Dr. Anthony Fauci’s Predictions For Coronavirus
CNBC Transcript: Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks with CNBC ’s Meg Tirrell live during the CNBC Healthy Returns Livestream today and gives his predictions for coronavirus after Christmas. Q3 2020 hedge fund letters, conferences and more Interview with Dr….
CNBC Transcript: Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks with CNBC ’s Meg Tirrell live during the CNBC Healthy Returns Livestream today and gives his predictions for coronavirus after Christmas.
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Q3 2020 hedge fund letters, conferences and more
Interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci
MEG TIRRELL: Welcome everybody and thanks for joining us for this very special Healthy Returns live stream. I'm Meg Terrell CNBC Senior Health and Science reporter and on this live stream series throughout this year we've talked with public health experts, researchers the people that are really helping us understand and get through this pandemic. And nobody has done that more than our guest today Dr. Anthony Fauci is Director of course at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Fauci, thanks so much for being with us.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI: Good to be with you thank you for having me.
TIRRELL: I want to start out talking about next week. It's your birthday, we understand you're turning 35. But you know as we're gearing up for this holiday season. Can you tell us about what you're seeing from the impact of Thanksgiving, and how you think that bodes for what's going to happen with this pandemic as we go into the holidays at the end of the year?
DR. FAUCI: Well, the numbers speak for themselves Meg, we are in a very difficult situation as you can see, just a few days ago. We reached the, the landmark of now 300,000 total deaths. We still have between 200 and 300,000 new cases, a day with anywhere between, you know, one and a half to two and a half 1000 deaths per day, hospitals and now about 115 118,000 hospital beds are occupied by people with COVID-19. So we are in a surge that's rather steep when you look at the inflection of it. There are certain parts of the country.
That seemed to be leveling off a bit, but there are as many that are still surging when we have the Thanksgiving holiday, the travel associated with as well as the socialization of gatherings of family and friends, things that people naturally would do on Thanksgiving, you know you can have you know 10 15, 20 people in your home for a dinner. That's something that puts one at higher risk. Right now we are probably seeing in some sections of the country, the brunt of the effect of the travel and the congregating for Thanksgiving. That's going to get now superimposed upon the additional travel that will very soon beginning of the weekend and beyond the travel for Christmas and the same sort of congregating that one does for Christmas.
Those are things that we all love to do it's part of our tradition. It's part of things that we enjoy so much with family and friends. But we really really have to realize that puts us in a precarious risky situation. So to the extent possible, we encourage people to curtail the travel that you would normally do under normal circumstances. Keep the gatherings, even family friends to as small a gathering as possible, preferably with people that you're very familiar with that maybe are in the same household, or have created their own bubble of safety.
So then it is very unlikely that they, would be infected, because otherwise what we will see as we go from December, the end of the month. New Year's and into January, we may yet see again a surge upon a surge.
So you know we're going through a very bittersweet period right now Meg because we have the results of at least one and soon two vaccines that are highly efficacious that show promise over a period of several months to really turn around the dynamics of this outbreak. But that's not going to happen for a while so that would be almost a greater incentive for us to double down and adhere to the public health measures that would prevent further infection until the time when the vaccine actually does have a significant impact on the dynamics of the outbreak.
TIRRELL: Can you help us with some predictions but specifics on what a surge on a surge looks like we're already at more than 200,000 cases being reported per day, hospitals, more than 100,000 people in the hospital with COVID-19, right now, how much worse does this get after Christmas if we see the same patterns that we saw over Thanksgiving.
DR. FAUCI: Well, you know, not to frighten people Meg but it's the truth that you can see what I have referred to as a surge upon a surge because if you look at the inflection of the curve of things that they've gone up over the last few weeks, as we got into the cold weather, people stayed indoors, they congregated indoors sometimes without masks, the inflection of the curve was like this. It then went like that. So when I say a surge upon a surge.
I mean, instead of leveling off and coming down, it actually continues to go up. And that's one of the things that we put ourselves in somewhat of a precarious situation, if we don't take a look at the situation and say, you know, we really need to pull back a little bit, and maybe not do the things that otherwise at this part of the season of the year would be considered normal and do things to a lesser extent, less travel, less congregating less social interaction. We all know how difficult that is because we've been under this situation of COVID fatigue, as we call it, everyone is fatigued about this.
We've been going through this now for almost a year. But now's not the time to say you know I'm just so tired of all of that would only make matters worse.
TIRRELL: I mean are you talking about 300,000 cases getting diagnosed today Do we have the testing capacity to diagnose them and are we talking about hospitals rationing care.
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, well that is conceivable if we don't do something about what's happening we already are seeing in certain regions of the country, that the health care system the hospital beds, the number of trained personnel, particularly individuals who are trained in intensive care that is stretching to the limit in some places.
And in fact, if you look at the rationale that the health authorities in California gave is that they were perilously close to having a real strain on the healthcare delivery system which forced them to do things like shut down in a number of areas they didn't want to do that they didn't they felt that they just had to do it because if they didn't the increase in the number of cases would take the healthcare system over the limit of what they could tolerate. So those are the kind of decisions that are being forced by this very difficult situation that we're going through.
TIRRELL: How many more states do you think, are you observing are in that situation right now and that sort of precipice.
DR. FAUCI: You know several. I don't want to speak for them because they have to make their own mind about it, they're very very aware of it. We have as members of the task force, at least once a week, we have a governors call in which we interact, virtually like you and I are with the governors of the states, and we find out that you know, although some of them are doing better. Many of them are still in that phase where they continue to accumulate cases that are stretching the healthcare system.
TIRRELL: I want to turn to the vaccine, because it is sort of that, that dawn after the darkest part of the of this pandemic which we're in right now, but morning is coming. There's so many questions for you about the vaccine I wanted to start with doing sort of a lightning round, or a little thing I want to call factor fiction with Dr. Fauci and ask you a couple of these myths we've kind of been hearing about the vaccine and asked you to tell us are they myths are they true. One of the things we hear from a lot of folks about the COVID vaccines, is people are worried they can get COVID from the vaccine kind of like we hear can you get flu from the flu vaccine, can you get COVID from the vaccine Dr Fauci?
DR. FAUCI: Myth absolutely impossible.
TIRRELL: Okay. With these vaccines that are delivered. What’s that?
DR. FAUCI: But let's do bullet questions I'll give you bullet answers. Okay.
TIRRELL: All right, let's do it. So, these vaccines deliver genetic material messenger RNA or with the next one's DNA for the spike protein, can they alter your own DNA.
DR. FAUCI: Absolutely not. That is not they're getting a snippet of RNA which is coding for a protein. It has nothing to do with your own genetic material. It gets injected, it gets into a cell, and it starts pumping out the spike protein that you want the body to make an immune response. And it doesn't integrate into any aspect of your own genetic material. It's totally separate from your own genetic material.
TIRRELL: Okay, here's another thing we hear a lot. This is the fastest development of vaccine in history, it cannot possibly be safe or proven safe in that short amount of time. What do you say,
DR. FAUCI: That's not true. The speed of it is a reflection of the extraordinary scientific advances that have been made in platform technologies for vaccines. It was not at the expense of safety, nor was it at the expense of scientific integrity. It was purely a reflection of years of work, which antedated this outbreak, which allowed us to do things in a matter of months that formerly a decade ago would have taken several years. In addition, an enormous amount of money.
Hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars were put into the development and the production of vaccine doses, so that they would be ready to give to people. As soon as the vaccine was shown to be safe and effective. So people need to understand speed reflects extraordinary investments in science and has nothing to do with compromising safety or scientific integrity.
TIRRELL: Okay, last question from the lightning round of them we've got a slew of amazing viewer questions for you. Fact or fiction, I can stop wearing masks and social distancing once I get my vaccine
DR. FAUCI: Fiction, you need to keep wearing masks and doing the fundamental public health measures. You have to do that until we get enough people vaccinated in this country, so that the level of virus the viral dynamics is so exceedingly low, that it would be extremely unlikely that you would acquire or transmit the infection. So a vaccine should not be a substitute for public health measures. It should be a complement to public health measures. And only after this virus is really under extraordinarily good control, can you start pulling back on public health measures.
TIRRELL: I'm going to get some viewer questions that I'm going to start with one from Hung Tran because it directly follows up with what you were just talking about what percent of the population needs to get vaccinated before people can move around freely without precaution?
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, I would think in order to get herd immunity which is what I believe the questioner is referring to, namely a degree of protection in society that the virus really has no place to go. I would think that you would need somewhere between 70, 75, maybe 80%. of the population vaccinated, the number that I've been using again it's a it's an estimate. You can make an extrapolation from other infections. I say between 75 and 80 85% of the population.
If we get that we would develop a umbrella of immunity. That would be able to protect, even the vulnerables, who have not been vaccinated, or those in which the vaccine has not been effective, you can get that kind of immunity with that percentage of people, which is the reason why we're being very enthusiastic in reaching out to the community to convince people of the importance of getting vaccinated, not only for their own safety, but for that of their family as well as for society in general.
TIRRELL: And how do you think about the number of people who've already had this disease in terms of them being protected and having immunity from getting it again.
DR. FAUCI: One thing we're not certain of Meg is what the duration of immunity following infection is, We don't know that because we've only been dealing with this particular virus for 10 to 11 months. And so we don't know whether if you get infected, that you have immunity for a year or two, or three, or maybe even less than a year. That is going to be determined as we follow people over the subsequent years. So that's what we mean when we say we're uncertain as to how long a person is protected following the time they get infected and recover from infection.
TIRRELL: Now we've got a lot of questions for you here from folks who want to know if the vaccine is safe for them. I'm going to sort of put them all together here but they're from Sushma Bhatt who asks, as we know there are multiple companies developing vaccines and will be distributing them for the general population very soon.
What is Dr. Fauci his recommendation in decision making, of which vaccine is more effective to take, especially for high risk individuals like me, who have an autoimmune disease such as lupus, and then I'm going to go right into Sam Burnett's question who asks about side effects for patients with Parkinson's, should they get the vaccine or wait. Michelle Lock asks, Is the vaccine safe for women who are breastfeeding Mia Lee asks, penicillin allergy bee sting allergy, and we take the vaccine. I know I just put a lot on either Dr. Fauci but do we have answers for these groups.
DR. FAUCI: Well we have answers for some that are clear answers and some that would have to await further information. So right now, there is a single vaccine that is available for people it's the Pfizer messenger RNA vaccine. Tomorrow, the FDA will hopefully make a decision regarding whether or not the Moderna messenger RNA vaccine will get an emergency use authorization.
So the recommendation is that, look at the vaccines that are available. The availability and the prioritization will be made according to the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices working with the CDC, the ultimate recommendation of the prioritization the first round is health care providers, and those in nursing homes and extended care facility.
So if someone is not in that category. Right now it is unlikely, you're going to get access to any vaccine. As we vaccinate more people, the second, third and fourth tier of people who would be getting the vaccine would we make it available. So when you say what vaccine should you take, you should take the vaccine that is available to you in your area your region your city your state at the time that your turn comes up to get vaccinated.
The two vaccines right now Modena and Pfizer that are available, Moderna certainly will be available soon have the same level of efficacy, the same safety profile and virtually everything the same about that so it wouldn't make much difference which of those, you take as new vaccines, come out, namely those that are different with different platforms like the adenovirus vector vaccines or the solid proteins, you'll have to wait to see what the profile of efficacy is in those vaccines. So when we reach a point.
After several months when the high priority people get vaccinated, and it's opened up, sort of like Open Season anybody, doesn't matter what the priority group, anybody in the normal population or any part of the population can get vaccinated, then you might have a choice that maybe there are three or four different vaccines, there might be recommendations within the context of that vaccine that this one might be better for the elderly so if you're older you might want to take that one.
Well this one might be better for children, you might want to take that one. We're not there yet. So that's what I meant when I said we will likely within a period of time, get the information that was asked on that series of questions.
TIRRELL: Can you spell out for us kind of the timeline that you're looking at. For how long it will take for the priority groups to first get the vaccine. And then for everybody else to get access and I wonder if you could share any reflections, even just from the last two days of distribution of the Pfizer vaccine for how quickly we can actually vaccinate that many people.
DR. FAUCI: Yeah, well, what happened a couple of days ago is that 2.9 million doses was sent out to 145 locations, and over the next few days to weeks, there'll be more and more doses to you, ultimately, we hope, with a combination of Pfizer and moderna if moderna gets the UAE, which I hope they will that you will by the time you get to the end of December, have 40 million doses for 20 million people to be able to administer then as you get into January and February and March. If you look at the cadence of the vaccinations in different priority groups. We hope that by the time we get to march early April, we will have gotten through the group so that anybody who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine.
And then as the supply increases over the months, you would hope that when you get into the second quarter of 2021, April, May, June, that by the time you get to the end of the second quarter into the third quarter of the year, you will have as many people vaccinated, as you need to get vaccinated. I hope that that number is 75 to 80 plus percent of the population, but then Meg it'll probably take a few months to get the highest priority people vaccinated. And then when you open that up for anybody. I imagine that somewhere, we're going to be around April, maybe a little bit sooner.
TIRRELL: I want to ask you also about some news that came out you know just before we jumped on this livestream from The New York Times. they reported that a health care worker in Alaska had a severe allergic reaction after taking the Pfizer bioNTech vaccine, similar to what we saw from the two health care workers in the UK. How do you react to that news, and how should people be thinking about this as this vaccine gets used more?
DR. FAUCI: Well, that's the reason why I think people need to understand that the issue of the safety goes well beyond the confines of a clinical trial. Because when you're in a clinical trial, you're giving it for example, the Pfizer trial was 44,000 people. Once you decide to dispense the vaccine widely, you're talking about millions and tens of millions and ultimately, hundreds of millions of doses.
So you may see reactions that you didn't see in the clinical trial. So we had the two in the UK. And now what you just reported, someone in Alaska. So with the Pfizer people are saying that if you have a history of a severe allergic reaction, you should either not take this vaccine, or if you do take it, take it in the context of a place where if you do develop an allergic reaction, it could be readily and effectively treated.
TIRRELL: Well, two other questions that we got from viewers on the question of transmissibility. One is from Omar, and the other is actually from my mother and father-in-law, Fred and Nancy, so thank you for submitting this question. They asked, what will we be looking for to understand if vaccine recipients can still transmit COVID-19 and Omar asked, where are we in our understanding of that?
DR. FAUCI: Okay. Right now the primary endpoint of the vaccine trial for both the Moderna and the Pfizer product is the prevention of clinically recognizable disease. The secondary endpoint is the prevention of severe disease, as well as a secondary endpoint of preventing infection.
We do not know now whether or not you prevent a person from getting infected. We know for sure that the vaccine is highly efficacious in preventing the clinical disease. As we get further into the trial and follow people for longer and then do follow up studies, we may get the answer to that. But right now, we do not definitively know whether or not the vaccine prevents you from getting infected and transmitting it to others. One of the reasons why we say you still should wear a mask, even though you've been vaccinated.
TIRRELL: I've got two great questions here for you from Tracy Doyle from Mass General and from Nick Robinson, who's a science teacher. Tracy asks, what are your thoughts on long-term investment in science literacy for the general public? How can we improve the average person's understanding of viral transmission and personal responsibility in disease and pandemic response? While, Nick asks, how can science teachers help play a role in promoting scientific literacy in their communities, surrounding vaccination, and properly empower and encourage members of their local public to confidently choose to receive their vaccine when it becomes available to them?
DR. FAUCI: I think the investment in science literacy is very important, as well as the responsibility and the capability of people like science teachers to speak out, to have discussions, workshops or what have you, to get people a little bit more attune to the fundamental scientific basis of what we're talking about.
You know, if you do some surveys, the scientific literacy in this country is not at a level that I think is optimal and I think we can do by investment in types of educational campaigns to get people to understand a bit more about the science behind what you and I are talking about right now. Short answer to the question from this questioner is that it is really very important to promote science literacy, particularly when you're in a situation as we are right now.
TIRRELL: I'm sensitive to your time. I know you have to run, literally, so I'll ask you my last two questions. One is of course everybody wants to know when we get back to normal, Dr. Fauci, and the second one, everybody wants to know is, when are you going to get your shot and which one is it going to be?
DR. FAUCI: Okay. So getting back to normal I think relates to my answer to a few of the very good questions you asked me, Meg, which is that, when are we going to get a certain level of the population, a certain percentage vaccinated. When we get, and it's really up to us, and that's the reason why we want to put a lot of effort into reaching out to the community to convince them of the importance of getting vaccinated, not only for themselves, their family, but for the community in general.
So if we can get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated by let's say the end of the second, the beginning of the third quarter – by the time we get into mid Fall of 2021, we can be approaching, some level of normality. I would think that would be things like being able to go to theaters, clearly feeling much more comfortable about school, having restaurants open to indoor dining.
I believe that if we get that level of protection, as we get into the Fall, we can do that safely. But again, it's going to depend on what proportion of the population gets vaccinated. For myself, like I said, I want to get vaccinated and I will do it publicly to serve as an example of the importance of getting vaccinated.
I will do that as soon as we get doses of vaccination. We're waiting to get a supply here at the NIH where I work. When we do, I will be right there getting vaccinated publicly to demonstrate to people my confidence in the safety and the efficacy of the vaccine.
TIRRELL: And I know you guys had a big role in the Moderna vaccine. I assume – is that the shot you're going to be getting? Could you tell us which one?
DR. FAUCI: You know, Meg, I honestly can't tell you because the one that gets here first. I will do. Whatever one that is. If it’s Moderna, if it’s Pfizer – whichever one.
TIRRELL: All right. We'll be watching, Dr. Fauci, and we really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.
DR. FAUCI: It's always good to be with you thank you for having me.
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Waymo retires its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan
More than five years ago, a newly minted Waymo took the wraps off of what would become its first commercialized autonomous vehicle: a Chrysler Pacifica…
More than five years ago, a newly minted Waymo took the wraps off of what would become its first commercialized autonomous vehicle: a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan loaded with sensors and software.
Now, the minivan, a symbol of the early and hypey AV days, is headed for retirement as Waymo transitions its fleet to the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles equipped with its fifth-generation self-driving system.
When the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid AV was first revealed, it might not have been what people expected from the former Google self-driving project turned Alphabet-owned business. The design wasn’t ripped from the pages of a graphic sci-fi novel and it was hardly flashy. But the white minivan — highlighted with the same blue and green accent colors found on the Waymo logo — embodied the company’s aim. Waymo wanted a friendly looking vehicle people would feel comfortable using.
The partnership with established manufacturer Fiat Chrysler — now Stellantis — also derisked an already risky frontier tech pursuit. Under the deal, Fiat Chrysler would handle the manufacturing and provide Waymo with minivans that built in redundancies designed for autonomous driving.
Waymo never got close to the 62,000-minivan order it agreed to in 2018 as part of an expanded partnership with Fiat Chrysler. But the minivan did become a critical part of its commercialization plan and over its lifespan the fleet provided tens of thousands of rides to the public, according to the company. (Waymo has never revealed detailed figures of its minivan fleet beyond that its total global fleet is somewhere around 700 vehicles.)
“It’s bittersweet to see it go,” Chris Ludwick, product management director at Waymo who has been at the company since 2012, told TechCrunch. “But I’m also happy for this next chapter.”
A bit of history
Waymo revealed the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid in December 2016 and then provided more technical and business model details a month later at the 2017 North American International Auto Show. The first look at the minivan in December came just five days after Google’s self-driving project officially announced that it was a business with a new name and slightly tweaked mission.
At the time, little was known about what the Google self-driving project — also known as Chauffeur — intended to do beyond a stated goal to commercialize self-driving cars. The Google self-driving project had developed a custom low-speed vehicle without a steering wheel called the Firefly, but that cute gumdrop-shaped car never made it to commercial robotaxi status.
The lowly minivan seemed to represent a more grounded realistic vision toward the goal. By spring 2017, the company had launched an early rider program that let real people in the Phoenix area (who had been vetted and signed an NDA) use an app to hail a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan with a human safety operator behind the wheel.
Waymo eventually opened up the service to the public — no NDA required — and grew its service area to Phoenix suburbs Chandler, Tempe, Ahwatukee and Mesa. Waymo repeated that process as it took the important step of removing the human safety operator from behind the wheel, launching driverless rides in 2019 and eventually a driverless robotaxi service in 2020 that was open to the public.
Minivan proving ground
The minivan’s initial reveal represented the moment when “Chauffeur” became Waymo and less of a science project, he noted. But there was still considerable work to be done.
The Chrysler Pacifica was the ultimate commercial proving ground, according to anecdotes from Ludwick, who recounted the progress of moving from autonomous driving 10 miles in one day, then 100 miles, and then a 100 miles everyday.
For instance, the company discovered that families were far more enthusiastic to use the minivan than it assumed. The minivan also helped develop the company’s AV operations playbook, including how to park vehicles in between rides and where to locate depots for maintenance and charging.
The minivan also became a testbed for how to operate a driverless fleet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to COVID, the fleet in Phoenix was a mix of driverless vehicles and those with human safety operators behind the wheel.
“In three months we turned it fully driverless and figured out how to disinfect the vehicles between each ride,” he said.
The next chapter for Waymo is focused on its all-electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles, which will be pulled into the service area in the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler and Tempe that the minivan covered. The Jaguar I-Pace is currently the go-to driverless vehicle for robotaxi rides in downtown Phoenix and to the Phoenix International Sky Harbor Airport. The 24/7 service runs on a five-mile stretch between downtown Phoenix and an airport shuttle stop, specifically, the 44th Street Sky Train station.
On Thursday, the White House gave a shout-out to Waymo (along with other companies) for its commitment to an all-electric fleet as part of the White House EV Acceleration Challenge.
Waymo intends to deploy the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace across all of its ride-hailing service territories this spring now that the minivan has been retired. The nod to Waymo was part of a larger announcement from the Biden administration around public and private sector investments into EVs as part of its goal of having 50% of all new vehicle sales be electric by 2030.
The next task for Waymo may be its most challenging: The company has to figure out how to grow the service, charge its all-electric fleet efficiently and eventually turn a profit.
But Ludwick believes the company is well positioned thanks, in part, to the Chrysler Pacifica.
“When I look at what the Pacifica got us, it’s a lot,” he said, noting that the vehicle had to travel at higher speeds and make unprotected left turns.
Waymo retires its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunchwhite house pandemic covid-19
Asking the right dumb questions
You’ll have to forgive the truncated newsletter this week. Turns out I brought more back from Chicago than a couple of robot stress balls (the one piece…
You’ll have to forgive the truncated newsletter this week. Turns out I brought more back from Chicago than a couple of robot stress balls (the one piece of swag I will gladly accept). I was telling someone ahead of the ProMat trip that I’ve returned to 2019 travel levels this year. One bit I’d forgotten was the frequency and severity of convention colds — “con crud,” as my comics friends used to call it.
I’ve been mostly housebound for the last few days, dealing with this special brand of Chicago-style deep-dish viral infection. The past three years have no doubt hobbled my immune system, but after catching COVID-19 three times, it’s frankly refreshing to have a classic, good old-fashioned head cold. Sometimes you want the band you see live to play the hits, you know? I’m rediscovering the transformative properties of honey in a cup of tea.
The good news for me is that (and, hopefully, you) is I’ve got a trio of interviews from ProMat that I’ve been wanting to share in Actuator. As I said last week, the trip was really insightful. At one of the after-show events, someone asked me how one gets into tech journalism. It’s something I’ve been asked from time to time, and I always have the same answer. There are two paths in. One is as a technologist; the other is as a journalist.
It’s obvious on the face of it. But the point is that people tend to enter the field in one of two distinct ways. Either they love writing or they’re really into tech. I was the former. I moved to New York City to write about music. It’s something I still do, but it’s never fully paid the bills. The good news for me is I sincerely believe it’s easier to learn about technology than it is to learn how to be a good writer.
I suspect the world of robotics startups is similarly bifurcated. You enter as either a robotics expert or someone with a deep knowledge of the field that’s being automated. I often think about the time iRobot CEO Colin Angle told me that, in order to become a successful roboticist, he first had to become a vacuum salesman. He and his fellow co-founders got into the world through the robotics side. And then there’s Locus robotics, which began as a logistics company that started building robots out of necessity.
Both approaches are valid, and I’m not entirely sure one is better than the other, assuming you’re willing to surround yourself with assertive people who possess deep knowledge in areas where you fall short. I don’t know if I entirely buy the old adage that there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but I do believe that dumb questions are necessary, and you need to get comfortable asking them. You also need to find a group of people you’re comfortable asking. Smart people know the right dumb questions to ask.
Covering robotics has been a similar journey for me. I learned as much about supply chain/logistics as the robots that serve them at last week’s event. That’s been an extremely edifying aspect of writing about the space. In robotics, no one really gets to be a pure roboticist anymore.
Q&A with Rick Faulk
I’m gonna kick things off this week with highlights from a trio of ProMat interviews. First up is Locus Robotics CEO, Rick Faulk. The full interview is here.
TC: You potentially have the foundation to automate the entire process.
RF: We absolutely do that today. It’s not a dream.
It’s not lights out. Lights out might happen 10 years from now, but the ROI is not there to do it today. It may be there down the road. We’ve got advanced product groups working on some things that are looking at how to get more labor out of the equation. Our strategy is to minimize labor over time. We’re doing integrations with Berkshire Grey and others to minimize labor. To get to a dark building is going to be years away.
Have you explored front-of-house — retail or restaurants?
We have a lot of calls about restaurants. Our strategy is to focus. There are 135,000 warehouses out there that have to be automated. Less than 5% are automated today. I was in Japan recently, and my meal was filled by a robot. I look around and say, “Hey, we could do that.” But it’s a different market.
What is the safety protocol? If a robot and I are walking toward each other on the floor, will it stop first?
It will stop or they’ll navigate around. It’s unbelievably smart. If you saw what happened on the back end — it’s dynamically planning paths in real time. Each robot is talking to other robots. This robot will tell this robot over here, “You can’t get through here, so go around.” If there’s an accident, we’ll go around it.
They’re all creating a large, cloud-based map together in real time.
That’s exactly what it is.
When was the company founded?
[In] 2014. We actually spun out of a company called Quiet Logistics. It was a 3PL. We were fully automated with Kiva. Amazon bought Kiva in 2012, and said, “We’re going to take the product off the market.” We looked for another robot and couldn’t find one, so we decided to build one.
The form factors are similar.
Their form factor is basically the bottom. It goes under a shelf and brings the shelf back to the station to do a pick. The great thing about our solution is we can go into a brownfield building. They’re great and they work, but it will also take four times the number of robots to do the same work our robots do.
Amazon keeps coming up in my conversations in the space as a motivator for warehouses to adopt technologies to remain competitive. But there’s an even deeper connection here.
Amazon is actually our best marketing organization. They’re setting the bar for SLAs (service-level agreements). Every single one of these 3PLs walking around here [has] to do same- or next-day delivery, because that’s what’s being demanded by their clients.
Do the systems’ style require in-person deployment?
The interesting thing during COVID is we actually deployed a site over FaceTime.
Someone walked around the warehouse with a phone?
Yeah. It’s not our preferred method. They probably actually did a better job than we did. It was terrific.
As far as efficiency, that could make a lot of sense, moving forward.
Yeah. It does still require humans to go in, do the installation and training — that sort of thing. I think it will be a while before we get away from that. But it’s not hard to do. We take folks off the street, train them and in a month they know how to deploy.
Where are they manufactured?
We manufacture them in Boston, believe it or not. We have contract manufacturers manufacturing some components, like the base and the mast. And then we integrate them together in Boston. We do the final assembly and then do all the shipments.
As you expand sales globally, are there plans to open additional manufacturing sites?
We will eventually. Right now we’re doing some assemblies in Amsterdam. We’re doing all refurbishments for Europe in Amsterdam. […] There’s a big sustainability story, too. Sustainability is really important to big clients like DHL. Ours is an inherently green model. We have over 12,000 robots in the field. You can count the number of robots we’ve scrapped on two hands. Everything gets recycled to the field. A robot will come back after three or four years and we’ll rewrap it. We may have to swap out a camera, a light or something. And then it goes back into service under a RaaS model.
What happened in the cases where they had to be scrapped?
They got hit by forklifts and they were unrepairable. I mean crushed.
Any additional fundraising on the horizon?
We’ve raised about $430 million, went through our Series F. Next leg in our financing will be an IPO. Probably. We have the numbers to do it now. The market conditions are not right to do it, for all the reasons you know.
Do you have a rough timeline?
It will be next year, but the markets have got to recover. We don’t control that.
Q&A with Jerome Dubois
Next up, fittingly, is Jerome Dubois, the co-founder of Locus’ chief competitor, 6 River Systems (now a part of Shopify). Full interview here.
TC: Why was [the Shopify acquisition] the right move? Had you considered IPO’ing or moving in a different direction?
JD: In 2019, when we were raising money, we were doing well. But Shopify presents itself and says, “Hey, we’re interested in investing in the space. We want to build out a logistics network. We need technology like yours to make it happen. We’ve got the right team; you know about the space. Let’s see if this works out.”
What we’ve been able to do is leverage a tremendous amount of investment from Shopify to grow the company. We were about 120 employees at 30 sites. We’re at 420 employees now and over 110 sites globally.
Amazon buys Kiva and cuts off third-party access to their robots. That must have been a discussion you had with Shopify.
Up front. “If that’s what the plan is, we’re not interested.” We had a strong positive trajectory; we had strong investors. Everyone was really bullish on it. That’s not what it’s been. It’s been the opposite. We’ve been run independently from Shopify. We continue to invest and grow the business.
From a business perspective, I understand Amazon’s decision to cut off access and give itself a leg up. What’s in it for Shopify if anyone can still deploy your robots?
Shopify’s mantra is very different from Amazon. I’m responsible for Shopify’s logistics. Shopify is the brand behind the brand, so they have a relationship with merchants and the customers. They want to own a relationship with the merchant. It’s about building the right tools and making it easier for the merchant to succeed. Supply chain is a huge issue for lots of merchants. To sell the first thing, they have to fulfill the first thing, so Shopify is making it easier for them to print off a shipping label.
Now, if you’ve got to do 100 shipping letters a day, you’re not going to do that by yourself. You want us to fulfill it for you, and Shopify built out a fulfillment network using a lot of third parties, and our technology is the backbone of the warehouse.
Watching you — Locus or Fetch — you’re more or less maintaining a form factor. Obviously, Amazon is diversifying. For many of these customers, I imagine the ideal robot is something that’s not only mobile and autonomous, but also actually does the picking itself. Is this something you’re exploring?
Most of the AMR (autonomous mobile robot) scene has gotten to a point where the hardware is commoditized. The robots are generally pretty reliable. Some are maybe higher quality than others, but what matters the most is the workflows that are being enacted by these robots. The big thing that’s differentiating Locus and us is, we actually come in with predefined workflows that do a specific kind of work. It’s not just a generic robot that comes in and does stuff. So you can integrate it into your workflow very quickly, because it knows you want to do a batch pick and sortation. It knows that you want to do discreet order picking. Those are all workflows that have been predefined and prefilled in the solution.
With respect to the solving of the grabbing and picking, I’ve been on the record for a long time saying it’s a really hard problem. I’m not sure picking in e-comm or out of the bin is the right place for that solution. If you think about the infrastructure that’s required to solve going into an aisle and grabbing a pink shirt versus a blue shirt in a dark aisle using robots, it doesn’t work very well, currently. That’s why goods-to-person makes more sense in that environment. If you try to use arms, a Kiva-like solution or a shuttle-type solution, where the inventory is being brought to a station and the lighting is there, then I think arms are going to be effective there.
Are these the kinds of problems you invest R&D in?
Not the picking side. In the world of total addressable market — the industry as a whole, between Locus, us, Fetch and others — is at maybe 5% penetration. I think there’s plenty of opportunity for us to go and implement a lot of our technology in other places. I also think the logical expansion is around the case and pallet operations.
Interoperability is an interesting conversation. No one makes robots for every use case. If you want to get near full autonomous, you’re going to have a lot of different robots.
We are not going to be a fit for 100% of the picks in the building. For the 20% that we’re not doing, you still leverage all the goodness of our management consoles, our training and that kind of stuff, and you can extend out with [the mobile fulfillment application]. And it’s not just picking. It’s receiving, it’s put away and whatever else. It’s the first step for us, in terms of proving wall-to-wall capabilities.
What does interoperability look like beyond that?
We do system interoperability today. We interface with automation systems all the time out in the field. That’s an important part of interoperability. We’re passing important messages on how big a box we need to build and in what sequence it needs to be built.
When you’re independent, you’re focused on getting to portability. Does that pressure change when you’re acquired by a Shopify?
I think the difference with Shopify is, it allows us to think more long-term in terms of doing the right thing without having the pressure of investors. That was one of the benefits. We are delivering lots of longer-term software bets.
Q&A with Peter Chen
Lastly, since I’ve chatted with co-founder Pieter Abbeel a number of times over the years, it felt right to have a formal conversation with Covariant CEO Peter Chen. Full interview here.
TC: A lot of researchers are taking a lot of different approaches to learning. What’s different about yours?
PC: A lot of the founding team was from OpenAI — like three of the four co-founders. If you look at what OpenAI has done in the last three to four years to the language space, it’s basically taking a foundation model approach to language. Before the recent ChatGPT, there were a lot of natural language processing AIs out there. Search, translate, sentiment detection, spam detection — there were loads of natural language AIs out there. The approach before GPT is, for each use case, you train a specific AI to it, using a smaller subset of data. Look at the results now, and GPT basically abolishes the field of translation, and it’s not even trained to translation. The foundation model approach is basically, instead of using small amounts of data that’s specific to one situation or train a model that’s specific to one circumstance, let’s train a large foundation-generalized model on a lot more data, so the AI is more generalized.
You’re focused on picking and placing, but are you also laying the foundation for future applications?
Definitely. The grasping capability or pick and place capability is definitely the first general capability that we’re giving the robots. But if you look behind the scenes, there’s a lot of 3D understanding or object understanding. There are a lot of cognitive primitives that are generalizable to future robotic applications. That being said, grasping or picking is such a vast space we can work on this for a while.
You go after picking and placing first because there’s a clear need for it.
There’s clear need, and there’s also a clear lack of technology for it. The interesting thing is, if you came by this show 10 years ago, you would have been able to find picking robots. They just wouldn’t work. The industry has struggled with this for a very long time. People said this couldn’t work without AI, so people tried niche AI and off-the-shelf AI, and they didn’t work.
Your systems are feeding into a central database and every pick is informing machines how to pick in the future.
Yeah. The funny thing is that almost every item we touch passes through a warehouse at some point. It’s almost a central clearing place of everything in the physical world. When you start by building AI for warehouses, it’s a great foundation for AI that goes out of warehouses. Say you take an apple out of the field and bring it to an agricultural plant — it’s seen an apple before. It’s seen strawberries before.
That’s a one-to-one. I pick an apple in a fulfillment center, so I can pick an apple in a field. More abstractly, how can these learnings be applied to other facets of life?
If we want to take a step back from Covariant specifically, and think about where the technology trend is going, we’re seeing an interesting convergence of AI, software and mechatronics. Traditionally, these three fields are somewhat separate from each other. Mechatronics is what you’ll find when you come to this show. It’s about repeatable movement. If you talk to the salespeople, they tell you about reliability, how this machine can do the same thing over and over again.
The really amazing evolution we have seen from Silicon Valley in the last 15 to 20 years is in software. People have cracked the code on how to build really complex and highly intelligent looking software. All of these apps we’re using [are] really people harnessing the capabilities of software. Now we are at the front seat of AI, with all of the amazing advances. When you ask me what’s beyond warehouses, where I see this really going is the convergence of these three trends to build highly autonomous physical machines in the world. You need the convergence of all of the technologies.
You mentioned ChatGPT coming in and blindsiding people making translation software. That’s something that happens in technology. Are you afraid of a GPT coming in and effectively blindsiding the work that Covariant is doing?
That’s a good question for a lot of people, but I think we had an unfair advantage in that we started with pretty much the same belief that OpenAI had with building foundational models. General AI is a better approach than building niche AI. That’s what we have been doing for the last five years. I would say that we are in a very good position, and we are very glad OpenAI demonstrated that this philosophy works really well. We’re very excited to do that in the world of robotics.
News of the week
The big news of the week quietly slipped out the day after ProMat drew to a close. Berkshire Grey, which had a strong presence at the event, announced on Friday a merger agreement that finds SoftBank Group acquiring all outstanding capital stock it didn’t already own. The all-cash deal is valued at around $375 million.
The post-SPAC life hasn’t been easy for the company, in spite of a generally booming market for logistics automation. Locus CEO Rick Faulk told me above that the company plans to IPO next year, after the market settles down. The category is still a young one, and there remains an open question around how many big players will be able to support themselves. For example, 6 River Systems and Fetch have both been acquired, by Shopify and Zebra, respectively.
“After a thoughtful review of value creation opportunities available to Berkshire Grey, we are pleased to have reached this agreement with SoftBank, which we believe offers significant value to our stockholders,” CEO Tom Wagner said in a release. “SoftBank is a great partner and this merger will strengthen our ability to serve customers with our disruptive AI robotics technology as they seek to become more efficient in their operations and maintain a competitive edge.”
Unlike the Kiva deal that set much of this category in motion a decade ago, SoftBank maintains that it’s bullish about offering BG’s product to existing and new customers. Says managing partner, Vikas J. Parekh:
As a long-time partner and investor in Berkshire Grey, we have a shared vision for robotics and automation. Berkshire Grey is a pioneer in transformative, AI-enabled robotic technologies that address use cases in retail, eCommerce, grocery, 3PL, and package handling companies. We look forward to partnering with Berkshire Grey to accelerate their growth and deliver ongoing excellence for customers.
A healthy Series A this week from Venti Technologies. The Singapore/U.S. firm, whose name translates to “large Starbucks cup,” raised $28.8 million, led by LG Technology Ventures. The startup is building autonomous systems for warehouses, ports and the like.
“If you have a big logistics facility where you run vehicles, the largest cost is human capital: drivers,” co-founder and CEO Heidi Wyle tells TechCrunch. “Our customers are telling us that they expect to save over 50% of their operations costs with self-driving vehicles. Think they will have huge savings.”
This week in fun pivots, Neubility is making the shift from adorable last-mile delivery robots to security bots. This isn’t the company’s first pivot, either. Kate notes that it’s now done so five times since its founding. Fifth time’s the charm, right?
Neubility currently has 50 robots out in the world, a number it plans to raise significantly, with as many as 400 by year’s end. That will be helped along by the $2.6 million recently tacked onto its existing $26 million Series A.
Model-Prime emerged out of stealth this week with a $2.3 million seed round, bringing its total raise to $3.3 million. The funding was led by Eniac Ventures and featured Endeavors and Quiet Capital. The small Pittsburgh-based firm was founded by veterans of the self-driving world, Arun Venkatadri and Jeanine Gritzer, who were seeking a way to create reusable data logs for robotics companies.
The startup says its tech, “handles important tasks like pulling the metadata, automated tagging, and making logs searchable. The vision is to make the robotics industry more like web apps, or mobile apps, where it now seems silly to build your own data solution when you could just use Datadog or Snowflake instead.”
Saildrone, meanwhile, is showcasing Voyager, a 33-foot uncrewed water vehicle. The system sports cameras, radar and an acoustic system designed to map a body of water down to 900 feet. The company has been testing the boat out in the world since last February and is set to begin full-scale production at a rate of a boat a week.
Finally, some research out of MIT. Robust MADER is a new version of MADER, which the team introduced in 2020 to help drones avoid in-air collisions.
“MADER worked great in simulations, but it hadn’t been tested in hardware. So, we built a bunch of drones and started flying them,” says grad student Kota Kondo. “The drones need to talk to each other to share trajectories, but once you start flying, you realize pretty quickly that there are always communication delays that introduce some failures.”
The new version adds in a delay before setting out on a new trajectory. That added time will allow it to receive and process information from fellow drones and adjust as needed. Kondo adds, “If you want to fly safer, you have to be careful, so it is reasonable that if you don’t want to collide with an obstacle, it will take you more time to get to your destination. If you collide with something, no matter how fast you go, it doesn’t really matter because you won’t reach your destination.”
Here you go, way too fast. Don’t slow down, you’re gonna crash. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na. (Subscribe to Actuator!)
Asking the right dumb questions by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunchtesting covid-19 singapore japan europe
FDA approval of over-the-counter Narcan is an important step in the effort to combat the US opioid crisis
The Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Narcan will make the lifesaving drug more widely available, especially to those who might be likely to…
On March 29, 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Narcan for over-the-counter sale. Narcan is the 4-milligram nasal spray version of naloxone, a medication that can quickly counteract an opioid overdose.
The FDA’s greenlighting of over-the-counter naloxone means that it will be available for purchase without a prescription at more than 60,000 pharmacies nationwide. That means that, for 90% of Americans, naloxone nasal spray will be accessible at a pharmacy within 5 miles from home. It will also likely be available at gas stations, supermarkets and convenience stores. The transition from prescription to over-the-counter status is expected to take a few months.
We are pharmacists and public health experts who seek to increase public acceptance of and access to naloxone.
We think that making naloxone available over the counter is an essential step in reducing deaths due to overdose and destigmatizing opioid use disorder. Over-the-counter access to naloxone will permit more people to carry and administer it to help others who are overdosing. Moreover, increasing naloxone’s over-the-counter availability will convey the message that risks associated with substance use disorder warrant a pervasive intervention much as with other illnesses.
Deaths from opioid overdoses across the U.S. have increased nearly threefold since 2015. Between October 2021 and October 2022, approximately 77,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the U.S. Since 2016, the synthetic opioid fentanyl has been responsible for most of the drug-involved overdose deaths in America.
What is naloxone?
Naloxone reverses overdose from prescription opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone and recreational opioids like heroin. Naloxone works by competitively binding to the same receptors in the central nervous system that opioids bind to for euphoric effects. When naloxone is administered and reaches these receptors, it can block the euphoric effects of opioids and reverse respiratory depression when opioid overdose occurs.
There are two common ways to administer naloxone. One is through the prepackaged nasal sprays, such as Narcan and Kloxxado or generic versions of the drug. The other method is via auto-injectors, like ZIMHI, which deliver naloxone through injection, similar to the way epinephrine is delivered by an EpiPen as an emergency treatment for life-threatening allergic reactions.
The FDA will review a second over-the-counter application for naloxone auto-injectors at a later date. Although no interaction with a health care provider will be needed to purchase over-the-counter naloxone, when naloxone is purchased at a pharmacy, a knowledgeable pharmacist will be able to help people choose a product and explain instructions for use.
Research shows that when people who are likely to witness or respond to opioid overdoses have naloxone, they can save patients’ lives. This also includes bystanders as well as first responders like police officers and paramedics.
But until now, people in those situations could intervene only if they were carrying prescription naloxone or knew where to retrieve it quickly. Friends and family of people who use opioids are often given prescriptions for naloxone for emergency use. Over-the-counter naloxone will help make the drug more accessible to members of the general public.
Reducing stigma and saving lives
Naloxone is a safe medication with minimal side effects. It works only for those with opioids in their system, and it’s unlikely to cause harm if given by mistake to someone who’s not actively overdosing on opioids.
Since approximately 40% of overdoses occur in the presence of someone else, we believe public access to naloxone is extremely important. People may wish to have naloxone on hand if someone they know is at an increased risk for opioid overdose, including people who have opioid use disorder or people who take high amounts of prescribed opioid medications.
Community centers and recreational facilities may also keep naloxone on hand, similar to the placement of automated external defibrillators in public spaces for emergency use when someone has a heart attack.
There’s a long-held public stigma that suggests addiction is a moral failing rather than a chronic yet treatable health condition. Those who request naloxone or who have an opioid use disorder experience stigma and often aren’t comfortable disclosing their drug use to others, or seeking medical treatment. Removing naloxone’s prescription requirements by making it over the counter could decrease the stigma experienced by individuals since they no longer must request it from a health care provider or behind the pharmacy counter.
In addition, we encourage health care providers and members of the general public to use less stigmatizing language when discussing addiction.
Often, medications switched from prescription to over the counter are not covered by insurance. It remains unclear if this will be the case with Narcan. If so, the costs will shift to the patient, highlighting the reason continued support of programs that offer naloxone free of charge remains important.
What’s more, over-the-counter access could paradoxically cause a decrease in the drug’s availability. A rise in purchases could make it harder to buy naloxone if manufacturer supply does not keep up with increased consumer demand. The U.S. experienced such shortages of over-the-counter drugs in late 2022 during the nationwide surges in flu, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19.
Federal and state governments could lessen these potential barriers by subsidizing the cost of over-the-counter naloxone and working with drug manufacturers to provide production incentives to meet public demand.
The effects of nationwide access to over-the-counter naloxone on opioid-related deaths remain to be seen, but making this medication more widely available is an important next step in our nation’s response to the opioid crisis.
Lucas Berenbrok is part owner of the consulting company, Embarx, LLC.
Janice L. Pringle is affiliated with C4 Recovery.
Joni Carroll receives grant funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Overdose Data to Action.depression covid-19 disease control treatment fda medication deaths recovery
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