Nauticus Robotics has extended a contract with one of its biggest customers. Photo via nauticusrobotics.com

A Houston startup has just secured an extended contract with a major customer.

Webster-based Nauticus Robotics, a maker of autonomous oceangoing robots, has bulked up its current contract with Reston, Virginia-based Leidos in a $2.1 million extension.. That brings Leidos’ total financial commitment from $14.5 million to $16.6 million.

In partnership with Leidos, Nauticus is developing next-generation underwater drones for business and military customers. These unmanned underwater vehicles are being designed to carry out tasks that are dangerous or impossible for human divers to do, such as mapping the ocean floor, studying sea creatures, and monitoring water pollution.

“This very important work combines great attributes from each company to deploy a truly novel subsea capability,” says Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus.

Based on Nauticus’ Aquanaut product, these robots will feature the company’s toolKITT software, which supplies artificial intelligence capabilities to undersea vehicles.

“This work is the centerpiece of Nauticus’ excellent collaboration with Leidos,” says Radford, “and I look forward to continuing our mutual progress of advancing the state of the art in undersea vehicles.”

Founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, Nauticus adopted its current branding in 2021. Last year, Nauticus became a publicly traded company through a merger with a “blank check” company called CleanTech Acquisition Corp.

During the first six months of 2023, Nauticus generated revenue of nearly $4 million, down from a little over $5.2 million in the same period last year. Its operating loss for the first half of 2023 was almost $12.7 million, up from slightly more than $5.2 million during the same time in 2022.

Nauticus attributes some of the revenue drop to delays in authorization of contracts with government agencies.

The company recently lined up a $15 million debt facility to bolster its operations.

“I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of Nauticus. We employ some of the best minds in the industry, and we are positioned with the right product at the right time to disrupt a $30 billion market,” Radford said earlier this month. “Demand from potential customers is high, but constructing our fleet is capital-intensive.”

More good news for Nauticus: It recently signed contracts with energy giants Shell and Petrobras. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The Shell contract involves a project in the Gulf of Mexico’s Princess oil and gas field that Nauticus says could lead to millions of dollars in additional contracts over the next few years. Shell operates the offshore field, which is around 40 miles southeast of New Orleans, and owns a nearly 50 percent stake in it.

Co-owners of the Princess project are Houston-based ConocoPhillips, Spring-based ExxonMobil, and London-based BP, whose North American headquarters is in Houston. In July, the Reuters news service reported that ConocoPhillips was eyeing a sale of its stake in the Princess field.

Under the contract with Petrobras, whose U.S. arm is based in Houston, Nauticus will dispatch its Aquanaut robot to support the Brazilian energy company’s offshore activities in South America. Nauticus says this deal “opens up a potential market opportunity” in Brazil exceeding $100 million a year.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Nauticus Robotics's multimillion-dollar project with the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit is moving forward. Photo via nauticusrobotics.com

Houston robotics company moves on to next phase of U.S. Marine Corps program

underwater opportunity

A Houston company that announced a partnership with the United States Defense Innovation Unit has revealed its moving on to the next milestone.

Nauticus Robotics Inc., which went public last September and trades under NASDAQ ticket KITT, announced today that it has completed the first phase of its Amphibious Autonomous Response Vehicle, called the Terranaut, with the DIU. The Houston-based company has developed a fleet of autonomous robots using artificial intelligence for underwater data collection.

“The Defense Innovation Unit has been a fantastic partner," says Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus, in a news release. "They leverage our mature catalog of technologies we’ve developed from our outside investments and apply those to pressing problems facing the Services."

The multi-million dollar contract with the Marine Corps Systems Command and the Office of the Deputy DoD CTO for Mission Capabilities, which originally awarded last October, tasked Nauticus with adapting its technology to become "a new autonomous mine countermeasure robot for use in surf zones and beach areas," according to the company. The robot's plans include the ability to both swim and walk onto the beach.

The tech also includes Nauticus's ToolKITT software, plus more advanced tools like "machine vision, autonomous mission planning, and acoustic data networking," per the release.

“We believe this partnership will be instrumental in not only furthering the U.S. Marine Corps’ integration of cutting-edge robotics capabilities, but ultimately helping to keep servicemembers out of harm’s way,” Radford continues.

Nauticus, which was originally founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics Inc., recently announced its European expansion earlier this year,

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Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.

Texas organization grants $68.5M to Houston institutions for recruitment, research

Three prominent institutions in Houston will be able to snag a trio of high-profile cancer researchers thanks to $12 million in new funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The biggest recruitment award — $6 million — went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center to lure researcher Xiling Shen away from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Los Angeles.

Shen is chief scientific officer at the nonprofit Terasaki Institute. His lab there studies precision medicine, including treatments for cancer, from a “systems biology perspective.”

He also is co-founder and former CEO of Xilis, a Durham, North Carolina-based oncology therapy startup that raised $70 million in series A funding in 2021. Before joining the institute in 2021, the Stanford University graduate was an associate professor at Duke University in Durham.

Shen and Xilis aren’t strangers to MD Anderson.

In 2023, MD Anderson said it planned to use Xilis’ propriety MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology for development of novel cancer therapies.

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current … models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” Shen said in an MD Anderson news release.

Here are the two other Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awards that will bring noted cancer researchers to Houston:

  • $4 million to attract David Sarlah to Rice University from the University of Illinois, where he is an associate professor of chemistry. Sarlah’s work includes applying the principles of chemistry to creation of new cancer therapies.
  • $2 million to lure Vishnu Dileep to the Baylor College of Medicine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. His work includes the study of cancer genomes.

CPRIT also handed out more than $56.5 million in grants and awards to seven institutions in the Houston area. Here’s the rundown:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center — Nearly $25.6 million
  • Baylor College of Medicine — Nearly $11.5 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — More than $6 million
  • Rice University — $4 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston — More than $3.5 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — More than $3.3 million
  • University of Houston — $1.4 million

Dr. Pavan Reddy, a CPRIT scholar who is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of its Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, says the CPRIT funding “will help our investigators take chances and explore bold ideas to make innovative discoveries.”

The Houston-area funding was part of nearly $99 million in grants and awards that CPRIT recently approved.