From a supercomputer making its debut in West Houston to a behind-the-scenes look at Amazon's artificial intelligence-enabled fulfillment center, these were Houston's top stories in tech. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Editor's note: Houston had some big stories in technology this year, from a peek inside Amazon's artificial intelligence-enabled Houston facility and the opening of a new supercomputer to space-focused Houston startups and the future of virtual reality.

Massive data center officially opens just west of Houston

Matthew Lamont is managing director at DownUnder GeoSolutions' which just opened its new, powerful data center west of Houston. Courtesy of DUG

DownUnder GeoSolutions has officially opened its new data centre in Skybox Houston in Katy, Texas. It's being billed as one of the most powerful supercomputers on earth.

The center, which houses DUG's geophysical cloud service, DUG McCloud, celebrated its grand opening on Thursday, May 16. The company's data hall has 15 megawatts of power and resides in a building designed to withstand hurricane-force winds up to 190 mph.

A second, identical hall is already planned to be built out later this year. Together, the two machines will have a capacity of 650 petaflop, which is a measurement of computing speed that's equal to one thousand million million floating-point operations per second. Continue reading.

5 startups keeping Houston known as the Space City

Houston celebrated 50 years since the Apollo moon landing on July 20. Here are some startups that are going to be a part of the next 50 years of space tech in Houston. Photo via NASA.gov

This month, for the most part, has been looking back on the history Houston has as the Space City in honor of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20. While it's great to recognize the men and women who made this city the major player in space exploration that it is, there are still entrepreneurs today with space applications and experience that represent the future of the Space City. Continue reading.

How Amazon's Houston fulfillment center uses AI technology and robotics to move millions of products

From robotics to artificial intelligence, here's how Amazon gets its products to Houstonians in record time. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Last summer, Amazon opened the doors to its North Houston distribution center — one of the company's 50 centers worldwide that uses automation and robotics to fulfill online orders.

The Pinto Business Park facility has millions of products in inventory across four floors. Products that are 25 pounds or less (nothing heavier is stocked at this location) pass through 20 miles of conveyor belts, 1,500 employees, and hundreds of robots.

The center also has daily tours open to the public. We recently visited to see for ourselves the process a product goes through at this Houston plant. From stowing to shipping, here's how packages go from your shopping cart to your front porch. Continue reading.

Developments in virtual reality technology are changing the workforce, say Houston experts

The solution to Houston's workforce problem might be right in front of our eyes. Getty Images

Everyone's job has training associated with it — from surgeons to construction crane operators — and there's a growing market need for faster, more thorough training of our workforce.

"The best way to learn how to do something, is to just get out and do it," says Eric Liga, co-founder of HoustonVR. "But there are a lot of reasons why you can't do that in certain types of training."

Augmented and virtual reality training programs are on the rise, and Liga cites safety, cost, and unpredictable work environments as some of these most obvious reasons reasons to pivot to training employees through extended reality. This type of training also provides portability and has proven higher retention, Liga says in his keynote speech at Station Houston's AR/VR discuss on April 25.

"You get a much higher retention rate when you actually go out and do something — physically going through the motions — than you do sitting in a classroom or reading a book," he says. Continue reading.

Recently renovated Downtown Houston office space snags leases from 2 tech companies

Main&Co's office space is now 100 percent leased. Courtesy of Main&Co

Two tech-focused companies moved into a newly developed office space in downtown Houston at the intersection of Main Street and Commerce Street. One company relocated its Houston office, and the other company has expanded to the city for the first time.

Oil and gas AI-enabled analytics platform, Ruths.ai relocated its downtown office to Main&Co, located at 114 Main St. The company has 8,457 square feet of office space in the recently renovated historic building.

Meanwhile, global robotics process automation company UiPath has expanded to build a Houston team. The computer software company is based in New York, but has a presence in 18 countries. The company's office has 5,187 square feet of Main&Co's office space. Continue reading.

The three Houston innovators to know this week represent new, exciting things for the innovation ecosystem. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

The movers and shakers within the Houston innovation ecosystem come from all kinds of industries — from private equity to supercomputing. This week's innovators to know reflect that industry diversity and are bringing something new to the table.

Jon Nordby, managing director of Houston's MassChallenge Texas chapter

Jon Nordby, former exec at Houston Exponential, will lead the inaugural Houston MassChallenge cohort. Courtesy of MassChallenge

Jon Nordby, who recently served as Houston Exponential's director of strategy since its launch, was named as the managing director of MassChallenge Texas in Houston, a zero-equity startup accelerator.

"MassChallenge's not-for-profit, no equity model is uniquely suited to accelerate the development of Houston's innovation ecosystem and is the foundation early-stage startups need to get to the point of disruption or pivot as fast as possible," says Nordby in a release.

Before HX, Nordby served as vice president of talent and innovation at the Greater Houston Partnership, and was essential in creating the organization's Innovation Initiative. Click here to learn more about the appointment.

Matthew Lamont, managing director at DownUnder GeoSolutions

Matthew Lamont is managing director at DownUnder GeoSolutions which just opened its new, powerful data center west of Houston. Courtesy of DUG

Matthew Lamont isn't technically a Houstonian, but the managing director of Perth, Australia-based DownUnder GeoSolutions gets the honorary title for bringing one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, nicknamed Bubba, to the Houston area. In fact, perhaps Lamont accepts the recognition on behalf of Bubba, who — while inanimate — is definitely a Houstonian.

DUG is heavily investing in Houston, and Bubba is just the start. The company plans to start on a friend for Bubba later this year and bring an even more powerful supercomputer to the market by 2021. Read more about Lamont, Bubba, and all that DUG is doing in Houston here.

Taseer Badar, founder and CEO of ZT Corporate

Taseer Badar is in the business of making money. Courtesy of ZT Corporate

Taseer Badar will shoot it to you straight: Houston startups struggling to find capital might need to look nationally or globally.

"Investors in Houston want positive earnings before interest, tax, and amortization," he says. "But that doesn't mean it's not possible in New York, Dallas, Austin, or other cities. There are technology conferences everywhere, that's a great way to get known as a startup."

As CEO and founder of ZT Corporate with 1,000 investors to manage, he knows private equity, and what it takes to invest. Read more about Badar here.

Matthew Lamont is managing director at DownUnder GeoSolutions' which just opened its new, powerful data center west of Houston. Courtesy of DUG

Massive data center officially opens just west of Houston

Now online

DownUnder GeoSolutions has officially opened its new data centre in Skybox Houston in Katy, Texas. It's being billed as one of the most powerful supercomputers on earth.

The center, which houses DUG's geophysical cloud service, DUG McCloud, celebrated its grand opening on Thursday, May 16. The company's data hall has 15 megawatts of power and resides in a building designed to withstand hurricane-force winds up to 190 mph.

A second, identical hall is already planned to be built out later this year. Together, the two machines will have a capacity of 650 petaflop, which is a measurement of computing speed that's equal to one thousand million million floating-point operations per second.

In addition to the second hall, DUG is working to build another giant computing system with exaflop capacity — a billion billion calculations per second — by 2021.

"We are in a race to build the first exascale supercomputing system," says Phil Schwan, CTO for DUG, in a news release.

Australia-based DUG first started construction on Bubba, the nickname for the machine, last year and chose Skybox Datacenters as the facility to put Bubba in after a global search. The supercomputer landing in Houston represented the largest data center transaction in the Houston area's history. Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio have long overshadowed Houston as hotspots for data center activity in Texas.

An differentiating asset of Bubba is the cooling process, which reduces energy usage and costs. Thirteen miles of pipes connect the hard drives to 20-foot cooling towers. Bubba uses "its own patented immersion system that submerges the computer nodes in more than 700 specially-designed tanks filled with polyalphaolefin dielectric fluid," according to the release.

"The complete DUG Insight software suite is available, and is fully-optimised to run on the cloud," says DUG's managing director, Matthew Lamont.

DUG's device is based on Intel® Xeon® processors, and the company uses Intel's technology to enhance its services, and there are more than 40,000 Intel Xeon processor nodes within the DUG McCloud network.

"The close collaboration between our two companies ensures DUG customers have access to the compute resources needed to obtain more meaningful insights from the geophysical landscapes they are exploring," says Trish Damkroger, vice president and general manager of Intel's Extreme Computing Organization, in a release.

"The Bubba supercomputer is a tremendous addition to the DUG McCloud network, and we look forward to our continued collaboration to build even more powerful systems to help accelerate this research and development."

Super-sized supercomputer

Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Bubba, as the machine is called, has 15 megawatts of power and resides in a building designed to withstand hurricane-force winds up to 190 mph.

DownUnder GeoSolutions, which has its U.S. headquarters in Houston, is getting ready to flip the switch on what is being billed as the world's fastest supercomputer. Photo via DUG.com

World's fastest supercomputer is getting ready to power on in Houston

Booting up

An Australian company that provides geoscience and tech services to the oil and gas industry is gearing up to flip the switch in Katy on what's being billed as the world's fastest supercomputer.

At the 20-acre Skybox Houston data center campus in the Energy Corridor, DownUnder GeoSolutions is assembling a 15-megawatt data center that will house more than 40,000 servers to create the world's fastest supercomputer. Houston is the U.S. headquarters for DUG.

The data center will power a cloud computing service, known as DUG McCloud, that's tailored to the geosciences sector. The company says DUG McCloud will supply "enormous" computing capacity and high-performance storage for DUG's cloud business.

Construction on DUG McCloud — which has been delayed due to recent heavy rains — is set to be completed in April, according to the company's blog.

"DUG McCloud will be available to external companies to expand their computational resources on demand," the company says on its blog. "In addition, the cloud service will give clients access to DUG's proprietary software, with the option of source code, to accelerate their research, development, and production."

DUG McCloud is being touted as the world's biggest cloud computing service for the oil and gas industry. Among its prospective clients are global oil companies, government-owned oil producers, seismic contractors, and data companies.

"DUG McCloud is offering a wide range of companies the opportunity to significantly accelerate their oil and gas projects with cutting-edge geophysical software, stacked with extraordinary supercomputer power and services," Mick Lambert, the newly hired manager of DUG McCloud, said in December.

So, just how extraordinary will DUG's new supercomputer be?

DUG's equipment — contained in a building designed to withstand hurricane-force winds up to 190 mph — will offer more than 250 single-precision petaflops of computing speed, or 250,000 trillion calculations per second.

For now, the world's fastest supercomputer is Summit, a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and IBM. Its top speed is 200 petaflops. Summit operates at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Over the long term, DUG envisions its data center being able to handle exascale computing, capable of generating at least 1 quintillion calculations per second. A quintillion has twice as many zeroes as a billion does. China is set to debut the world's first exascale supercomputer in 2020 — a year ahead of the first one to be established in the U.S., a $500 million public-private project called Aurora being developed by the Department of Energy and Intel.

DUG's deal for its data center in Katy represents the largest data center transaction in the Houston area's history. Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio have long overshadowed Houston as hotspots for data center activity in Texas.

Matthew Lamont, co-founder of DUG, said in October that the company conducted an "exhaustive" search for the data center. "Houston was a natural choice," he said, "given the low cost of power and the fact that Skybox had the available infrastructure ready to go."

A unique feature of DUG's data center is how the servers will be cooled. The company's patent-pending DUG Cool system will immerse all of the servers in custom-designed tanks filled with an environmentally friendly cooling fluid.

DUG says this fluid enables condensed water-cooling chillers to be used to cool the servers, rather than server fans and refrigeration units. This will reduce energy consumption by 45 percent compared with traditional air-cooled systems, according to DUG.

"We like to call it the greenest cloud service in the world," Lamont said on DUG's blog. "DUG McCloud certainly offers more than just a silver lining."

The DUG center represents about 65 percent of the 23 megawatts of data center space under construction in the Houston area, according to a new report from commercial real estate services company CBRE.

"As high-performance computing continues to grow in importance to the energy sector, it is likely that additional latency-sensitive deployments will grow in the Houston market," Haynes Strader, senior associate at CBRE, says in a news release.

"Latency-sensitive" refers to the need for technology to act quickly in response to various events.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.