As an undergraduate at UC San Diego, Steve McCloskey bought an Oculus virtual reality headset in part because he liked video games, but also because of virtual realitys potential uses in his major, nano-engineering.
Today, McCloskey and four other fellow UCSD alumni have founded Nanome, a start-up that pairs off-the-shelf virtual reality gear with computer modeling software to help pharmaceutical companies design new drugs.
Nanome is an example of the start-ups percolating at the regions universities and research institutes such as UC San Diego, San Diego State, University of San Diego and schools across the border in Baja California.
Many of these budding entrepreneurs came to UCSD campus Wednesday to meet with mentors, venture capitalists and start-up experts at the first Ignite Conference, sponsored by UCSDs Office of Innovation and Commercialization.About 1,700 people registered to attend the event, which included more than 50 speakers, 30 company demos, three pitch competitions and $10,000 prize money, said Briana Weisinger, UCSDs startup advocate.
Nanome was among the young companies demonstrating products at Ignite. The bootstrapped firm has one large pharmaceutical customer so far, which McCloskey declined to name.The customer is using Nanomes virtual reality system in computer models as part of the drug discovery process.
We are making tools right now for drug designers at the small molecule level to actually be able to bind chemicals with proteins in virtual reality, said Keita Funakawa, a co-founder of Nanome. One of our customers said previously it was like looking at this 3-D image through a window but never being able to actually reach through the window. This is like reaching across the window and using your hands to design it.
While drug developers are the first target market, other industries also could use virtual reality in product design, said McCloskey, who graduated in 2015. Semiconductors makers, for example, pack transistors onto silicon down to 10 nanometers, which is thousands of times smaller than a human hair.
I am a nano-engineer, so how can I get hands on and actually design stuff? said McCloskey. Use virtual reality to do it.Pharmaceuticals is our first vertical. Well be expanding into semiconductors and other nano-spaces later.
Crowd-sourcing has become popular in the Web 2.0 era, and Smartfin has developed a novel way to tap the surfing community to crowd-source ocean data.
More of a project than a going concern at this point, Smartfin has built research-grade temperature sensors inside a surfboard fin. The device collects GPS-based temperatures to help determine ocean health in the surf zone.
To retrieve the data, surfers clip a chargerto the fin. That triggers the device to download the information to a smartphone app. It also uploads the data to Smartfins cloud computers.
The scientific community, they need the data, said Jon Richard, director of manufacturing for Smartfin. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spends large amounts of money administering all these buoys to collect data. This will collect a lot of what the buoys collect but on a relatively inexpensive surfboard fin.
Smartfin is a nonprofit collaboration between the Surfrider Foundation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Lost Bird Project, which installs bronze statues of extinct North American birds in the last place where they were seen.
Beyond temperature, Smartfin also is working on sensors to measure acidity and salinity. It aims to distribute the $200 fins through Surfrider Foundation chapters, which would rent them to members for a small fee.
Surfers care about ocean condition and reef conditions because some of the top surf breaks in the world are over coral reefs, said Richard. Temperature is huge for coral. A temperature change of 2 degrees in water can kill coral.
Measuring ocean conditions beyond the surf zone is the aim of Del Mar Oceanographics WireWalker, a wave-powered gadget that travels up and down a buoy line to allow sensors to take readings at various depths.
Its the brainchild of Rob Pinkel, a professor emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.It was built over more than 15 years with funding from the Office of Naval Research and National Science Foundation. It spun out of Scripps in 2015.
The WireWalker costs about $37,000. Ittypically will be loaded with sensors and equipment costing three times that amount, said Pinkel. It can be deployed many times with different sensor arrays. Becauseit is waved powered, it can stay in the ocean for as long as the sensor batteries last.
About 30 are deployed in the ocean today, including in the La Jolla Canyon off of San Diego and in the South China Sea, said Pinkel.
The Orange County sanitation district is using it, and the city of Los Angeles actually owns several of them, which they are using to monitor pollution in sewage outflows, said Pinkel. Regulated areas such as marine protected areas use them. They are all over the place.
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