I am that guy who asks airport security if I can photograph my luggage going through the X-ray machine. I’m also the guy who spent a solid hour scrubbing through the CT scan of my broken jaw with a mix of horror and utter fascination. You could say I’ve been on a bit of a spectral imaging kick.
The Lumafield Neptune X-rayed my gadgets — let me show you
So when a startup called Lumafield told me I could put as many things as I wanted into its $54,000 a year radiographic density scanning machine… let’s just say I’ve a sneaking suspicion they didn’t think I’d take it literally.
Last month, I walked into the company’s satellite office in San Francisco with a stuffed-to-the-gills backpack containing:
I would have brought more, but I wanted to be polite!
The Neptune, Lumafield’s first scanner, is a hulking machine that looks like a gigantic black microwave oven at first glance. It’s six feet wide, six feet tall, weighs 2,600 pounds, and a thick sliding metal door guards the scanning chamber while the machine is in use. Close that door and press a button on its integrated touchscreen, and it’ll fire up to 190,000 volts worth of X-rays through whatever you place on the rotating pedestal inside.
I began with my Polaroid OneStep SX-70, the classic rainbow-striped camera that arguably first brought instant photography to the masses. Forty-five minutes and 35 gigabytes of data later, the company’s cloud servers turned the Neptune’s rotating radiograms into the closest thing I’ve seen to superhero X-ray vision.
Where my Kaiser Permanente hospital CT scan only produced ugly black-and-white images of my jaw that the surgeon had to interpret before I had the foggiest idea — plus a ghastly low-poly recreation of my skull that looked like something out of a ’90s video game — these scans look like the real thing.
In a humble web browser, I can manipulate ghostly see-through versions of these objects in 3D space. I can peel away their plastic casings, melt them down to the bare metal, and see every gear, wire, chip, and spring. I can digitally slice out a cross section worthy of r/ThingsCutInHalfPorn (note: contains no actual porn) without ever picking up a water jet or saw. In some cases, I can finally visualize how a gadget works.
But Lumafield isn’t building these machines to satisfy our curiosity or to help reverse engineer. Primarily, it rents them to companies that need to dissect their own products to make sure they don’t fail — companies that could never afford the previous generation of industrial CT scanners.
A decade ago, Eduardo Torrealba was a prizewinning engineering student who’d prototyped, crowdfunded, and shipped a soil moisture sensor that ScottsMiracle-Gro eventually took off his hands. (Fun fact: his fellow prizewinners were behind Microsoft’s IllumiRoom and Disney’s Aireal we once featured on The Verge.) Torrealba has been helping people prototype products ever since, both via the Fuse 1 selective laser sintering 3D printer he developed as a director of engineering at Formlabs and as an independent consultant for hardware startups after that.
Throughout, he ran into issues with manufactured parts not turning out properly, and the most compelling solution seemed to be a piece of lab equipment: the computed tomography (CT) scanner, which takes a series of X-ray images, each of which shows one “slice” of an object. Good ones, he says, can cost a million dollars to buy and maintain.
So in 2019, he and his co-founders started Lumafield to democratize and popularize the CT scanner by building its own from scratch. It’s now an 80-person company with $67.5 million in funding and a handful of big-name clients including L’Oréal, Trek Bikes, and Saucony.
“If the only cars that existed were Ferraris, a lot less people would have cars. But if I’m going to the corner store to get a gallon of milk, I don’t need a Ferrari to get there,” he tells The Verge, pitching the Lumafield Neptune as an affordable Honda Civic by comparison.
He admits the Neptune has limitations compared to a traditional CT, like how it doesn’t readily scan objects larger than a bike helmet, doesn’t go down to one micron in resolution, and probably won’t help you dive into, say, individual chips on a circuit board. I found it hard to identify some digital components in my scans.
But so far, Lumafield’s “gallon of milk” is selling scanners to companies that don’t need high resolution — companies that mostly just want to see why their products fail without destroying the evidence. “Really, we compete with cutting things open with a saw,” says Jon Bruner, Lumafield’s director of marketing.
Bruner says that, for most companies, the state of the art is still a band saw — you literally cut products in half. But the saw doesn’t always make sense. Some materials release toxic dust or chemicals when you cut them. Many batteries go up in flames. And it’s harder to see how running impacts a running shoe if you’ve added the impact of slicing it in half. “Plastic packaging, batteries, performance equipment… these are all fields where we’re replacing destructive testing,” Bruner adds.
“We compete with cutting things open with a saw”
When L’Oréal found the bottle caps for its Garnier cleansing water were leaking, it turned out that a 100-micron dent in the neck of the bottle was to blame, something the company discovered in its very first Lumafield scan — but that never showed up in traditional tests. Bruner says that’s because the previous method is messy: you “immerse in resin, cut open with a bandsaw, and hope you hit the right area.”
With a CT scanner, there’s no need to cut: you can spin, zoom, and go slice by digital slice to see what’s wrong. Lumafield’s web interface lets you measure distance with just a couple clicks, and the company sells a flaw detection add-on that automatically finds tiny hollow areas in an object — known as porosity; it’s looking for pores — which could potentially turn into cracks down the road.
But only select firms like aerospace contractors and major medical device companies could normally afford such technology. “Tony Fadell said [even Apple] didn’t have a CT scanner until they started working on the iPod nano,” Bruner relates. (Fadell, creator of the Apple iPod and co-founder of Nest, is an investor in Lumafield.)
Torrealba suggests that while you could maybe find a basic industrial CT scanner for $250,000 with $50,000 a year in ongoing software, maintenance, and licensing fees, one equivalent to the Neptune would run $750,000 to $1 million just in upfront costs. Meanwhile, he says, some clients are paying Lumafield just $54,000 a year ($4,500 a month), though many are more like $75,000 a year with a couple of add-ons, such as a lower-power, higher-resolution scanner or a module that can check a part against its original CAD design. Each scanner ships to your office, and the price includes the software and service, unlimited scans, and access for as many employees as you’d like.
How can Lumafield’s CT scanner be that much less expensive? “There’s never been market pressure within the industry to push costs down and make it more accessible,” says Bruner, saying that aircraft manufacturers, for example, have only ever asked for higher-performance machines, not more affordable ones, and that’s where Lumafield finds an opportunity.
Torrealba says there are plenty of other reasons, too — like how the company hired its own PhDs to design and build the scanners from scratch, assembling them at their own facilities in Boston, writing their own software stack, and creating a cloud-based reconstruction pipeline to cut down on the compute they needed to put inside the actual machine.
Even after a pair of interviews, it’s not wholly clear to me just how successful Lumafield has been since it emerged from stealth early last year. Torrealba says the team has shipped more than 10 but fewer than 100 machines — and would only say that the number isn’t 11 or 99, either. They wouldn’t mention the names of any clients that aren’t already listed on their case studies page.
Image: Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
But if you take the director of marketing at his word, Lumafield is making waves. “In the case of shoes, we have many of the household names in that space,” says Bruner, adding that “a lot of the big household names” in the consumer packaged goods category have signed on as well. “In batteries, it’s a group of companies, some of which are large and some small.” Product design consultancies are “a handful of customers,” and Lumafield has approached Kickstarter and Indiegogo to gauge interest, too.
Lumafield believes it may also get business from sectors that actually have used CT scanning before — like medical device and auto part manufacturers — largely by being faster. While many of the high-quality scans of my gadgets took hours to complete, Bruner says that even those companies that do have access to CT scanners might not have them at hand and need to mail the part to the right facility or an independent scanner bureau. “It’s the difference between having your engineering problem answered in two hours and waiting a week.”
And for simple injection molded products like some auto parts, Lumafield even retrofitted the Neptune with a fully automatic door, so a robot arm can swing parts in and out of the machine after a quick go / no go porosity scan that takes well under a minute to complete. Torrealba says one customer is “doing something adjacent” to the auto part example, and more than one customer is inspecting every single part on their production line as of today.
Automation is not what the Neptune was originally intended for, Torrealba admits, but enough customers seem interested that he wants to design for high-volume production in the future.
Video: Lumafield: GIF: The Verge
I’ve kept my Polaroid camera on my desk the entire time I’ve been typing and editing this story, and I can’t help but pick it up from time to time, remembering what’s on the other side of its rainbow-striped plastic shell and imagining the components at work. It gives me a greater appreciation for the engineers who designed it, and it’s intriguing to think future engineers might use these scanners to build and test their next products, too.
I’d love to hear if you spot anything particularly cool or unusual in our Lumafield scans. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GitHub takes down repository containing Twitter’s source code
Microsoft-owned GitHub took down a repository by a user named “FreeSpeechEnthusiast” that contained proprietary source code to Twitter after the social network filed a DCMA takedown request. The username certainly seems to be a jab at Twitter owner Elon Musk, who has claimed to be a “free speech absolutist” many times.
On Friday, Twitter filed a petition in the District Court of Northern California asking GitHub to take down the code and also help it find the perpetrator. The subpoena asks GitHub to disclose name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), email address(es), social media profile data, and IP address(es) linked with “FreeSpeechEnthusiast”.
The development comes days before March 31, when Musk will supposedly make Twitter’s algorithm related to the recommendation open source.
It’s not clear what part of Twitter was leaked on GitHub and for what duration. GitHub’s DCMA takedown blog just mentioned it took down the repository containing “Proprietary source code for Twitter’s platform and internal tools.”
The code-hosting site didn’t say if any users were able to access the repository before the company took it down. We have asked for a comment and will update the story if we hear back.
Twitter might be concerned about copies of the code that might not be present on GitHub. Twitter’s internal investigation suggested that the people who were responsible for the leak left the company last year, as per a report from the New York Times. The story also suggested that the social network’s executives got to know about the code leak only recently.
The company is facing a tough time after Musk’s takeover last year. Recent reports suggest that the Tesla CEO now values Twitter at $20 billion — less than half of the $44 billion he paid for the social network. According to a report from the New York Times, Musk also wrote an email to employees to announce a new stock compensation program that said Twitter could be worth $250 billion one day.
To get Twitter’s finances in better shape, Musk has taken radical steps for cost-cutting including mass layoffs and relaunching a new subscription program that offers verification as one of the benefits. According to data from analytics firm Sensor Tower, Twitter has managed to just get $11 million out of this new service. For comparison, Twitter registered $1.17 billion in revenue for Q2 2022.
At a recent conference, Musk said that time on users’ Twitter is poorly monetized.
“The average amount of time that people spend on Twitter per day that 250 million [monthly active users] is around half an hour or so. So what we have is — the thing that’s I think most interesting — is there are about 120 to 130 million hours of human attention per day on Twitter,” he said
“Every single day on, average, which is — I think it comes to a really interesting point which is to — just it’s startling how poorly monetized that is — because you have to say like how valuable is that attention 100 to 130 million hours of human attention per day of people that read — so these are the generally the smartest people in the world, the most influential people in the world.”
As expected, when we reached out to Twitter, we got a poop emoji.
Activist investor Elliott ditches director nomination plans for Salesforce
Activist investor Elliott Investment Management won’t be proceeding with plans to nominate its own directors to Salesforce’s board, citing improved performance and a clearer “focus on value creation” from the enterprise software company.
Elliott — one of five activist investors within Salesforce’s ranks — announced ahead of Salesforce’s recent Q4 earnings that it was pushing several of its own candidates toward the Salesforce board after a turbulent 2022 for the company. However, after a return to financial form for Salesforce, beating growth forecasts and announcing more shareholder returns, it seems this has been enough to convince Elliott that Salesforce has corrected course.
In a joint statement today, the companies said that in light of Salesforce’s recently announced “profitable growth framework” dubbed “New Day,” alongside its strong fiscal year 2023 and a slew of additional “transformation initiatives,” Elliott won’t pursue its director nominations.
“I have great respect for Marc [Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff] and his team, and I have become deeply impressed by their strong ongoing commitment to profitable growth, responsible capital return and an ambitious shareholder value creation plan,” Elliott managing partner Jesse Cohn noted in a press release.
First Citizens to acquire Silicon Valley Bank
First Citizens BankShares has agreed to buy Silicon Valley Bank, the California lender that served as lifeblood of thousands of startups and whose collapse sent shockwaves through the financial sector, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said on Monday.
The deal includes the purchase of about $72 billion assets of Silicon Valley Bank at a discount of $16.5 billion. About $90 billion in securities and other assets of the California-based lenders will remain “in receivership of disposition” by the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
The announcement comes weeks after the FDIC seized control of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10 after a run on deposits made the lender insolvent. The 17 former branches of Silicon Valley Bank will open as First Citizens Bank on Monday, the FDIC said.
“In addition, the FDIC received equity appreciation rights in First Citizens BancShares, Inc., Raleigh, North Carolina, common stock with a potential value of up to $500 million,” the FDIC said in a statement.
Before the collapse, the Silicon Valley Bank was the 16th largest bank in the U.S. Its meltdown was the largest bank failure in the U.S. since the 2008 financial crisis.
More to follow.
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- Exploring Pristine and Picturesque Munnar with Club Mahindra
- Saudi Aramco to buy 10% stake in China oil refinery for $3.6 billion
- Cricket Scotland: Four resign from anti-racism group due to frustrations with governing body’s tackling of racism | Cricket News
- GitHub takes down repository containing Twitter’s source code
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