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Atlanta, Seattle, and Chicago are Desperate for Software Engineers, says Job Search Firm

Where are the most software engineering job openings? You might guess Silicon Valley, but you’d be wrong, according to job search site Indeed Prime. Silicon Valley has jobs, indeed, but also plenty of software engineers.

Instead, Indeed Prime reports, the biggest mismatches between software engineering demand and supply are in Atlanta, Seattle, and Chicago; the smallest overall deficit is in Houston, Columbus, and Dallas.

The company also reported that the hardest software engineering job to fill is DevOps engineer, followed by mobile engineer, database engineer, mobile developer, software developer, Java developer, general software engineer, software architect UI/UX designer, and front-end developer. Nationally, those in demand DevOps engineers are commanding average salaries of $110,000, and are most in demand in Atlanta, Kansas City, and San Diego. On the other end, front-end developers are being paid an average of $89,000 and are in high demand in Columbus, Boston, and Charlotte.

A Smart Adult Diaper? Makes Sense. A Smart Tampon? Not So Much

Two startup companies launching products this month are aiming to prevent overflow accidents and other damp discomforts by bringing certain absorbable products onto the Internet of Things. The founders of Sensassure, coming out of the Highway 1 hardware accelerator, thinks its adult-diaper-sensor will make life cleaner and easier for seniors in nursing homes. And the founders of My.Flow, coming out of the HAX hardware accelerator, think its time women had better information about when to change their tampons.

Let’s start with the diaper. Sensassure has developed “Talli,” a reusable strip that attaches to the outside of standard commercial diapers or adult briefs and communicates when the incontinence product becomes wet, using a non-contact method of moisture sensing that cofounder Tim Ahong says, for now, is top secret.  That’s huge, cofounder Sameer Dhar says, because adults with dementia can’t necessarily report that they need a change, and therefore are either checked needlessly or sit with a wet diaper until the next scheduled check.

The company is targeting nursing homes; Ahong and Dhar say they spent a full year literally living in nursing homes in order to understand that market; you have to give them credit for doing their homework. They expect to offer the system—the detection strips and tracking software—for $1 per patient per day. They plan to add turn monitoring (for bedsore protection), fall detection, and other features to future versions.

Now, about that tampon...

The problem My.Flow is trying to solve is similar to the diaper problem—a full tampon is not a good thing; neither is changing it too often needlessly. It also might be useful to have a better sense of monthly flow and changes to it.

But My.Flow has two big problems. First is the way it works. The tampon itself doesn’t contain electronics—that’s a good thing. But, to be monitored, that means the tampon string has to be inserted into a gadget designed to clip onto a belt, the gadget does the sensing and communicates to a mobile device.

Uh, no. Just no. That is not going to catch on. The other problem is cost. The belt pack comes in at $49; that’s fine. But the compatible tampons are planned to retail for $11 for a box of 20; that’s more than twice the cost of dumb tampons, not the slight premium the company touts.

This product, however, might not be a dead end for My.Flow; company founder Amanda Brief says the long term plan is to design a version to use for medical testing; in that application, the string and price might not be such obstacles.

Smart Dampener Moves Tennis Motion Sensors Closer to the Action

Smart rackets that allow tennis players to track and analyze their strokes have been around for a while. I saw the $200 Smart Tennis Sensor from Sony at the January 2016 CES, sensor expert Karen Lightman wrote about the Babolat motion tracking tennis rackets (about $200 to $400) in IEEE Spectrum in February.

The Babolat tennis sensors are built into rackets; the Sony tennis sensors fit into the handles of certain compatible rackets. In both cases, you are likely to have to buy a new racket if you want to start tracking your game, which seemed to me like a pretty significant barrier for the casual athlete.

But both those gadgets have been out for a couple of years, years in which the electronics you need to make them—motion sensors, microprocessors, Bluetooth radios, and batteries—have gotten smaller and more powerful.

So I wasn’t particularly surprised to see a new, and clearly better approach emerge. Courtmatics, presenting at Highway 1 hardware startup accelerator demo day in San Francisco this week, is planning to ship its $79 tennis stroke analyzer, dubbed the smart dampener, this autumn.

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A Wearable That Stops Nail Biting, Hair Pulling, and Other Habits

Motion sensing wristbands, to date, have mostly been used to count steps and track sleep. They have gotten a lot of us to move more, and made us more comfortable with the idea of gathering and using data about our bodies. Clearly, though, they represent just the first generation of motion tracking technology.

The Liv Smart Bracelet is one of the first truly second-generation wearables that I’ve seen. Unveiled this week in San Francisco at the HAX hardware accelerator’s biannual demo day, Liv, from HabitAware, is designed to break bad habits by interrupting the wearer with a vibration in the midst of doing whatever it is he or she wants to stop doing.

To start using the gadget ($99 preorder, $149 retail), the wearer calibrates it by performing the action he would like to stop—say, biting nails, sucking a thumb (in older children) or pulling out hair (trichotillomania). The calibration is precise enough, says company founder Sameer Kumar, to successfully distinguish between even very similar actions. Then, every time the wearer repeats that action, the bracelet vibrates and records the incident. The data can later be uploaded to a companion app that will analyze it and make proactive suggestions—for example, that a particularly habit-prone time of day is coming up so it might be a good time for the user to take a walk or do something else distracting.

Kumar says he developed the gadget for and with his wife, who had a long history of eyelash and eyebrow plucking. It solved her problem, he says, and she has been able to regrow her eyebrows for the first time in 20 years.

Forget the “Brick”, This Power Supply for Wearables Is Soft, Stretchable, and Solar-Powered

Skin-like wearables—sensors and other electronics that can be worn comfortably for days at a time because they stretch and feel just like skin—made a big splash at CES. But the first generation of these “electronic tattoos” are externally powered, that is, they harvest RF energy to respond to an external reader. That’s fine for a limited range of applications, when you want to make spot checks of somebody’s temperature, say.

For anything else, though, wearables need power on board—that means batteries and some way to charge them. But, to date, a power supply has represented the antithesis of soft, conforming, skinlike electronics: we don’t call an external power supply a brick for nothing.

When I visited John Rogers and his fellow soft electronics researchers at the University of Illinois a year ago, they showed me some early designs for batteries; these essentially involved chopping a traditional lithium ion battery up into tiny squares and connecting them with stretchable circuits to make a battery that has some stretch and bend to it.

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This Wearable Is a Cure for Motion Sickness and Is Changing My Life

I suffer from motion sickness. Bad motion sickness.  Non-medicated, I can’t be a passenger in a car for more than 10 minutes of city driving—5 minutes on a windy road—without feeling sick. Virtual reality? Forget it, even with a double-dose of sleep-inducing medication, I can only spend about eight seconds in VR without the warning signs of an impending wave of nausea. (That’s a big problem for a journalist trying to cover consumer electronics these days.) I’ve tried chomping on ginger and ginger-filled capsules, pushing on acupressure points, and all sorts of prescription and non-prescription pharmaceuticals, settling on meclizine as my go-to; trading off 24 hours of annoying but not intolerable sleepiness and a slightly fuzzy brain for a calm stomach.

So when I spotted the ReliefBand booth at CES this year, touting a wearable that uses electric pulses to block the neurological signals that kick off motion sickness, I was eager to try the device—but was more than skeptical. I was sure that it wasn’t going to work, because if this really were possible, wouldn’t someone have thought of it years ago?

It turns out that someone did—about 20 years ago, and it’s been marketed for at least a decade as a prescription device to hospitals. And the various companies that owned the technology along the way made occasional attempts to break into the consumer market.

But more on that later.

What you probably really want to know is if the $90 gadget works. And oh yeah, it works. Amazingly, quickly, absolutely. And it is changing my life.

I first got an evaluation unit from ReliefBand in February. That evening, my husband and I had tickets a show in San Francisco; in rush hour, that’s anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half away, much of it in heavy traffic. I hate navigating the traffic and the city driving, so my usual plan would have been take a meclizine earlier in the day and hope it doesn’t knock me out during the show. I decided to instead try the ReliefBand, warning my husband that if it doesn’t work it could be a rough evening.

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Stanford AI Grads Launch Low(ish)-Cost Underwater Robot

SeaDrone, the underwater robot coming out of a new company founded by two Stanford AI lab veterans, is aiming to make fish farming a lot easier—particularly for smaller aquaculture operations—by making underwater inspection cheaper and easier.

The ocean ROV’s story is not an unusual one for Silicon Valley: two Stanford students meet over a lab bench, get an idea that something they’d been tinkering around with for themselves could be turned into a product and the basis of a company. It’s a story Silicon Valley loves.

Eduardo Moreno met Shuyun Chung in the Stanford AI lab in 2013. Moreno, in the thick of his studies for a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, was working on underwater robot hardware in collaboration with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. Chung, a postdoctoral scholar, was working on the software for SupraPed robots, which are designed to walk over rough terrain using trekking poles. The two were assigned seats next to each other in the labs, even though their projects were vastly different.

One day back in 2014, another researcher in the lab brought in a DJI quadcopter that he had just purchased, and showed off the drone’s capabilities.

“I was amazed that this $600 robot had much better technology than underwater robots that cost $10,000 or $15,000,” Moreno said. “That’s when I realized how far behind underwater robots were.”

He sketched out a design for a small, low-cost, underwater observational robot that used many of the same parts—like brushless DC motors, cameras, inertial sensors, and batteries—commonly used in consumer aerial drones. Moreno showed his sketch to workplace-neighbor Chung; he was immediately intrigued, and asked how he could help turn the sketch into a useful product.

Moreno was thrilled with the offer. For one, he says, “Once you get someone else to sign on to an idea, then you know you’re not crazy.” For another, he knew that to design really good robotics hardware you need to be creating the software at the same time, because it informs the design. Chung had the software chops that Moreno didn’t. And, finally, Moreno says, he knew Chung was good at helping people, because he’d already been helping Moreno with his homework assignments for his graduate classes.

Before they began working on the detailed specs for the robot, Moreno took some Stanford entrepreneurship classes to try to figure out how to make an underwater drone into a commercial business. Figuring out the market, says Moreno, “took longer than expected. It’s the hardest thing for someone with an engineering background to do, I think, putting on the marketing hat.”

They were thinking of marketing the gadget to city governments, for use in inspecting bridges and other infrastructure and in police work (looking for weapons or even bodies in lakes and rivers), until a Stanford professor told him that was a tough path, given government entities have a long and complicated purchasing process that is a red flag for potential investors. They explored the idea of inspection in general, but couldn’t find an appealing niche that could serve as an entry point.

Finally, they came to aquaculture. “We’d looked at the markets for aerial drones, and agriculture is a big one. So we searched online to see if there was anything like that for aquaculture, and, it turns out, there is some underwater observational technology. But it’s a really new market,” Moreno said. In aquaculture, nets, lines, and anchors must be inspected regularly; most fish farmers today send divers out to perform this task.

Market identified, they started focusing seriously on designing their underwater drone, and had their first prototype built in six months. They tossed it into a swimming pool at a local apartment complex.

It worked better than they had hoped. They even tested it up against a commercial underwater observational robot, borrowed from a local dive shop, and their home-built drone was more stable and easier to control, even for novices. (The commercial systems are typically used to inspect ocean-based oil drilling platforms and pipelines, dams, pilings, and boats.)

It was also one-quarter its commercial cousin’s size, measuring just 0.3 by 0.25 meters. Enabling the compact size, Moreno said, is the choice of brushless motors. They also redesigned the underwater thruster into something that costs tens of dollars to build instead of thousands. They followed that up by  and using off-the-shelf pressure sensors, humidity sensors, inertial navigation units, and camera modules—all of which have come down dramatically in price in the past few years thanks to demand from the mobile phone market. They put it all together, and waterproofed the entire system.

The toughest thing for Chung was coming up with an easy-to-use control system that could handle different numbers of thrusters. That was a necessity because they decided early on that they’d have to offer versions at different price points. Generally, says Moreno, the system is image-based and uses what the robot “sees” in the camera as a navigation guide.

Moreno’s biggest challenge was creating the propellers. “I had never done any propeller design before, or created molds for injection molding—any of that. And I built something with 50 separate plastic parts that are mass producible.” Designing an expensive robot, as he had done in the past, he says, “is significantly easier.”

Chung and Moreno both worked on the electronics design. The drone sends an HD video stream to a tablet or smartphone; the mobile device also acts as the controller.

At that point, they realized that they had a gadget that did pretty much everything commercial underwater observational robots do, but in a much smaller and vastly cheaper package. The only similar gadget out there was the OpenROV, an open source effort that offers kits for hobbyists. That system, Moreno said, is inexpensive to build and can move quickly, but smaller movements lack precision and it struggles to capture stable video.

Now, O-Robotix is testing beta versions of its underwater robot, called the SeaDrone, at an offshore fish farm near the coast of Baja, Mexico. The company will have production versions of its hardware ready to ship by the end of the summer, ranging in price from $2700 to $3300 depending on the number of thrusters. More thrusters give the drone operator finer control of the robot. “We’re starting with inspection drones, but, long term, our goal is to automate multiple parts of the process of aquaculture, including feeding, maintenance, and cleaning,” Moreno says.

Though large, comprehensive, automated systems are on the market, Moreno says O-Robotix is aimed at small, independent fish farmers who don’t have a million dollars to invest in a massive fish-factory, and instead want to gradually add low-cost technology.

While aquaculture will be the main market for SeaDrone, Moreno and Chung think there’s another, smaller market out there—one that is particularly meaningful to them: the education and research market. “Working on robotics research,” Moreno says, “we would spend a significant amount of time either building hardware, or hacking something we bought to make it work for our purposes, instead of focusing on the research we really wanted to do.” So, he says, they are selling a reconfigurable developer’s kit designed for researchers. So far, researchers at MIT, Stanford, and several universities in China have purchased early versions, Moreno says.

Moreno and Chung have been getting mentoring and other help this spring from the Start-X accelerator. The company was to officially unveil its technology at the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield today.

Two Andrews and an Algorithm Aim to Accelerate Drug Discovery

Pharmaceutical researchers have for years used computers to aid them in, say, modeling molecules or mining clinical records. This allows them to come up with candidates for potential drug therapies, often thousands of them at a time. The researchers then produce medicines and test them—first in petri dishes, then in animals, and, if the drugs continue to prove promising, in humans. This process can take a decade or longer and cost billions of dollars, and means that the road to a cure for cancer, diabetes, or Parkinson’s (or even better palliative treatments for these and other diseases), is a long one.

Palo Alto-based startup twoXAR aims to make that road a lot shorter, by turning the task of navigating through the forest of potential drug candidates over to an algorithm. And the company’s founders, whose background is in computer science instead of pharmaceutical research, say they are uniquely positioned to make it happen.

“Consider the auto industry,” says twoXAR cofounder and CEO Andrew Radin. “When you ask an auto engineer to make a car safer, he comes up with seatbelts and airbags and antilock brakes. But ask a software engineer, and he says, ‘Let’s replace the driver.’ Driverless cars did not originate at GM and Ford.”

“Computers can do a lot of things,” says twoXAR cofounder and chief business officer Andrew Radin. “But they usually augment what researchers are already doing. People working in drug discovery are life scientists, chemists, molecular biologists; they build molecular models, and then decide which ones to test, instead of letting computers crunch the data to make the decision about which candidates to investigate further.”

You may have noticed something peculiar about those last two paragraphs—besides their introduction to the general premise of the company. And no, it wasn’t a type. TwoXAR’s cofounders have the same name: Andrew Radin. In fact, twoXAR stands for “two times Andrew Radin.” And the two Andrews—CEO Andrew A. Radin and CBO Andrew M. Radin—connected with each other in a way that’s almost as serendipitous as some of the drug discovery processes they are trying to replace.

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Zero Zero's Camera Drone Could Be a Robot Command Center in the Future

Startup Zero Zero Robotics just took the wraps off its eye in the sky, the Hover Camera. The company hasn’t set a price but expects the lightweight drone (it weighs in at 240 grams) to cost under US $600.

The flying camera is a relatively new type of gadget. It all started about a year ago, when startup Lily Camera came out of stealth with its $500 to $1000 camera drone and argued that it wasn’t so much a drone as a simple-to-use flying camera. This March, drone-maker DJI introduced the Phantom 4, with autonomous flying and tracking features that essentially make it that company’s first flying camera at $1400.

Flying cameras are drones designed for use by consumers that don’t want to learn how to fly a drone; they just want to take pictures. The cameras have tracking capabilities so they can keep a subject in sight, and can autonomously hover or circle, as well as take off and land on command without the user having to control the ascent or descent precisely.

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Which Companies Pay Engineers the Most?

Recruitment firm Glassdoor this week ranked the top 25 highest paying companies in the U.S. Tech firms—in particular, those in the San Francisco Bay Area—generally dominated the list (though management consulting firms sat in the number one and two slots).

Of the tech companies, Juniper Networks, which was number three overall, came out on top, with a median compensation—that’s salary plus bonus and other extras—of $157,000.

Google was the next tech firm in the ranking. Its median compensation of $153,750 was high enough to land it at number five. VMware took sixth place, and Amazon Lab126, a Silicon Valley R&D firm that is a subsidiary of Amazon.com, came in seventh.

Guidewire ranked ninth, Cadence Design Systems tenth, and Facebook 12th. After that, it was tech all the way, with spots 13 through 25 held by Twitter, Box, Walmart eCommerce, SAP, Synopsys, Altera, LinkedIn, Cloudera, Salesforce, Microsoft, F5 Networks, Adobe, and Broadcom, anchoring the top 25 at $140,000. (Of these tech companies, only SAP, Microsoft, and Broadcom aren’t based in Northern California.)

Addressing the results of the study, Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain, quoted in a blog post from the company, said, “In technology, we continue to see unprecedented salaries as the war for talent is still very active, largely due to the ongoing shortage of highly skilled workers needed.”

To conduct the study, Glassdoor looked at companies whose U.S. based employees submitted more than 50 salary reports detailing their base salary and other forms of compesation over the past year ending 29 March. The full report is here.

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View From the Valley

IEEE Spectrum’s blog featuring the people, places, and passions of the world of technologists in Silicon Valley and its environs.
Contact us:  t.perry@ieee.org

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Tekla Perry
Palo Alto
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