Connect with us

This article is from The Spark, MIT Technology Review’s weekly climate newsletter. To receive it in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here

Some people track sports scores or their favorite artists’ tour set lists. Meanwhile, I’m just waiting to hear which climate tech startups are getting big funding awards from government agencies. It’s basically the same thing.

Every few years, the US agency that’s often called the “energy moonshot factory” announces such awards for a few companies to help them scale up their technology. (The agency’s official name is the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, or ARPA-E.) The grants are designed to help companies take their tech from the lab or pilot stage and get it out into the world.

The latest batch of these awards was just announced, totaling over $63 million split between four companies. Let’s dig into the winners and consider what each one’s technology says about their respective corners of climate action. 

Antora Energy: Heat batteries for industry

Let’s start with the company you’re most likely to know if you follow this newsletter: Antora Energy. The California-based company is building thermal batteries for use in heavy industry. I covered the company and its first pilot project last year, and thermal batteries were the readers’ choice winner on our list of Breakthrough Technologies this year. 

In case you need a quick refresher, the basic idea behind Antora’s technology is to store energy from cheap, clean wind and solar power in the form of heat, and then use that heat in industrial facilities. It’s an elegant solution to the problem that renewables are available only sometimes, while industry needs clean energy all the time if it wants to cut its carbon emissions, which amount to a whopping 30% of the global total.

Antora was awarded $14.5 million to scale its technology. One thing the company hopes to achieve with the cash influx is progress on its second product, which delivers not only heat but also electricity.

Queens Carbon: Lower-emissions cement

Cement is a climate villain hiding in plain sight, as I’ve covered in this newsletter before. Producing the gray slabs that scaffold our world accounts for about 7% of global emissions. 

The challenge in cleaning up the process lies, at least in part, in the fact that lava-hot temperatures are required to kick off the chemical reactions that make cement—I’m talking over 1,500 °C (2,700 °F).

Queens Carbon developed a new process that cuts down the temperature needed to under 540 °C (1,000 °F). Still toasty, but easier to reach efficiently and with electricity, the company’s CEO, CTO, and cofounder Daniel Kopp said on a press call about the awards. Ideally, that electricity will be supplied with renewables, which could mean big emissions savings.

Queens Carbon will also pocket $14.5 million, and the funding should help with the construction of a pilot plant currently being built in partnership with a major cement producer, Kopp said on the press call. The company plans to scale up to a full-size plant in late 2028 or 2029.

Ion Storage Systems: Next-generation batteries for EVs

The world is always clamoring for better batteries, and Maryland-based Ion Storage Systems wants to deliver with its solid-state lithium-metal technology.

We named lithium-metal batteries one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies in 2021. The chemistry could deliver higher energy density, meaning longer range in EVs. 

Ion Storage Systems is planning to produce its batteries first for military customers. With the funding ($20 million worth), the company may be able to get its tech ready for larger-scale production for the wider customer base of the electric-vehicle market.

I was really interested to hear about the emphasis on manufacturing from CTO Greg Hitz on the press call, as scaling up manufacturing has been a major challenge for other companies trying to build solid-state batteries. Hitz also said that the company’s batteries don’t need to be squeezed at high pressure within cells or heated up, and they can be more simply integrated into battery packs.

AeroShield Materials: High-tech insulation for more efficient buildings

Last but certainly not least is AeroShield Materials. Between 30% and 40% of energy we put into our buildings for heat and cooling is lost through windows and doors—that’s about $40 billion per year for residential buildings, said Elise Strobach, the company’s CEO and cofounder, on the press call.

AeroShield is making materials called aerogels that are clear, lightweight, and fire resistant. They can help make windows 65% more energy efficient, Strobach says.

Insulation isn’t always the most exciting topic, but efficiency is one of the best ways to cut down the need for more energy and

Read More

————

By: Casey Crownhart
Title: These climate tech companies just got $60 million
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/06/27/1094340/climate-tech-funding/
Published Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2024 10:00:00 +0000

Continue Reading

Tech

Unlocking secure, private AI with confidential computing

All of a sudden, it seems that AI is everywhere, from executive assistant chatbots to AI code assistants.

But despite the proliferation of AI in the zeitgeist, many organizations are proceeding with caution. This is due to the perception of the security quagmires AI presents. For the emerging technology to reach its full potential, data must be secured through every stage of the AI lifecycle including model training, fine-tuning, and inferencing.

This is where confidential computing comes into play. Vikas Bhatia, head of product for Azure Confidential Computing at Microsoft, explains the significance of this architectural innovation: “AI is being used to provide solutions for a lot of highly sensitive data, whether that’s personal data, company data, or multiparty data,” he says. “Confidential computing is an emerging technology that protects that data when it is in memory and in use. We see a future where model creators who need to protect their IP will leverage confidential computing to safeguard their models and to protect their customer data.”

Understanding confidential computing

“The tech industry has done a great job in ensuring that data stays protected at rest and in transit using encryption,” Bhatia says. “Bad actors can steal a laptop and remove its hard drive but won’t be able to get anything out of it if the data is encrypted by security features like BitLocker. Similarly, nobody can run away with data in the cloud. And data in transit is secure thanks to HTTPS and TLS, which have long been industry standards.”

But data in use, when data is in memory and being operated upon, has typically been harder to secure. Confidential computing addresses this critical gap—what Bhatia calls the “missing third leg of the three-legged data protection stool”—via a hardware-based root of trust.

Essentially, confidential computing ensures the only thing customers need to trust is the data running inside of a trusted execution environment (TEE) and the underlying hardware. “The concept of a TEE is basically an enclave, or I like to use the word ‘box.’ Everything inside that box is trusted, anything outside it is not,” explains Bhatia.

Until recently, confidential computing only worked on central processing units (CPUs). However, NVIDIA has recently brought confidential computing capabilities to the H100 Tensor Core GPU and Microsoft has made this technology available in Azure. This has the potential to protect the entire confidential AI lifecycle—including model weights, training data, and inference workloads.

“Historically, devices such as GPUs were controlled by the host operating system, which, in turn, was controlled by the cloud service provider,” notes Krishnaprasad Hande, Technical Program Manager at Microsoft. “So, in order to meet confidential computing requirements, we needed technological improvements to reduce trust in the host operating system, i.e., its ability to observe or tamper with application workloads when the GPU is assigned to a confidential virtual machine, while retaining sufficient control to monitor and manage the device. NVIDIA and Microsoft have worked together to achieve this.”

Attestation mechanisms are another key component of confidential computing. Attestation allows users to verify the integrity and authenticity of the TEE, and the user code within it, ensuring the environment hasn’t been tampered with. “Customers can validate that trust by running an attestation report themselves against the CPU and the GPU to validate the state of their environment,” says Bhatia.

Additionally, secure key management systems play a critical role in confidential computing ecosystems. “We’ve extended our Azure Key Vault with Managed HSM service which runs inside a TEE,” says Bhatia. “The keys get securely released inside that TEE such that the data can be decrypted.”

Confidential computing use cases and benefits

GPU-accelerated confidential computing has far-reaching implications for AI in enterprise contexts. It also addresses privacy issues that apply to any analysis of sensitive data in the public cloud. This is of particular concern to organizations trying to gain insights from multiparty data while maintaining utmost privacy.

Another of the key advantages of Microsoft’s confidential computing offering is that it requires no code changes on the part of the customer, facilitating seamless adoption. “The confidential computing environment we’re building does not require customers to change a single line of code,” notes Bhatia. “They can redeploy from a non-confidential environment to a confidential environment. It’s as simple as choosing a particular VM size that supports confidential computing capabilities.”

Some industries and use cases that stand to benefit from confidential computing advancements include:

Governments and sovereign entities

Read More

————

By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Unlocking secure, private AI with confidential computing
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/12/1094838/unlocking-secure-private-ai-with-confidential-computing/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2024 19:25:58 +0000

Did you miss our previous article…
https://mansbrand.com/the-download-robot-packed-meals-and-the-looming-fertility-crisis/

Continue Reading

Tech

The Download: robot-packed meals, and the looming fertility crisis

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Robot-packed meals are coming to the frozen-food aisle

What’s happening: Advances in artificial intelligence are coming to your freezer, in the form of robot-assembled prepared meals. Chef Robotics, a San Francisco-based startup, has launched a system of AI-powered robotic arms that can be quickly programmed with a recipe to dole out accurate portions of everything from tikka masala to pesto tortellini.

Why it matters: You might think the meals that end up in the grocery store’s frozen aisle or on airplanes are robot-packed already, but that’s rarely the case. The vast majority of meals from recognizable brands are still typically hand-packed, because workers are often much more flexible than robots and can handle production lines that frequently rotate recipes. However, advancements from AI have changed the calculus, making robots more useful on production lines. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

IVF alone can’t save us from a looming fertility crisis

There are over 8 billion of us on the planet, and there’ll probably be 8.5 billion of us by 2030. We’re continually warned about the perils of overpopulation and the impact we humans are having on our planet. So it seems a bit counterintuitive to worry that, actually, we’re not reproducing enough.

But plenty of scientists are incredibly worried about just that. Improvements in health care and sanitation are helping us all lead longer lives. But we’re not having enough children to support us as we age. Fertility rates are falling in almost every country.

But wait! We have technologies to solve this problem! IVF is helping to bring more children into the world than ever, and it can help compensate for the fertility problems faced by older parents! Unfortunately, things aren’t quite so simple. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on biotech and healthcare. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Here’s how Elon Musk plans to colonize Mars
Over the past year, he’s ramped up his ambitions to build a Martian city. (NYT $)
Musk has denied that he’s volunteered his sperm to help out, though. (CoinTelegraph)
Inside NASA’s bid to make spacecraft as small as possible. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Is Russia waging war under the sea? 
The disappearance of a subsea cable has raised some serious questions. (Bloomberg $)

3 Kamala Harris conspiracy theories are running rampant online
If Joe Biden drops out of the Presidential race, she’s most likely to replace him. (Wired $)
Three technology trends shaping 2024’s elections. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Apple is still struggling to find the Vision Pro’s killer app
Ahead of the device going on sale in Europe today. (FT $)
Apple will need to convince developers to build apps for its headset. (MIT Technology Review)

5 These scientists doubt that you’ll live to 100
They contend you’re more likely to reach somewhere between 65 and 90 instead. (WSJ $)
The quest to legitimize longevity medicine. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Google Cloud was briefly listed as a Israeli military tech conference sponsor
Before its logo was rapidly removed. (404 Media)

7 Those New York Link5G towers don’t have 5G after all
Regardless, another 2,000 towers are scheduled for installation. (NY Mag $)

8 How AI is overhauling ultrasound scans in Africa
Benefiting the women who are most in need. (The Guardian)

9 Northeast Indian YouTubers are challenging culinary stereotypes 
They’re lifting the veil on their unique food culture. (Rest of World)

10 There’s a better way to hold your phone
And you’re probably doing it wrong. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“I don’t have any idea if it’s working or not working. I just know this is what I feel like I should be doing.”

— Ruth Quint, the webmaster of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh website, explains why she creates disinformation-bunking resources to the New York Times. 

The big story

One city’s fight to solve its sewage problem with sensors

AD 4nXeOM51W2aCQAD i c1nbjeR6ak 7fmhvx6efLulvDvSSDHXZ3 osMZ1IhVNmieBHyfHeZlcAMOJ AzHolsGW7HI3 giFObeieEcw b5IlvDTQe1h1 iolQ4lHbjA 0LYkMIJBASA8bIrY Ge9GZ42nWCTTg?key= ab8rDmppppPtD9 zog 1A

April 2021

In the city of South Bend, Indiana, wastewater from people’s kitchens, sinks, washing machines, and toilets flows through 35 neighborhood

Read More

————

By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: robot-packed meals, and the looming fertility crisis
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/12/1094889/the-download-robot-packed-meals-and-the-looming-fertility-crisis/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2024 12:10:00 +0000

Continue Reading

Tech

The Download: automating warehouse tasks, and problems with recycling plastics

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

AI is poised to automate today’s most mundane manual warehouse task

Before almost any item reaches your door, it traverses the global supply chain on a pallet. More than 2 billion pallets are in circulation in the United States alone, and $400 billion worth of goods are exported on them annually.

However, loading boxes onto these pallets is a task stuck in the past: Heavy loads and repetitive movements leave workers at high risk of injury, and in the rare instances when robots are used, they take months to program using handheld computers that have changed little since the 1980s.

Jacobi Robotics, a startup spun out of the labs of the University of California, Berkeley, says it can vastly speed up that process with AI. If successful, Jacobi aims to replace the legacy methods customers are currently using to train their bots, whittling down the time it takes to code a paletting process from months to a single day. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

Here’s the problem with new plastic recycling methods

Look on the bottom of a plastic water bottle or takeout container, and you might find a logo there made up of three arrows forming a closed loop shaped like a triangle. Sometimes called the chasing arrows, this stamp is used on packaging to suggest it’s recyclable.

Those little arrows imply a nice story, painting a picture of a world where the material will be recycled into a new product, forming an endless loop of reuse. But the reality of plastics recycling today doesn’t match up to that idea. Only about 10% of the plastic ever made has been recycled; the vast majority winds up in landfills or in the environment.

Researchers have been working to address the problem by coming up with new recycling methods, sometimes called advanced, or chemical, recycling. But this new approach shares a few challenges with other recycling methods. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on energy and climate technology. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Neuralink’s second brain implant is imminent
It hopes to have multiple devices implanted in human patients by the end of the year. (Bloomberg $)
Elon Musk confirmed that the company is working on a next-gen implant, too. (Wired $)
Meet the other companies developing brain-computer interfaces. (MIT Technology Review)

2 NASA’s astronauts were supposed to return to Earth weeks ago
But they’re stuck on the ISS until engineers are confident they’re safe to fly back. (Ars Technica)
Inside NASA’s bid to make spacecraft as small as possible. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Tesla’s cars’ ‘full self-driving’ capabilities are under investigation
It all hinges on whether the term implies the vehicles are autonomous. (WP $)
EV startup Rivian is snapping at Tesla’s heels. (Bloomberg $)
The Chinese government is going all-in on autonomous vehicles. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The US government is investing less in national security startups 
Compared to the vast amounts venture capitalists are pouring into the ventures. (WSJ $)

5 Apple has agreed to give its rivals access to its payments tech system
The move meets EU demands, and neatly swerves a hefty $40bn penalty. (FT $)
But Apple isn’t out of the woods quite yet. (Bloomberg $)

6 Starlink’s portable Mini dish has gone on sale
The internet-from-space kit is small enough to fit in a backpack. (The Verge)

7 Brace yourself for the rise of neurocosmetics
They’re products for your dermis and, err, your brain. (The Atlantic $)

8 Creators are turning hateful comments into content
It’s certainly one way of not letting the negativity get to you. (NYT $)

9 How Spotify turned itself into a social network
Its adoption of polls, Q&As, and comments suggests it has big ambitions. (TechCrunch)

10 It’s not just you—TikTok Shop really is annoying
Let me scroll in peace! (Vox)

Quote of the day

“No industry can thrive without regulation in the long run. It’s mayhem.”

—An AI startup founder tells the Financial Times that Biden and Trump’s lack of plans to govern the rapidly-evolving technology is sparking deep concern in Silicon Valley.

The big story

This grim but revolutionary DNA technology is changing how we respond to mass disasters

Read More

————

By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: automating warehouse tasks, and problems with recycling plastics
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/11/1094856/the-download-automating-warehouse-tasks-and-problems-with-recycling-plastics/
Published Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2024 13:10:00 +0000

Continue Reading

Trending