Seattle Week in Review: The A.I. Driver/Psychiatrist Will See You Now

Xconomy Seattle — 

If the TV show Frasier, which aired from 1993 to 2004, were rebooted and set in Seattle of, say, 2037, Dr. Frasier Crane would be an artificial intelligence avatar that would pick you up in a driverless, all-electric luxury sedan, and, after confirming your destination, inform you in an approximation of Kelsey Grammer’s dulcet tone: “I’m listening.” The reboot would be called FrAIser, of course.

That’s one potential future suggested by this week’s mobility-as-a-service news flurry. We’ll explore why below, and review other Seattle-area tech developments including: partnerships for Kymeta and Cray; expansions for Crowd Cow and Coding Dojo; the University of Washington’s 2016 patent performance; and a look ahead to events next week including Tech Inclusion Seattle and Xconomy’s own What’s Hot in Cancer Immunotherapy 2017 conference.

Washington state added its square to the emerging patchwork quilt of state-level regulations encouraging development of the autonomous vehicles industry this week. Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order authorizing pilot programs, among other things, for self-driving cars on state roads.

Our coverage included Intel’s new market forecast of a $7 trillion autonomous transportation industry by 2050. That represents not just the consumer and business shift from vehicle ownership to a model of mobility as a service, but also new services. You won’t just order a Lyft, you’ll order a lift with onboard fast-casual dining options, short films tailored to the length of your ride, and perhaps a quick A.I.-mediated mental-health screening. Some of this is already happening, as a tweet from Textio CEO Kieran Snyder illustrates.

Of course, taxi drivers have been dispensing on-the-go advice forever. Maybe all this time they should have been marketing it as a modern value-added mobility service.

—And the mobility service business is only getting more competitive. ReachNow—which rents BMW vehicles on-demand in Seattle; Portland, OR; and Brooklyn, NY—has launched a beta version of its ReachNow Ride service in parts of Seattle, using some of the same vehicles it rents.

A competitor to on-demand transportation providers such as Lyft and Uber, ReachNow touts VIP features such as premium vehicles, advanced scheduling, controls over the vehicles entertainment and climate systems, and a “Do Not Disturb” button—in case you don’t want any advice from your driver.

The company offers fixed pricing—as compared to the supply-and-demand driven “surge” pricing of its competitors—but, as the premium pitch suggests, it’s not exactly cheap transportation. Passengers are charged 30 cents a minute and $1.80 a mile, plus a base fare of $1, and taxes and fees.

—Washington is looking beyond just autonomous cars. In his executive order, Inslee tasked an interagency work group with developing policies to explore autonomy in a number of other modes of transportation, including aviation.

Boeing (NYSE: BA), naturally, is on it. The company is researching pilotless commercial passenger jets, reports The Seattle Times’ Dominic Gates. Of course, the term autopilot has pilot in it for a reason. Computers take the controls during the cruising phase of many long flights, and even auto-land in certain circumstances. A looming pilot shortage and the maturation of A.I. and automation technologies provide the impetus to explore a move from autopilot to pilotless, but the Boeing executive in charge said that autonomous jets will happen only “if we can do that with the same level of safety,” adding, “That’s a really big if.”

Inslee signed the executive order at the headquarters of Echodyne, a company making metamaterials radar systems for autonomous vehicles including cars and drones.

—Speaking of Echodyne, its metamaterials sister company, Kymeta, announced a major distribution partnership with e3 Systems, a Spanish company, focusing on the yacht market. Redmond, WA-based Kymeta—like Echodyne, a spinout from Intellectual Ventures, backed handsomely by investors including Bill Gates—makes flat-panel satellite antennas to provide global connectivity to vehicles.

—Seattle-based supercomputer maker Cray (NASDAQ: CRAY) signed a sales, marketing, and development deal with Virginia-based technology services provider Leidos (NYSE: LDOS) aimed at security-conscious customers in government and industry. The deal focuses on Cray CS supercomputers and multi-level security features that can allow teams with different levels of security clearance to use the same systems while limiting access to data, the companies said in a news release.

Crowd Cow, the Seattle-based startup selling beef portions from sustainably raised animals, expanded its market to the entire U.S. It opened a distribution facility in Lancaster, PA, to ship to customers on the East Coast.

Coding Dojo, the Bellevue, WA-based coding school, will open its seventh location, in Tulsa, OK, with support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation. “Tulsa is a unique city as the shortage of skilled tech workers is large in comparison to the market,” Michael Choi, Coding Dojo’s founder and CEO, said in a news release.

—Datapoints: The University of Washington ranked 22nd on the 2016 list of universities worldwide granted U.S. utility patents with 83. The UW’s partner in the Global Innovation Exchange, scheduled to formally open its doors in Bellevue later this year, is Tsinghua University (sometimes referred to as the M.I.T. of China) which ranked fifth on the list, with 181, the highest position for a non-U.S. university.

As we’ve reported, the Global Innovation Exchange, an innovation and entrepreneurship-focused international graduate program, is pursuing some novel intellectual property arrangements.

Meanwhile, the M.I.T. of the U.S.—M.I.T.—ranked second with 278. The National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association compiled the list (PDF).

We profiled BridgeCare Finance, a fintech startup taking a novel approach to a challenge for middle-income families that has direct impacts on women’s participation in the work force: paying for childcare. The company is setting up to make unsecured loans to families to help them through the pre-school years, when average annual childcare costs can match or exceed college tuition.

BridgeCare is also one of the startups scheduled to pitch Wednesday afternoon at Tech Inclusion Seattle, produced by Change Catalyst, Galvanize (which is hosting the conference at its Pioneer Square location), Include Seattle, and Tech Inclusion.

—Also coming up on Wednesday, Xconomy’s What’s Hot in Cancer Immunotherapy 2017 event here in Seattle. The lineup for this event is, once again, fantastic, assembled by Xconomy’s national biotechnology editor Alex Lash, who introduced his weekly news roundup with this: “The biomedical world was like a postprandial python this week.”

Speakers include Juno Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JUNO) CEO Hans Bishop, and other luminaries from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—where the event takes place, beginning at 1:30 p.m.—Eli Lilly, Oregon Health and Science University, the Institute for Systems Biology, University of Washington, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Alpine Immune Sciences, and many more. Here’s the full agenda and registration page.

Photo credit: Downtown Seattle by Flickr user Tiffany Von Arnim, cropped, modified, and used under a Creative Commons License