Two Utah Valley startups are trying to make the world a bit better and safer through some remarkable technology.
Digithought in Mapleton, founded by Nate Allan and his brother-in-law Kevn Lambson, is tackling garden weeds one sprout at a time. But there are no scruffy knees and dirt-caked fingernails for these two. They’ve invented the Weedobot, a smart robot that will do the weeding for you.
When Allan sold his software company in 2014, he reconnected with “the tinkering child inside” and the Weedobot was born. The robot can roll through a garden or flower bed, identifying and yanking up weed sprouts as it goes.
“I have a large garden, and I hate weeding,” Allan said. “But I was mostly inspired by my mother. She’s getting older, and has a large lot. Last summer she looked beaten down from her battle with the weeds.”
Allan and Lambson have gone through multiple iterations of their rugged two-wheeled weeder and currently have a working 3D printed prototype. The solar-powered robot has highly smart machine vision, so programming it to recognize weed sprouts was actually one of the easier developmental challenges.
“The problems I expected to be the hardest weren’t,” Allan said. “Navigating a garden bed, with rocks, sticks, and hills was the hardest problem.”
Allan feels like he is an early pioneer in the consumer products robotics space and sees many applications for the Weedobot and other robots like it.
“I see this as part of something much bigger," Allan said. "This is initially targeted for the residential home garden, but nothing says you can’t put this on a large commercial farm with a team of them.” Commercial applications would require modification, but are in the future for his product.
“I learned in my career to break a product down to just the basic solution, and then build on that. We could already have this do other functions, but for now, we’re just focused on succeeding at one problem -- taking out weeds.”
Clark Turner at Turner Innovation in Orem also knows how to take innovations through a multi-step process. Turner is already well known in dental circles as the inventor of the Aribex Nomad -- the hand-held, battery-powered dental X-ray machine common to most dental offices today. The Nomad replaced the need for dental offices to have a large bulky stationary X-ray arm that had to be minutely positioned for use.
Turner started his new company in 2012 and is working on a similar invention that takes X-rays from 2D to 3D. Currently, if a dentist needs a 3D image of a patient’s teeth or jaw, he must invest in the large and quite pricey Cone Beam CT scanner. Turner’s invention, the Turner3DIO, would cost about half the CBCT and expose patients to much less radiation.
“With the CBCT, there is a lot of radiation exposure for patients, equivalent to as much as 20 to 100 doses of radiation from a plain dental X-ray,” Turner said. “The Turner3DIO would equal less than six.”
Turner and his small team of six employees have designs and mock-ups of the invention, but cannot build a prototype until they raise more funding.
The technology both Allan and Turner are working with doesn’t come cheap. So they turned to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) Technology Commercialization and Innovation Program (TCIP). The TCIP was created by the Utah legislature in 2011 to assist universities in bringing their technologies from the development process to the commercial market. In 2014, the legislature opened the program to small businesses as a means to further accelerate economic development in the state. This year, TCIP recipients were required to receive formal mentoring and participate in a Boomstart Accelerator.
Both inventors were selected for a development grant through TCIP, and have benefited from the mentoring through the program. Both received initial grant funding at the start of the process, and on May 27, they participated in “StartupUtah Pitch Day,” where they pitched their products to the grant funders, in hopes for more funding.
Allan and Turner don’t know yet how much funding they’ve earned, but they both feel their products are very promising. If Turner can secure TCIP funding, and then additional investor funding, his Turner3DIO could be selling by 2017. If Allan can secure the funding, and then raise additional investments through a Kickstarter campaign he is launching in about a month, he could be selling by 2016.