Editor’s note: Startup Spotlight is a regular feature at WRAL TechWire, bringing attention to promising emerging companies across the Triangle and North Carolina as well as management and other issues.
DURHAM – Rick Vosburgh is changing what’s possible when it comes to precise, accurate navigation. Now, in addition to backing from the U.S. Department of Defense, his Durham-based startup company Archaius, Inc., has raised $1.1 million with the expectation than an additional $1.5 million will flow into the company as well.
In a recent SEC filing, the company disclosed that it has already raised $1.1 million with a total offering amount of $2.6 million. And Vosburgh confirmed the fundraising to WRAL TechWire.
Oval Park Capital is among the investors, Vosburgh confirmed, and Justin Wright-Eakes, the founder and managing partner of the Raleigh-based venture capital fund has joined the company’s board of directors.
“The investment was a perfect fit for our thesis of investing in novel, disruptive technologies that address mission-critical problems in large and growing industries,” said Wright-Eakes in an interview with WRAL TechWire last week. “We’re excited to back Rick Vosburgh, an experienced entrepreneur and inventor with decades of industry experience and a highly relevant and successful exit under his belt.”
Archaius, founded in 2019 by Vosburgh, landed three SBIR/STTR awards worth nearly $250,000 in 2021.
All three awards came from the U.S. Department of Defense and were based on technology that the company is developing that will have military application.
But Vosburgh told WRAL TechWire in an interview that the company’s technology also has the potential to change many commercial industries due to a fundamental shift in what’s possible to ensure a vehicle is able to go precisely where it is meant to go, whether that’s an autonomous electric vehicle, commercial airliner, or an U.S. Navy battleship.
“Archaius’ technology has both commercial and defense applications, providing a critical navigation and positioning supplement to GPS, which has precision and reliability issues, as well as susceptibility to jamming and spoofing,” said Wright-Eakes.
And Vosburgh told WRAL TechWire that the company’s technology may have an addressable market of $16 billion, while protecting navigation systems from the most significant existing challenges due to traditional GPS navigation.
Vosburgh told WRAL TechWire that the company measures velocity through the earth’s magnetic field by measuring the drag on the sensor, which are incredible small forces.
“Simplest way of explanation is that you know where you started, and if you know your velocity precisely,” said Vosburgh. “Integrated over time, 60 mph over one hour equals 60 miles.”
And the device that he’s developed, which he called a “sanity-check device, a proof of principle device that shows it is indeed possible,” reduces the destination error in navigation to an order of 8 meters per day.
“In other words, if you drove from here to Indianapolis, you should be within 30 feet of where you want to end up,” explained Vosburgh. “By comparison, a million dollar inertial navigation systems that are used in duplicate, redundant systems, on a surface ship, a submarine, or an ICBM, cost over a million dollars today, and they’re big and cumbersome.”
And those systems, said Vosburgh, have an existing drift rate of 83 meters per hour, but cannot detect wind or currents due to the mechanism by which error can be further introduced due to accumulation in the sensors.
“You can think you’re 83 meters off course, but you could be a kilometer off course,” said Vosburgh. “If you’re shooting an ICBM halfway across the world, you don’t want to miss the target.”
The company plans to bring its two products to market through backing from the U.S. Air Force, but there are commercial applications as well, said Vosburgh.
“We’ll be building prototypes for commercial application for the next 8-12 months,” he said.
And the product under development will be smaller, more cost-effective, and precise, due to how the technology works, noted Vosburgh.
“On Navy ships, they’d fit in a phone booth, ours would fit in your hand,” he added.
But there are other applications to consider as well, said Vosburgh. Think of an autonomous vehicle, for example, which is operating in autonomous mode.
What happens should the car lose its GPS lock, because it relies on existing technology that has been found to be able to be fooled?
Well, the vehicle could drift out of the lane in a split second and not recognize that change.
That’s a potential catastrophic failure that could cause irreparable damage and loss of human life.
“My opinion is that autonomous vehicle industry predictions are over realistic, because until insurance regulators are confident the car would know where it is, this will be a drag on the industry,” said Vosburgh.
Fundamentally different, counterintuitive approach
But Archaius’s technology and related solutions aren’t reliant on existing GPS technology, and instead can provide accuracy and precision, which matter greatly.
In fact, Vosburgh called the process to develop the company’s technology one that was counter-intuitive and required a fundamentally different approach. And now, that approach has yielded not one, but two different products and solutions that have applications for military use and for commercial use.
With the new funding, the company plans to bring its technology to market.
“We expect to be offering in the marketplace products based on commercial components in 12 months, and this shift over time to solid-state semiconductor products thereafter,” said Vosburgh.
The company’s other product lines, emerging from technology it is developing with backing from the U.S. Department of Defense for the U.S. Air Force, can also be applied to protect critical communications against jamming, said Wright-Eakes.
“For a company at this stage, we were very impressed with the early pull from prospective customers on both the commercial and military side,” he said.