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Recycling robotics company AMP Robotics could raise up to $70M

AMP Robotics, the recycling robotics technology developer backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is close to closing on as much as $70 million in new financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.

The new financing speaks to AMP Robotics’ continued success in pilot projects and with new partnerships that are exponentially expanding the company’s deployments.

Earlier this month the company announced a new deal that represented its largest purchase order for its trash sorting and recycling robots.

That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.

That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.

The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.

As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics  worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.

Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.

As TechCrunch reported at the time, recycling businesses used to be able to rely on China to buy up any waste stream (no matter the quality of the material). However, about two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries.

The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively. At the time, unemployment rates put the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where trash was sorted. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on those recycling and waste handling facilities, despite their identification as “essential workers”.

Given the economic reality, recyclers are turning to AMP’s technology — a combination of computer vision, machine learning and robotic automation to improve efficiencies at their facilities.

And, the power of AMP’s technology to identify waste products in a stream has other benefits, according to chief executive Matanya Horowitz.

“We can identify… whether it’s a Coke or Pepsi can or a Starbucks cup,” Horowitz told TechCrunch last year. “So that people can help design their product for circularity… we’re building out our reporting capabilities and that, to them, is something that is of high interest.”

AMP Robotics declined to comment for this article.

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Sequoia-backed recycling robot maker AMP Robotics gets its largest purchase order

AMP Robotics, the manufacturer of robotic recycling systems, has received its largest purchase order from the publicly traded North American waste handling company, Waste Connections.

The order, for 24 machine learning enabled robotic recycling systems, will be used on container, fiber and residue lines across numerous materials recovery facilities, the company said.

The AMP technology can be used to recover plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons and many other containers and packaging types reclaimed for raw material processing.

The tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells, and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

So far, AMP’s robots have been deployed in North America, Asia, and Europe with recent installations in Spain, and across the US in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

In January, before the pandemic began, AMP Robotics worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that would provide residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits.

Working with the building and a waste hauler, Sidewalk Labs  would transport the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash will be sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics. Once the waste is categorized, sorted, and recorded Sidewalk will communicate with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

Sidewalk says that the tips will be communicated through email, an online portal, and signage throughout the building every two weeks over a three-month period.

For residents, it was an opportunity to have a better handle on what they can and can’t recycle and Sidewalk Labs is betting that the information will help residents improve their habits. And for folks who don’t want their trash to be monitored and sorted, they could opt out of the program.

Recyclers like Waste Connections should welcome the commercialization of robots tackling industry problems. Their once-stable business has been turned on its head by trade wars and low unemployment. About two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries. The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively.

At the same time, low unemployment rates are putting the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where humans are basically required to hand-sort garbage into recyclable materials and trash.

AMP Robotics is backed by Sequoia Capital,  BV, Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures  and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, a spin-out from Alphabet that invests in technologies and new infrastructure projects.

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The Shed is a startup out of Virginia trying to revive the rental-for-everything business

Reducing consumption by expanding the notion of the rental economy and giving people access to tools and equipment has been something of a startup holy grail for some time.

It’s a model that’s worked famously well for fashion and accessories (just ask investors in Rent the Runway), but has had not had the same resonance for white label goods.

The Shed, out of Richmond, Va., hopes to change that.

Launched by Karen Rodgers O’Neil, a longtime marketing executive, and Daniel Perrone, a serial entrepreneur and technology executive whose previous company, BroadMap, was acquired by Apple; The Shed hopes to take the rental model that Home Depot has turned into a billion dollar business line and take it to the masses.

Unlike Home Depot, The Shed touts its presence in eight categories. Stanley Black & Decker is a marquee early partner and the company’s executives said that others have come on board.

“We don’t buy product,” said Perrone. “We take delivery of all the products and rent them out in the local marketplaces where we do business.”

The only thing the manufacturer provides is the products and some servicing starter kit so that The Shed and its employees can manage and maintain the product.

The Shed founders Karen Rodgers O’Neil and Daniel Perrone. Image Credit: The Shed

Since its launch in April the company has expanded beyond its Richmond, Va. home base to Denver — and will be looking to expand further into Portland, Austin, and San Jose, according to Perrone.

Among the features that the company intends to roll out as it expands is a dynamic pricing capability that will enable manufacturers to wring the most out of their goods when they’re in high demand.

Rodgers O’Neil came up with the concept back in 2012 when she was working as a marketing executive for General Electric out of Boston.  Perrone met Rodgers O’Neil at a networking event in Boston and became convinced that her notion of offering more rental options to encourage a more circular economy and reduce consumption was something that could resonate with consumers.

To be sure, The Shed isn’t the first company to attempt to bring the rental business to a broader array of consumer products in an effort to cut down on consumption. The Los Angeles-based startup Joymode was attempting to do much the same thing. That company sold to an early stage investment firm out of New York.

Joymode’s chief executive, Joe Fernandez spoke about the difficulty of running the business. “Part of the thesis was that by making things available for rental, people would want to do more stuff,” said Fernandez, but what happened was that consumers needed additional reasons to use the company’s service, and there weren’t enough events to drive demand.

By contrast, The Shed isn’t owning any of the inventory, just acting as a broker and managing inventory between local retailers and manufacturers who want to take advantage of the company’s service.

In addition to Stanley Black & Decker, companies like Primus camping equipment have placed their products on The Shed along with Mobility Plus, which added wheelchairs and mobility scooters; and Replacements, the largest china dealer in the country, which is offering a “Party in a Box” for dinner, cocktail or tea parties.

To date, the company has raised $1.75 million from investors and entrepreneurs from the Richmond, Va. area. Now, with 60 manufacturers on board and another 15 to 18 vendors signing up monthly, the company is looking to expand even further.

“I joined with Karen because I saw that this would be a game changer in the rental space,” said Perrone. There are a number of retailers in specific verticals that still don’t transact online, so The Shed becomes their avenue to reach the market, he said.

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Rocket Lab gains key FAA launch license for its US-based launch site

Launch provider Rocket Lab has gained a key clearance from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration that should mean it’ll be launching from its U.S.-based facility at Wallops Island, Virginia relatively soon. As it had done before for its LC-1 launch pad in New Zealand, Rocket Lab gained a Launch Operator License for its LC-2 pad in Virginia, meaning it can conduct multiple launches from the location without having to petition the agency for a mission-specific license for each individual flight.

Rocket Lab held its official opening ceremony for the Virginia-based LC-2 at the end of last year, and while we don’t yet know exactly when it’ll launch its first Electron from the location, it’s probably that COVID-19 and its related disruptions have had an impact on the planned debut activity at the site. The company expanded first to LC-2, and is now putting the finishing touches on LC-3 back in New Zealand, in order to help ramp its launch capacity — which it says will reach up to 130 launches per year with all three launch pads up and running.

Part of the reason that Rocket Lab spun up the U.S.-based pad to begin with was to serve government customers with rapid, responsive launches that could be put together quickly and often, so having this FAA multi-launch license is a big boon to its operating model. Hopefully that means we’ll see the Wallops location come to life sooner rather than later.

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Zipline begins US medical delivery with UAV program honed in Africa

Drones are being deployed in the fight to curb COVID-19 in the U.S.

Novant Health and California based UAV delivery startup Zipline have launched distribution of personal protective gear and medical equipment in North Carolina.

Novant is a non-profit healthcare provider with a network in the Southeastern United States.

Through the partnership, Zipline’s drones will make 32 mile flights on two routes between Novant Health’s emergency drone fulfillment center in Kannapolis to the company’s medical center in Huntersville, North Carolina — where front line healthcare workers are treating coronavirus patients.

Zipline and Novant are touting the arrangement as the first authorized long-range drone logistics delivery flight program in the U.S. The activity has gained approvals by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and North Carolina’s Department of Transportation — though the FAA offered TechCrunch nuanced guidance on how it classifies the undertaking.

The story behind the Novant, Zipline UAV collaboration has a twist: the capabilities for the U.S. operation were developed primarily in Africa. Zipline has a test facility in the San Francisco area, but spent several years configuring its drone delivery model in Rwanda and Ghana.

Co-founded in 2014 by Americans Keller Rinaudo, Keenan Wyrobek and Will Hetzler, Zipline designs its own UAVs, launch and landing systems and logistics software for distribution of critical medical supplies.

The company turned to East Africa in 2016, entering a partnership with the government of Rwanda to test and deploy its drone service in that country. Zipline went live with UAV distribution of life saving medical supplies in Rwanda in late 2016, claiming the first national drone-delivery program at scale in the world.

Zipline co-founder Keller Rinaudo (L) with Rwandan President Paul Kagame (Middle) in 2016

The company expanded to Ghana in 2016, where in addition to delivering blood and vaccines by drone, it now distributes COVID-19 related medication and lab samples.

Based on its Africa operations, Zipline was selected by regulators to participate in medical drone delivery testing in the U.S. in 2016, in coordination with the FAA.

The company’s Africa business also led to its pandemic response partnership with Novant Health. The North Carolina based company was in discussion with Zipline on UAV delivery before the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., but the crisis spurred both parties to speed things up, according to Hank Capps, a Senior Vice President at Novant.

That included some improvisation. For its current launch site the operation is using space donated by a local NASCAR competition team, Stewart-Haas Racing.

According to Capps, the current collaboration using drones to deliver medical supplies from that site could grow beyond the 32 mile route Zipline and Novant began flights on last Friday.

“Right now we plan to expand it geographically within our footprint, which is fairly large within North Carolina, South Florida, and Virginia,” he told TechCrunch on a call.

That, of course, will depend on regulatory approval. The FAA granted Novant Health permission to operate the current program — which the FAA classifies as a distribution vs. delivery operation — through a 107 waiver. This rolls up into the evolving federal code on operation of unmanned aircraft in the U.S. and allows Novant and Zipline to operate “until Oct. 31, 2020, or until all COVID-related restrictions on travel, business and mass gatherings for North Carolina are lifted, whichever occurs first,” according to the FAA. The U.S. regulatory body also stipulated that “Part 107 is a waiver, not a drone licence.”

The FAA offered cautious confirmation that the Zipline, Novant partnership is the first approved long range unmanned delivery service in the United States.

“I am not aware of any that are flying routes as far as what they are doing in North Carolina, but I try to be careful when talking about firsts,” an FAA spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Last month UPS and CVS announced a shorter range drone delivery program of prescription drugs to a retirement village in Florida.

Image Credits: Novant Health

The arrangement between Zipline and Novant is not for financial gain — according to both parties — but still supports Zipline’s profitability thesis advanced by co-founder Keller Rinaudo.

“Healthcare logistics is a $70 billion global industry, and it’s still only serving a golden billion on the planet,” he told me in a 2016 interview.

On a recent call, Rinaudo noted the startup is generating income on operations to serve that market, through the company doesn’t release financial data.

“At the distribution centers that have been operating for more than a year, Zipline is making money on the deliveries that we do,” he said.

Rinaudo pointed to the more favorable margins of autonomous delivery using small, electric powered UAVs versus large internal combustion vehicles.

“I think that these kinds of services are going to operate, much more profitably than traditional logistic services,” he said.

Zipline sold investors on that value proposition. The company has raised (a reported) $233 million in VC from backers including Andreeson Horowitz and Goldman Sachs. Zipline intends to expand its drone delivery business in the U.S. and anywhere in the world it finds demand, according to its CEO.

In addition to partner Novant Health, Zipline has caught the attention of big logistics providers, such as UPS — which has supported (and studied) the startup’s Africa operations back to 2016.

The Zipline, Novant launch of UAV delivery of medical supplies in the U.S. is a high-point for the thesis that Africa’s tech ecosystem — which has become a hotbed for VC and startups — can produce innovation with global application.

The presidents of Rwanda and Ghana  — Paul Kagame and Nana Akufo-Addo — were instrumental in supporting Zipline’s partnerships in their countries. Other nations on the continent, such as Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia, continue to advance commercial drone testing and novel approaches to regulating the sector.

Image Credits: HHP/Harold Hinson

For all the talk that COVID-19 may force an isolationist shift across countries, the Zipline, Novant Health partnership is very much a globally incubated solution — applied locally in the U.S. — to an international problem.

The program combines a medical drone delivery startup founded in San Francisco with a model tested in Africa to an American healthcare venture in North Carolina, with a little help from a NASCAR race team. This could reflect the unique application of tech and partnerships to come in the fight against COVID-19.

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Lucid Lane has developed a service to get patients off of pain meds and avoid addiction

Four years ago, Adnan Asar, the founder of the new addiction prevention service Lucid Lane, was enjoying a successful career working as the founding chief technology officer at Livongo Health. It was the serial senior tech executive’s most recent job after a long stint at Shutterfly and he was shepherding the company through the development of its suite of hardware and software for the management of chronic conditions.

But when Asar’s wife was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he stepped away from the technology world to be with his family while she underwent treatment.

He did not know at the time that the decision would set him on the path to founding Lucid Lane. The company’s mission is to help give patients who have been prescribed medications to address pain and anxiety ways to wean themselves off those drugs and avoid addiction — and its purpose is born from the struggle Asar witnessed as his wife wrestled with how to stop taking the medication she was prescribed during her illness.

Asar’s wife isn’t alone. In 2018, there were roughly 168.2 million prescriptions for opioids written in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lucid Lane estimates that 50 million people are prescribed opioids and another 13 million are prescribed benzodiazepines each year either after surgery or in conjunction with cancer treatments — all without a plan for how to manage or taper the use of these highly addictive medications.

For Asar’s wife, it was the benzodiazepine prescribed as part of her cancer treatment that became an issue. “She was hit by very severe withdrawal symptoms and we didn’t know what was going on,” Asar said. When they consulted her physician he gave the couple two options — quitting cold turkey or remaining on the medication.

“My wife decided to go cold turkey,” Asar said. “It was really debilitating for the whole family.”

It took nine months of therapy and regular consultations with psychiatrists to help with tailoring medication dosages and tapering to get her off of the medication, said Asar. And that experience led to the launch of Lucid Lane.

“Our goal is to prevent and control medication and substance dependence,” Asar said.

The company’s telehealth solution is built on a proprietary treatment protocol meant to provide continuous daily support and interventions, along with proactive monitoring of a personalized treatment plan — all on an ongoing basis, said Asar. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic is only accelerating the need for telehealth services. “COVID-19 has made telehealth a mandatory service instead of a discretionary service,” said Asar. “There’s a surge in anxiety, depression, substance use and medication use. We’re seeing a surge of patients who are reaching out to us.”

Asar sees Lucid Lane’s competitors as companies like Lyra Health and Ginger, or point solutions building digital diagnostics to detect anxiety and depression. But unlike some companies that are launching to treat addiction or addictive behaviors, Asar sees his startup as preventing dependency and addiction.

“A lot of people are sliding into these addictions through something that happens at the doctor’s office,” said Asar. ” Our solution does not prescribe any of these medications.”

The company is working on clinical studies that are set to start at the Palo Alto VA hospital, and has raised $4 million in seed funding from investors including Battery Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures, the investment firm founded by Jerry Yang.

“We see great potential for Lucid Lane, as it has developed a scalable solution to one of the biggest problems facing society today,” said Battery general partner Dharmesh Thakker, in a statement. “Telehealth solutions have emerged as highly capable of addressing complex problems, and Lucid Lane has embraced remote care from its beginning. Its design enables care anytime, anywhere for patients in their moment of need. This can make a tremendous difference in the battle between recovery and relapse. We believe that it will help millions of people lead better lives.”

Joining Asar in the development of the company and its healthcare protocols are a seasoned team of health professionals, including Dr. Ahmed Zaafran, a board certified anesthesiologist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and assistant professor of anesthesiology (affiliated) at Stanford University School of Medicine; and advisors like Dr. Vanila Singh, who was also previously chairperson of the HHS Task Force in conjunction with the DOD and the VA to address the opioid drug crisis; Dr. Carin Hagberg, the chair of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine of MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Sherif Zaafran, the president of the Texas Medical Board and chair of multiple national committees on pain management, including the subcommittee Taskforce on Pain Management Services for HHS, as well as the department’s Pain Clinical Pathways Committee.

“Lucid Lane provides a patient-centered solution that allows for the best clinical outcomes for patients after surgery and those bravely finishing chemotherapy,” said Dr. Singh, in a statement. “For the many patients who require short-term opioids and benzodiazepine medications, Lucid Lane’s treatment can limit the risk of prolonged dependence of these medications while also ensuring effective pain control with a resulting improved quality of life and functioning.”

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Rocket Lab will launch a satellite to the Moon for NASA to prepare for the Lunar Gateway

Launch startup Rocket Lab has been awarded a contract to launch a CubeSat on behalf of NASA for the agency’s CAPSTONE experiment, with the ultimate aim of putting the CAPSTONE CubeSat into cislunar (in the region in between Earth and the Moon) orbit – the same orbit that NASA will eventually use for its Gateway Moon-orbiting space station. The launch is scheduled to take place in 2021.

The CAPSTONE launch will take place at Rocket Lab’s new Launch Complex 2 (LC-2) facility at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Rocket Lab opened its launch pad there officially in December, and will launch its first missions using its Electron vehicle from the site starting later this year.

The launch is significant in a number of ways, including being the second ever lunar mission to launch from the Virginia flight facility. It’s also going to employ Rocket Lab’s Photon platform, which is an in-house designed and built satellite that can support a range of payloads. In this case, Photon will transport the CAPSTONE CubeSat, which weighs only around 55 lbs, from Earth’s orbit to the Moon, at which point CAPSTONE will fire up its own small engines to enter its target cislunar orbit.

Rocket Lab introduced Photon last year, noting at the time that it is designed in part to provide longer-range delivery for small satellites – including to the Moon. That’s a key capability to offer as NASA embarks on its Artemis program, which aims to return human astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, and establish a more permanent human presence on and around the Moon in preparation for eventual missions to Mars.

CAPSTONE will play a key role in that mission, by acting “as a pathfinder” for the lunar Gateway that NASA eventually hopes to build and deploy.

“CAPSTONE is a rapid, risk-tolerant demonstration that sets out to learn about the unique, seven-day cislunar orbit we are also targeting for Gateway,” said Marshall Smith, director of human lunar exploration programs at NASA in a press release. detailing the news “We are not relying only on this precursor data, but we can reduce navigation uncertainties ahead of our future missions using the same lunar orbit.”

In total, the launch contract with Rocket Lab has a fixed price of $9.95 million, the agency said. NASA expects contractors Advanced Space and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems to begin building the CAPSTONE spacecraft this month ahead of its planned 2021 launch.

Source: TechCrunch

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Watch two rocket launches live, including a Space Station supply flight and a mission to study the Sun

There are two – that’s right two – launches happening this Sunday, and both are set to broadcast live on NASA’s official stream above. The first is a NASA International Space Station resupply mission, with a Norhtrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft launching aboard an Antares rocket from Wallops Island in Virginia at 5:39 PM EST (2:39 PM PST). The second is the launch of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, a joint scientific mission by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) that’s set to take off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 11:03 PM EST (8:03 PM PST).

The ISS resupply mission is the 13th operated by Northrop Grumman, and will carry around 8,000 lbs of experiment materials, supplies for the STation’s astronaut crew, and additional cargo including various cargo. If all goes to plan, the Cygnus spacecraft will get to the Space Station on Tuesday at around 4:30 AM EST, where astronauts on board will capture the spacecraft with the station’s robotic arm for docking.

The NASA/ESA Solar Orbiter mission is a bit more of an event, since it’s a launch of a very special payload with a dedicated mission to study the Sun, launching aboard a brand new custom configuration of ULA’s Atlas V rocket tailor-made for the Orbiter. The Orbiter has a mass of nearly 4,000 lbs, and a wingspan of nearly 60 feet, and is carrying a complement of 10 instruments for gathering data from our Solar System’s central player.

Solar Orbiter will take the first ever direct images of the Sun’s poles once it arrives at our star, but it first has to get there, using the gravitational force of both Earth and Venus to help propel it along its path. Already, the planned launch of Solar Orbiter has been delayed by a few days – and timing is key to making sure those gravitational forces can work as designed to get it to tis goal, so here’s hoping today’s launch goes off as planned.

As its name implies, Solar Orbiter is designed to orbit the Sun – and it’ll do so from a relatively close distance of around 26 million miles away. That’s closer than Mercury, the planet in our solar system closest to the Sun, and at that distance it’ll still face max temperatures of around 520 degrees Celsius (968 degrees Fahrenheit). To endure those temps, the spacecraft is protected by a titanium heat shield that will always be oriented towards the star, and even its solar panels will actually have to tilt away from the Sun during the spacecraft’s closest approach to make sure they don’t get too hot while powering the satellite.

Solar Orbiter will study the Sun’s polar regions, as mentioned, and shed some light on how its magnetic field and emissions of particles from the star affect its surrounding cosmic environment, including the region of space that we inhabit here on Earth. After launch, Orbiter should make its way to Venus for a flyby this December, then cost paths with Earth for a planned approach in November, 2021, before making its first close approach to the Sun in 2022.

Check back above for live views of both launches, with the stream for the first mission kicking off shortly after 5 PM EST (2PM PST).

Source: TechCrunch

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NextNav raises $120M to deploy its indoor positioning tech to find people in skyscrapers

NextNav LLC has raised $120 million in equity and debt to commercially deploy an indoor-positioning system that can pinpoint a device’s location — including what floor it’s on — without GPS .

The company has developed what it calls a Metropolitan Beacon System, which can find the location of devices like smartphones, drones, IoT products or even self-driving vehicles in indoor and urban areas where GPS or other satellite location signals cannot be reliably received. Anyone trying to use their phone to hail an Uber or Lyft in the Loop area of Chicago has likely experienced spotty GPS signals.

The MBS infrastructure is essentially bolted onto cellular towers. The positioning system uses a cellular signal, not line-of-sight signal from satellites like GPS does. The system focuses on determining the “altitude” of a device, CEO and co-founder Ganesh Pattabiraman told TechCrunch.

GPS can provide the horizontal position of a smartphone or IoT device. And wifi and Bluetooth can step in to provide that horizontal positioning indoors. NextNav says its MBS has added a vertical or “Z dimension” to the positioning system. This means the MBS can determine within less than 3 meters the floor level of a device in a  multi-story building.

It’s the kind of system that can provide emergency services with critical information such as the number of people located on a particular floor. It’s this specific use-case that NextNav is betting on. Last year, the Federal Communication Commission issued new 911 emergency requirements for wireless carriers that mandates the ability to determine the vertical position of devices to help responders find people in multi-story buildings.

Today, the MBS is in the Bay Area and Washington D.C. The company plans to use this new injection of capital to expand its network to the 50 biggest markets in the U.S., in part to take advantage of the new FCC requirement.

The technology has other applications. For instance, this so-called Z dimension could come in handy for locating drones. Last year, NASA said it will use NextNav’s MBS network as part of its City Environment for Range Testing of Autonomous Integrated Navigation facilities at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The round was led by funds managed by affiliates of Fortress Investment Group . Existing investors Columbia Capital, Future Fund, Telcom Ventures, funds managed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management, NEA and Oak Investment Partners also participated.

XM Satellite Radio founder Gary Parsons is executive chairman of the Sunnyvale, Calif-based company.

Source: TechCrunch