“Stealth mode” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the tech world. Some stealth startups use the term as a marketing ploy, staying mum to get people wondering and excited about their amazing new concept. Other companies keep their tech and ideas under wraps to avoid having another company beat them to the punch. Whatever their reasons, the companies on this list are operating with some degree of secrecy regarding their product, progress, and operations.
We used the CB Insights tech market intelligence platform, and especially the patent search function, to get a better look into what some of the hottest stealth mode startups are up to.
Magic Leap is probably one of the best-funded and splashiest stealth startups around, with tons of money in the bank and buzz to match. The company’s patent activity focuses mainly on refining Magic Leap’s VR/AR products with a “see-through head mounted display” and VR or AR “headsets having adjustable interpupillary distance.”
The patent for “using historical attributes of a user for virtual or augmented reality rendering” is aimed at decreasing latency when rendering new objects in a virtual world. Notes in this document indicate that high latency when rendering virtual objects can cause users discomfort, queasiness, etc. and that keeping latency low improves user experience. To that end, the company is attempting to use historical user information about head movements to improve head tracking and develop “predictive head tracking.”
Autonomous electric vehicle maker Zoox has plenty of reason to operate in stealth mode — the autonomous vehicle space is crowded with heavy-hitters like Alphabet and Tesla and there is a cutthroat battle in the space to poach talent and perhaps even tech. It’s no wonder then that Zoox and other startups want to keep their developments under wraps. However, some concept art (above) has made the rounds already with a futuristic design that may even have riders facing each other. Recent news stories highlight the fact that the company hired former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind to help them “safely develop, test, and deploy autonomous vehicles.”
Zoox’s patents suggest that one mission of the billion-dollar company is to develop a system that will interconnect all their vehicles to keep them moving smoothly.
Other patents the company is working on include developing internal safety features and systems to track other cars on the road.
Peter Thiel famously quipped that “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” but at least one company is working to make flying personal vehicles a reality. Larry Page personally sunk $100M into Zee.Aero but there’s still little publicly circulated news about them out there. Although a photograph at The Mercury News, taken in October 2016, shows what may be a prototype. The photo was a rare gap in the stealth startup’s normally secretive ways. Its patents give a better idea of what their game-changing space crafts could look like (including one that looks specifically like the craft shown in the Mercury News story):
Other patents in Zee.Aero’s portfolio include those related to specific functionality, including a lift fan mechanism and rotor blade.
Managing wireless networks effectively over distances and within buildings where network usage and strength can vary widely from location to location is one of the modern era’s greatest technological challenges. While home devices aimed at this problem have been on the market for some time, larger-scale solutions and improvements have been slow in coming.
Enter Mist Systems, a company whose mandate is to completely redesign wireless networking from the ground up. VP of Marketing Jeff Aaron says that Mist’s networking solutions are different because their cloud-based infrastructure is built to match the needs of modern wireless users, modeled after the Facebook and Netflix cloud systems. Their access points also use Bluetooth tech in addition to Wi-Fi, which opens new avenues in terms of location finding, proximity-based messaging, and more.
Lastly, the integration of AI into their cloud system allows for more efficient troubleshooting and more consistent service overall, according to Aaron. Mist has also spearheaded an alliance with other companies focused on developing high-accuracy location services for indoor settings, which is what a few of their patents, including the one featured below, focus on.
Numescent seems to be setting out to be the IT industry’s dream come true, building systems to deliver desktop applications too large for other traditional systems. Its technology is designed to deliver applications from the cloud faster than linear digital downloads and allow them to be executed on the target platform without installation. Their patents are all oriented around this goal, with innovations in asset streaming and access management.
Plenty of startups, stealth mode and otherwise, and corporations alike are focused on home automation. However, most are concerned with creating electronic devices that give users better control of other electronic devices. Appliance manufacturers have also been steadily adding electronic functionality to previously “dumb” devices to help them integrate into the IoT and be compatible with home automation devices like Google Home and Alexa. Some systems will even control your security system and electronic locks, if you have them. Tyto apparently wants to bring your doors and windows into the modern era and let you control these electronically as well, like with the connected window below.
See the company’s full list of patents and applications for various household apparatuses:
Little more than the basics are known about Aquifi — the company does something with 3D imaging and has been in stealth mode for a long time. While the company’s website sheds some light on its efforts in logistics and industrial automation, some more interesting ideas can be found in its patents. As you can see in the image below, Aquifi is focusing a lot on technologies not just to scan, map, and rapidly reconstruct a 3D world with 2D cameras, but also for users to possibly interface with that world using head movements and gestures and incorporate the use of “wearable glasses.” This, combined with a mention of customizing “user viewable ads presented on broadcast media,” could point to a future for Aquifi that’s more than just scanning and sorting boxes in warehouses.
There are more devices generating and accessing data than ever before and that number grows every day. Startups and corporations alike are working on new, better ways to store and surface that data. Symbolic is one such company, whose “IRIS” system pioneers a new computing architecture “that isn’t tied to storage media.” One breakthrough element of the system is its ability to massively shorten binary tables by registering the absence of a character as a zero. According to one beta customer, MetTel, Symbolic IO is “the fastest product we’ve used, [and] it eliminates very real challenges for our organization, including data creep.” Symbolic’s patents reveal that they are attacking the data problem from the hardware and software side.
Startups are famous for thinking outside the box and Sympara is attacking the debilitating condition of hypertension in an unorthodox way: with an external device and a smartphone. We can see from their patents that they intend to have users attach a specialized device to their chests that administers a therapeutic session of low-level electrical impulses aimed at modulating their blood pressure.
The sun is pretty good when it comes to creating illumination, helping plants grow, and modulating the rhythms of the lives of animals. But Xiant Technologies thinks there’s still room for improvement, with patents revealing that they are developing lighting systems aimed at the burgeoning ag tech space to help improve outputs for plants and chickens. Claims around their lighting system include that it can produce larger chickens and possibly earlier sexual maturity, which would allow them to make eggs and reproduce earlier. For plants, the company indicates that the lighting system would be used as a fundamental controller of plant activity, aimed at speeding up growth times and increasing yields.
Ever had a headache and wish there was an instant fix for it? Syntilla Medical appears to be working on that with a device referred to in their patents as an “implantable head located radiofrequency coupled neurostimulation system for head pain,” and references helping ease migraine pain elsewhere in the documents. Apparently it would deliver targeted neurostimulation on demand and features both an implanted device inside the user’s head and an external receiver on the outside (clipped to the ear or secured in another way). This receiver would possibly be connected to a smartphone, according to one image. An intelligent device that could interface with the implant could conceivably allow it to adjust the neurostimulation to precise degrees, track usage, and allow stats to be interpreted by users and medical professionals to determine efficacy and more.
Lots of startups want to change the world. Misapplied Sciences wants to change how people see the world. Their site is pretty much just a placeholder, but their patents give a picture of the world they want to build. And that world is one filled with options. Many of their patents focus on allowing multiple viewers looking at the same visual surface to see different things — think augmented reality without a headset or phone. The applications for this kind of technology are limitless: museums, lecture halls, sporting events, video gaming, traffic signals, and advertising are just the tip of the iceberg and many are referenced in their docs. In some cases, location is enough to allow users to see different images. In others, users use a computer or other interface device to control what they see.
Comma.ai was created with the goal of helping ordinary drivers give their cars autonomous capabilities. Their stealth mode cover was blown some months ago by the high-profile news that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had sent them a strongly worded letter expressing their concerns over their $999 after-market conversion kit that would allow Honda Civics and some Acuras to be partially autonomous, citing safety concerns. Founder George Hotz first announced a shutdown, then pivoted a month later in true DIY style, splitting Comma into two projects, one for hardware and the other for software, and making them open source. Comma’s software system, Open Pilot, has already made it into startup Neodriven’s after-market kit.
Wearables are a huge market with tons of possibilities. Cheaper sensors and the prevalence of smartphones and smart devices of all kinds are leading to a more connected world. Elira aims to help users connect with their stomachs via an adhesive dermal patch with a built-in electrode that could help them curb their appetites and eat less. The digital health company’s patents cover the development of a miniature device that would affect the user’s digestive system and “[increase the] delay in the gastric emptying time,” which could conceivably help users feel fuller longer and eat less.
For many hospital patients, the prospect of surgery is nerve-wracking enough, let alone worrying about whether your surgical team might accidentally operate on the wrong part of your body. The internet is full of stories of surgeries gone wrong and of clever patients writing “This one, please” or otherwise labeling the proper part of their body for surgery. These low-tech solutions may help, but Startbox sets out to create a more foolproof approach.
The fundamental product Startbox envisions is the surgical supply box itself, which contains the scalpels and other equipment to be used for the surgery. The company’s patents offer both high- and low-tech visions, both containing checklists for the procedure attached to the outside of the box. In the low-tech version, the surgeon pulls a tab to produce a pen to sign off on the attached checklist, indicating that they’ve reviewed the patient’s records and understand the procedure that they are about to perform. The surgical nurse also signs the same form. The surgical supply box cannot be opened until the second form is signed and removed from the box. It’s this crucial final review by the surgeon and the surgical nurse which could help prevent some surgical errors.
An advanced version suggested by the company includes the use of QR/scan codes to link the surgical tray or the outside container box with each unique patient as it goes through the surgical process. The company also suggests that more advanced boxes could contain USB ports to allow them to be updated with patient info, giving the surgical team more opportunities to access and verify the patient’s information and make sure that they operate on the correct site.
As their landing page indicates, Spinlaunch has something to do with outer space. But, like most stealth mode companies, details are sparse. This is where CB Insights’ job listing tracker sheds some light. In March of 2017, Spinlaunch put up job postings for a Composite’s Technician and a “Spacecraft Embedded Systems Programmer & Mechatronics,” both listed as being entry level. The Composite’s Technician position only calls for a high school diploma and the job description indicates that there will be significant supervision and that the role “allows for long-term personal growth.” It also says that this person will be responsible for helping build scale models, indicating a company that’s still in its early R&D stages.
The Spacecraft Embedded Systems Programmer role is a bit more illuminating. It reinforces that Spinlaunch is still in the R&D stage and that anyone joining the team will need to think on their feet and help keep the company moving — standard startup fare. Another interesting detail revealed in this profile is the request that candidates have experience “working with orbital vehicles/CubeSats.” CubeSats are miniaturized satellites (shaped like cubes, as the name would suggest) used for a variety of research and other purposes. These units are usually deployed by staff on the International Space Station, but given that the listing also asks for experience in “Spacecraft and Launch Vehicle Development,” it seems that the company may be working on their own launch vehicles, following in the footsteps of SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Just about every company, stealth mode or otherwise, wants to disrupt an industry. But fewer take aim at making a difference and maybe saving some lives. Andas’s tech-connected breathalyzer has the potential to do that. Their three patents (two already approved) are designed to measure exhaled nitric oxide or ethanol levels. The device’s preferred form would use “the quantum capacitance effect of graphene as a transduction mechanism” to measure these levels. Once the test is conducted, the information is sent to a smartphone or computer, via Bluetooth or another wireless means, based on the company’s paperwork. Exhaled nitric oxide levels are often measured when testing patients for asthma or other respiratory disorders. Measuring exhaled ethanol would have applications for drunk driving testing. The company’s patents suggest that their devices could be coupled with “vehicle interlock systems” to presumably prevent drunk driving. They also indicate that devices could be used for “compliance monitoring [and] workplace safety screening” as well.
While Google just recently made it easier for users to share their location with others and coordinate on the go, Whoozat still thinks there’s room for improvement. Their patent application covers the use of location-tracking technology to help groups (families, clubs, friends, etc.) connect in the real world. It takes a more proactive stance than Google’s blanket “tell certain people where you are” option by letting users designate a specific geographic location as an “assigned location.”
The system then tells the group administrator if and when geographically-locatable individuals are at the assigned location or not. The administrator can also determine who within the group can see this information. And the proposed system’s trigger function means that users don’t need to obsessively check their phones; they’ll receive a notification when targeted users are at the assigned location. With the proliferation of GPS-enabled smartphones and the myriad other ways GPS and IoT technology has changed how we interact and track each other, services like this will only become more prevalent.
Meltz is another company so stealthy that they don’t even have a website. But the company has received patents for “processes for creating a consumable liquid food or beverage product from frozen contents” among other things, for what looks like a Keurig-type machine that uses frozen concentrate to create beverages. What kind of beverages? According to another filing: “apparatus for creating an extract from coffee or other extractable materials.” Check out their filings:
Odin is the one-eyed patriarch of the Norse pantheon, a fitting name for a company that (as the logo hints) deals with eye issues. Whereas the mythological Odin plucked out his own eye in exchange for knowledge, this startup is using their knowledge to insert specialized therapeutic implants into patient’s eyes. Their unique system creates a multi-layer optical implant which, once inserted into the “sub-Tenon’s space of the eye and provides sustained release of the therapeutic agent during the treatment or prevention of the disorder of the eye.”
The company’s main goal, as evidenced by their site, is battling the “wet” form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This form of AMD is responsible for most cases of blindness in people over age 65, with “25,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States.” Due to the part of the eye afflicted, it can be very difficult to deliver treatment to the site. This implant could help prevent sight loss for thousands.
Did we miss your favorite stealth-mode company? Let us know in the comments.
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