Company pushes envelope at NASA

Published 9:29 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

QuantumStack, a start-up company based in Suffolk, was among the innovators celebrated at a NASA gathering in Hampton this week.

The 2017 NASA iTech forum was held Wednesday and Thursday at the National Institute of Aerospace in Hampton in conjunction with the agency’s Centennial Symposium for the 100th anniversary of the Langley Research Center.

Participating companies and other organizations were invited to submit ideas for technological innovations in a “Shark Tank”-like environment for industry exposure and the chance to participate in the symposium.

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Organized by the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist with support from the NIA, the collaboration finds and fosters innovations designed for challenges on Earth and could potentially address those faced in deep-space exploration.

“We are being exposed to cutting-edge technologies that can be used to solve some of our challenges,” said Kira Blackwell, innovation program executive in the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA headquarters.

The top 10 entries submitted by businesses, universities, nonprofits and other organizations were judged by a panel of NASA experts based on their relevance, likelihood of achievement and potential impact.

Representatives came from across the country, focusing on solutions for issues concerning autonomy; big data; data mining; and machine learning, medical systems and operations; and radiation protection and mitigation; plus unspecified future challenges dubbed “X-factor solutions.”

QuantumStack’s presentation addressed issues connected to decentralized global computer networks.

“Our goal is to reduce the cost of doing that dramatically,” said Frank Byrum, founder and CEO of QuantumStack, and chief scientist at Spectrum Comm Inc. based in Newport News.

QuantumStack was founded earlier this year by Byrum, four colleagues and about eight advisors with the goal of crowd-powered supercomputing. The technology would allow the company to receive scientific problems from clients, and then process the data over a vast network of connected computer devices, as opposed to a traditional supercomputer that exists in one place.

Owners of the devices would be compensated with digital currency, along with the satisfaction of being part of the solution.

“One way to engage the public in a mission to Mars is to say, ‘do a little bit of the problem,’” Byrum said.

After his presentation on Thursday, Byrum and other presenters sat down with experts and potential investors to answer questions and receive feedback. He was excited for the opportunity to meet face-to-face with such individuals in a short amount of time.

“To me, the great opportunity here at iTech was affording me something that I couldn’t afford as a small company,” he said. “We’re certainly grateful for the coaching and what they’ve done.”

The top three teams selected in this cycle were University of Houston, the Omniboros team from Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Health System from Washington, and Context Medical from California. The three will participate on a panel at the Centennial Symposium.

Although QuantumStack did not advance, Byrum said it was a “tremendous honor” to make it to the top 10, and to meet his brilliant competitors.

“All of them were brilliant and doing amazing things,” he said. “They’re all doing great work, and there wasn’t a bad idea in the room. It’s exciting.”