in January.

In retrospect, those individuals were prescient, so we spoke with Ocko last week about why he was so certain the U.S. was about to get walloped by COVID-19, and asked how some of the startups in DCVC’s portfolio — which has long had a strong biotech focus — are trying to get us back to a state of normalcy.

This conversation has been edited for length.

TechCrunch: You were tweeting about COVID-19 back in January; I almost canceled a flight out of San Francisco because of your [expressed concern about a flight bound for SFO from Wuhan, China]. What did you see that the rest of us missed?

Matt Ocko: My family has been working with the Chinese government at a reasonably high level since the late 1970s, starting with my dad, and I kind of grew up in that environment. And at a relatively young age, as a professional [in the 1990s], I started pro bono helping my dad, who’s a Chinese legal expert, on things like constructing the laws around China’s Nasdaq equivalent, its stock markets, the joint dollar-renminbi investment legislation, advice on technology development and venture capital development.

I’m not an anti-China hawk by any means. But I do have an understanding of some of the idiosyncrasies of Chinese culture reflected in its government, the same way every country has its idiosyncrasies.

[In China’s case], it’s a focus on face and reputation and extreme sensitivity to negative perception or shame or humiliation at every level of government and culture. And so there’s [an] unfortunate trend — and not a universal one — for people to manage upwards, especially in the government, and tell their higher-ups what they want to hear to avoid shame, to avoid the loss of reputation and to kick the can down the road or hope that circumstances on the ground change favorably in the face of denial or equivocation.

Tech for good during COVID-19: Children’s book, phone booths, and aperitifs

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Helena Price Hambrecht and Woody Hambrecht always had plans for Haus, their direct-to-consumer low-alcoholic drink, to land white-label partnerships with local restaurants. But when coronavirus spread across the country and hurt thousands of local restaurants, the Haus founders saw an opportunity to fast forward on that product plan and at the same time give back.

Haus recently announced its plans to work with restaurants across the country and co-create local digs-inspired apéritifs. For Mister Jiu’s, an upscale Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, the beverage will mix “warm black cardamom, smoky lapsang tea, spicy ginger, and floral osmanthus.” For JuneBaby, a southern fare restaurant in Seattle, the drink will have hints of elderflower and oranges. The entire profit will go to the restaurants themselves, Helena tells me. And Haus has already begun cutting five-figure checks to restaurants just from pre-orders of these Haus-powered beverages alone.

On this refreshing note, let’s get into other ways venture-backed startups are using their presence to help others struggling during this time.

1. A phone booth for COVID-19 tests. Room, which manufactures privacy-focused office phone booths, hasn’t had much of a customer base lately as COVID-19 limits people from going into the office. The company has pivoted its resources to deploy a new product: coronavirus test booths for use in hospitals. The booths allow healthcare professionals to conduct tests with a protective barrier. It has already donated the first group of test booths to hospitals around the world, and it has made the design files for the booths available for free download to encourage others to manufacture locally.

2.Mission critical deliveries for free. Onfleet is offering its delivery software free of charge for companies and organizations that have mobilized to do community building deliveries. The startup is notably focused on critical deliveries and institutions that have had to change to delivery operations overnight. It’s working with partners like SF-Marin Foodbank, The NYC Dept for the Aging, various farmers markets around the country and other PPE delivery organizations that have recently organized.

3. Code from home. Fullstack Academy, an online coding and career development bootcamp, is offering a bootcamp prep course for free for two upcoming cohorts. The course, which will be run remotely, will cover specific coding and JavaScript concepts.

4. A daily assessment as a civic duty. A small team at Stanford Medicine created a National Daily Health Survey to help identify the prevalence of symptoms associated with COVID-19 in different ZIP codes across the United States. This survey is aimed at individuals who want to do a small part every day to help predict surges and inform response efforts. The survey takes 2-3 minutes to complete the first day, and 1 minute to complete in the days after that. It is currently being translated into five languages for broader usage. The team says that it’s looking for people who will make a long-term commitment for the survey.

5. World Without COVID. Clara Health, along with tech folks like Raj Kapoor of Lyft and Vijay Chattha of VSC, are launching a free website to track the public health status of the sick and healthy alike. The site wants to draw COVID-19 treatment data for public health professionals, as well as connect people to clinical trials. The team says that it will also track immunity status to help surface individuals that can volunteer in healthcare efforts in the future.

6. Twilio -powered hotline. WhileAtHome.org is a website spun up by volunteers to provide resources on education, healthcare tips and concerts. Recently, the team launched a Twilio-powered hotline so people can be connected to local state hotlines. If you dial 478-29COVID, Twilio will automatically route you to the hotline that is in your state.

Hiring efforts for laid-off make-up artists. Il Makiage is hiring makeup artists who were recently laid off due to COVID-19 related reasons for virtual one-on-one makeup tutorials. The direct-to-consumer beauty brand is paying make-up artists $25 an hour.

7. A charitable Chrome extension. 4thwall wants to take all the TV binge-watching and put it toward a social good. First, users can sign up for a 4th wall Chrome extension. Then, once they activate the extension, they can stream Netflix or Hulu. After 250 minutes of streaming, a relief cause is unlocked and users can pick which COVID-19 specific charity they want to support. 4thwall will make a donation at no cost to the user. Per the website, the cost-free donations are possible because the company will send the viewer demographic metrics, anonymized, to other companies to see viewing trends and create content accordingly.  One of the creators, Andrew Schneider, says that the community has already raised $1,500 in the first two weeks, and the goal is to raise $40K in the next 10 weeks.

8. Bridal brand gives back. Online bridal brand Anomalie is delivering CDC-certified face masks to hospitals to help front-line healthcare workers. The company is using its supply chain and manufacturing relationships in China to make masks, instead of wedding dresses. The first two shipments of over 10,000 masks have been delivered and received.

9. Bedtime storytelling just got a glow up. Yumi, a science-based childhood meal delivery startup, has created a free children’s book to explain COVID-19 to your little ones. It is available for download, and Snoop Dogg tweeted about it.

Let's see 'em 🌈rainbow: Learn about my lil' homie Amos in "Rainbows in Windows," a free book by my friends at @Yumi, to talk to kids about #COVID19. Get it here: https://t.co/eqjC5hqPQu #RainbowsinWindows @MarthaStewart @TheEllenShow pic.twitter.com/AgMkax5isF

Snoop Dogg (@SnoopDogg) April 17, 2020

Curative received FDA emergency use authorization for its novel COVID-19 tests

By Jonathan Shieber

The diagnostics startup Curative has received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its novel test to determine COVID-19 infection.

The company says that its tests have already been used by the City of Los Angeles since late March and have tested over 53,000 city residents.

Curative’s tests use an oral-fluid sample collected by having the subject cough to produce sputum, which release the virus from deep in the lungs, according to a spokesperson.

Here’s how the letter digitally signed by the FDA’s chief science officer, Denise Hinton, describes the Rucative test:

To use your product, SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid is first extracted, isolated and purified from oropharyngeal (throat) swab, nasopharyngeal swab, nasal swab, and oral fluid specimens. The purified nucleic acid is then reverse transcribed into cDNA followed by PCR amplification and detection using an authorized real-time (RT) PCR instrument. The Curative-Korva SARS-Cov-2 Assay uses all commercially sourced materials or other authorized materials and authorized ancillary reagents commonly used in clinical laboratories as described in the authorized procedures submitted as part of the EUA request. 

Curative, which was first covered by DotLA, is processing the tests in conjunction with Korva Labs, a testing facility associated with UCLA.

These tests hope to get around the supply chain shortages that constrain the number of tests the US can conduct. Currently, the US is still experiencing a shortage of test kits because the supply chain for critical components used in test kits has been disrupted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the company said.

Curative is working to build alternatives to many of the sample collection and extraction kit components and what it calls more scalable RNA extraction methods that don’t rely on the use of magnetic silica beads.

The company was initially founded in January 2020 to focus on a novel test for sepsis, but pivoted to focus on COVID-19 testing as the disease swept across the globe.

“Our goal is to assemble an orthogonal supply chain to supply coronavirus test kits. Doing so will help us avoid buying materials that would constrain public health and CDC laboratories from ramping up production,” the company said on its website. “We are also working to partner with other operations looking to spin up testing facilities to help them source necessary reagents.”

Curative says that its test is better for two reasons. Its sampling method reduces the risk of exposure for healthcare workers and requires less Personal Protective Equipment and its use of an alternative supply chain means it can scale tests rapidly.

The company can already process roughly 5,000 tests per day and is manufacturing 20,000 test kits over the same period. Test results can be delivered in around 31 hours.

“Broad access to testing is critical to our nation’s response to COVID-19 and with this authorization, we can continue scaling and distributing our test nationwide,” said Fred Turner, the chief executive and founder of Curative Inc. “Our work with the Cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach has helped thousands of people access testing at drive-through facilities and we are fully equipped to expand that access to help thousands more across the country. At the same time, we are continuing to work with the FDA to validate our test for at-home collection, which would expand access even more.”

With the new authorization, the company is going to begin working with additional distributors around the country.

The Curative tests are already used by Los Angeles, Long Beach and through testing organized by LA County and the LA County Fire and Sherrif’s Department. The tests aren’t being sold directly to consumers and must be ordered by a physician, the company said.

Backed by the venture firm DCVC, Curative has already been the subject of some controversy when its investor sent a letter to limited partners indicating they’d be able to get access to the Curative tests upon request.

The firm wrote:

“… please let us know as soon as possible if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are unable to get tested. Through a unique relationship with one of our portfolio companies, we will expedite delivery of a test kit (simple, fast, safe saliva/cheek swab) that should provide results within 1-3 days via return by mail.”

In a subsequent blog post, the partners at DCVC explained their outreach.

With changes in regulations enabling telemedicine across state lines, we wanted to make sure everyone DCVC knows was aware of Carbon’s excellent care and full suite of testing. And yes, that includes people who work at our Limited Partners, who are making difficult decisions for themselves and their families in difficult times like the rest of us.

With Carbon moving at the pace they do with their fast, friendly electronic on-boarding, and with Curative’s testing capability likely ramping to 10,000+ tests a day in the next ten days, the combined health care firepower can indeed “expedite” care for everybody.

Was our language a little boastful? Yes, no excuses. And we’re sorry if folks got the wrong idea. No one is “jumping in line.” We will always strive to point out to our friends and community where they can get quick access to quality care as well as access to other cutting-edge technology in our portfolio.

Accurate testing remains the most important feature of any effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and a number of startup companies are working on novel diagnostics.

As Harvard University epidemiologist, William Hanage told Business Insider, “Figuring out what’s actually going on in the community is the key part of dealing with this pandemic.”

Ford partners with Thermo Fisher on COVID-19 test kits, expands production to face masks, gowns

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford has expanded its plan to make critical medical equipment and supplies, including a new effort to make reusable gowns from airbag materials as well as a partnership with scientific instrument provider Thermo Fisher Scientific to ramp up production of COVID-19 collection kits to test for the virus.

This broader plan highlights the latest effort by automakers and medical device manufacturers to help ease a shortage of equipment and supplies such as face shields, face masks, protective gowns and ventilators, a medical device that is used in the treatment of COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus.

Ford announced in March a partnership with 3M to build Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) as well as a separate effort to produce more than 3 million face shields at its factory in Plymouth, Mich.

On Monday, Ford provided an update on its 3M partnership and laid out new plans to produce other medical equipment. Ford will start Tuesday producing PAPRs — respirators used by healthcare workers that filter out contaminants in the air — at its Vreeland facility near Flat Rock, Mich. Paid United Auto Worker volunteers will be working to assemble the PAPR devices. Ford said it expects to be able to make 100,000 PAPR devices.

Ford to make Powered Air-Purifying Respirator

Ford will start producing an all-new PAPR design to help protect health care professionals on the front lines fighting COVID-19.

“I think our immediate focus is on the surge need that is really at the end of April, May and June, so we’re focusing on that timeframe,” Jim Baumbick, vice president of Ford Enterprise Product Line Management said during a call with reporters Monday. “What I can also say is we have very clear signals working with our partners that three on that the demand is far outpacing the supply of this critical equipment. We know that there’s incredible demand, and need for this during this short time horizon.”

Ford engineers have also been working to increase the output of PAPRs and N95 respirators at 3M’s U.S.-based manufacturing facilities. 3M has doubled its N95 production to more than 1.1 billion annually and has plans to double that again in the next 12 months, according to Mike Kesti, the global technical director of the personal safety division at 3M.

In addition to its previously announced plans to make face shields, Ford outlined three additional efforts, including face mask and gown production as well as the partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific.

The company has started to produce face masks for its own workers to use throughout its global operations. The face masks, which are being made at Ford’s Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., were developed in collaboration with the UAW and are being made for internal use to lessen the burden on an already squeezed supply chain. Ford said it is looking to have the masks certified for medical use.

Ford has also tapped supplier Joyson Safety Systems to make reusable gowns from airbag material. The automaker worked with a local hospital in Michigan to develop a pattern for the gowns. The airbag material used for the gown is nylon based and has built in coating.

“This is really a great find that we could take something that we already knew how to produce and then turn that into isolation gowns, and they are washable,” said Marcy Fisher, Ford director of global body exterior and interior engineering.

Ford-supplier Joyson Safety Systems will cut and sew 1.3 million gowns by July 4. The gowns are self-tested to federal standards and are washable up to 50 times, according to Ford.

Finally, the company said it will help Thermo Fisher Scientific expand production of COVID-19 collection kits. Ford engineers at its Kansas City Assembly Plant are helping set up additional collection kit production machinery. These engineers are also helping Thermo Fisher adapt machinery that currently runs glass vials for other products to run plastic vials required in drive-through coronavirus test collection.

Free tool helps manufacturers map where COVID-19 impacts supply chain

By Ron Miller

Assent Compliance, a company that helps large manufacturers like GE and Rolls Royce manage complex supply chains through an online data exchange, announced a new tool this week that lets any company, whether they’re a customer or not, upload bills of materials and see on a map where COVID-19 is having an impact on their supply chain.

Company co-founder Matt Whitteker, says the Ottawa startup focuses on supply chain data management, which means it has the data and the tooling to develop a data-driven supply chain map based on WHO data identifying COVID hotspots. He believes that his is the only company to have done this.

“We’re the only ones that have taken supply chain data and applied it to this particular pandemic. And it’s something that’s really native to our platform. We have all that data on hand — we have location data for suppliers. So it’s just a matter of applying that with third-party data sources (like the WHO data), and then extracting valuable business intelligence from it,” he said.

If you want to participate, you simply go to the company website and fill out a form. A customer success employee will contact you and walk you through the process of uploading your data to the platform. Once they have your data, they generate a map showing the parts of the world where your supply chain is most likely to be disrupted, identifying the level of risk based on your individual data.

The company captures supply chain data as part of the act of doing business with 1,000 customers and 500,000 suppliers currently on their platform. “When companies are manufacturing products they have what’s called a bill of materials, kind of like a recipe. And companies upload their bill of materials that basically outlines all their parts, components and commodities, and who they get them from, which basically represents their supply chain,” Whitteker explained.

After the company uploads the bill of materials, Assent opens a portal for the companies to exchange data, which might be tax forms, proof of sourcing or any kind of information and documentation the manufacturer needs to comply with legal and regulatory rules around procurement of a given part.

They decided to start building the COVID-19 map application when they recognized that this was going to have the biggest supply chain disruption the world has seen since World War II. It took about a month to build it. It went into beta last week with customers and over 350 signed up in the first two hours. This week, they made the tool generally available to anyone, even non-customers, for free.

The company was founded in 2016 and has raised $220 million, according to Whitteker.

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