Meet the ex-Amazon satellite engineers wanting to disrupt hardware workflow

Imagine developing some of the most complex hardware-driven technologies in existence, such as autonomous cars, drones, or spaceships. Then picture depending on a single individual manually entering data into an Excel spreadsheet to finish your project, using clumsy user interfaces, and being unable to readily share your data with various teams.

Lucy Hoag, co-founder of Violet Labs, stated, “You’d be amazed at how antiquated the tools are. She wasn’t making a point about how sophisticated the tools were, but rather about how the hardware manufacturing toolkit is fragmented across teams and jobs. She and her co-founder Caitlin Curtis claim that the issue, which is widespread in the sector, results in significant inefficiencies.

Violet Labs is creating a cloud-based platform to address this issue by serving as a single source of truth, gathering information from various tools and making it available to teams. Hoag compared the solution to Zapier, which utilises APIs to communicate with various products. Similar operations would be performed by the Violet platform, which would create API queries and combine the data into a single, potent database. Additionally, the business is creating a no-code user interface that may serve as a complete toolset for hardware engineers.

Hoag, who has a degree in astronautical engineering, learned her trade by creating a Spider tool to streamline the satellite design process. Her career as a result led her to work with some of the largest corporations in the world, including Google, Waymo, Lyft, and most recently, Amazon for their broadband satellite programme Project Kuiper. After spending years mostly focusing on self-driving vehicles, she said she was surprised by how little the tool set had advanced when she returned to aerospace at Amazon.

She said that everything was still carried out in exactly the same manner. “I first met Caitlin at Kuiper, and we really connected through that irritation. That gets us to this.

“Here” is giving up their employment to focus only on the Violet platform. The two have been working on establishing the business to provide that tool for eight months. In order to speed up product development as Hoag and Caitlin rush to market later this year, Violet Labs just received a $4 million seed financing. With the support of MaC Venture Capital, Felicis, V1.VC, and technologists, Space Capital led the round.

Throughout the creation of hardware products, a wide range of software tools—from those that are broader to those that are quite specialized—are utilised. As Hoag put it, “the difficulty is they actually don’t communicate to each other,” and teams will often engage a system engineer or a technical programme manager to manually maintain a source of truth amongst the various technologies to get around this issue.

Make it specific, then. Let’s imagine that a mechanical engineer is constructing a spaceship. She has the physical model of the satellite in a CAD design programme, such as Solidworks, and she wants to provide information to another team about the GNC system of the spacecraft. She may extract those settings manually today, add them to a Google Sheets spreadsheet, send it to the system engineer, or publish it to a workspace like Confluence. The GNC team would then manually take those values and hard-code them into GitHub or Bitbucket.

Hoag said, “It’s just very sluggish.” “As you can expect, there are a lot of people involved in the process, and there are a lot of phases. It’s really inefficient, and that’s what Violet is attempting to fix,” she said, noting that teams could use Violet’s platform to build prototypes in only a few days or weeks as opposed to months or many months now.

For businesses who wish to aggressively advertise their goods, the old method of doing things may be not just inefficient but even catastrophic in the worst situations. The Mars Climate Orbiter, a space mission that was launched in December 1998, is one such instance. A navigational blunder, notably a failure to convert units from metric to imperial, caused the mission to fail. The payload was totally lost as a consequence. According to Hoag, the Violet platform would aid teams in avoiding mistakes like that one.

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Hoag and Curtis, the company’s only employees, have been developing a prototype and speaking with clients in the robotics, autonomous cars, and aerospace industries. Encouraged by the responses they got, the team made the decision to seek money in May to get the product to market more quickly. Evidently, their pitch struck a chord. According to Ryan Isono, VP at Felicis, several people in the hardware and robotics field have expressed similar pain concerns.

With some of the programmes they want to connect with, such as the requirements management programme Jama and the product lifecycle management tool Duro, Violet Labs has already signed a few partnerships. The investment will be used by the business to quicken the creation of new products and recruit additional full-stack software engineers.

While there has been significant innovation in software development, according to Hoag, hardware engineers are seeing a dearth of innovation in their field.

She remarked, “We’re at this inflection moment when all these various startups, corporations, and individuals are empowered to construct these systems. We believe that the next engineers won’t put up with this outmoded toolkit. We want to be able to meet their demands for something that is more efficient, data-driven, or frictionless.

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