Young Innovator Shaking Up Defense: MIT Dropout Develops Game-Changing Gunpowder Alternative

by / ⠀Featured News / July 13, 2023
Young Innovator Shaking Up Defense: MIT Dropout Develops Game-Changing Gunpowder Alternative

The defense sector is known for rewarding creativity and boldness. However, traditional businesses are notoriously hesitant to adopt innovative practices. Until very recently, that is. The worldwide battle with China and the crisis in Ukraine have brought Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. closer together. As a result, venture capitalists have become more interested in defense firms, allocating roughly $8 billion to aerospace and defense companies in 2017.

The Pentagon has become more open to working with businesses outside the traditional aerospace primes because of the importance it places on bringing cutting-edge technologies to the front lines. Mach Industries, created by Ethan Thornton, a 19-year-old, is one such company. The startup has attracted the attention of both venture capitalists and the Department of Defense, earning Sequoia Capital its first investment in defense technology. Champion Hill Ventures and Marque VC contributed to Mach’s $5.7 million seed round.

Ethan Thornton: The Young Innovator Shaking Up the Defense IndustryThornton has been fascinated with tools ever since he was a kid. Thornton had a predisposition toward engineering and creativity because to his grandfather, who built aircraft kits in his free time, and a high school gig as a mechanic. In his youth, he dabbled in electrolysis experiments, which involve separating water into its component parts—including hydrogen.

As a result, while still in high school, he developed a small arms gadget that essentially functioned as a bazooka and cost roughly $200 to make out of a couple of batteries from deer feeders and an electrolyzer.

Before the start of his first year at MIT, he began working at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a national R&D center run by the university for the DOD. The Lab had its own team working on energy systems, and the military has long been interested in hydrogen because of its potential as a reliable energy supply chain in contested conflict conditions.

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Thornton was able to expand his government ties despite the fact that he ultimately decided the Lab wasn’t the best place to construct his idea. Then he made the decision to leave school.

Mach Industries: The Game-Changer in the Defense IndustryMach Industries is creating UAVs, missiles, and hydrogen generators that can run on hydrogen fuel. The company’s primary bet is that giving the military an edge over near-peer opponents in conflicts can be achieved through hydrogen combustion driven by an energy source that can be manufactured in the field.

Thornton, in a recent interview with TechCrunch, discussed a solution that is both cheaper and less elaborate than the current state of the art in military technology. It’s a change in perspective realized in hardware: replace your mental image of missiles with one of bullets. “Every time you convert a missile into a bullet, you significantly reduce your costs,” Thornton added. Mach wants to see a shift toward a more traditional approach in which projectile-based devices are used rather than rockets, which need the user to supply their own propellant and sensors and hence are prohibitively expensive.

The Mach team, which has grown to roughly fifteen employees at this point, has its major offices in Austin and Boston. The devices are designed and built in-house, but the company’s hydrogen is put to use in kinetic or combustible applications across Texas’s vast open acreage.

The Shift in the Defense IndustryFor a long time, the defense sector has had a reputation for being a ponderous behemoth where established firms stubbornly cling to antiquated practices and technologies. There has been a trend toward innovation and risk-taking in the business, nevertheless, thanks to the proliferation of new startups like Mach Industries.

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PitchBook, an analytics business, reports that in 2019, investors put $1.4 billion into aerospace and defense firms, but by 2020, that number had risen to $8 billion.

At the same time, Pentagon officials have been more open to collaborating with businesses outside the select group of aerospace primes because they recognize that delivering innovative startup technology to the front lines is crucial to maintaining national security. As a result, tensions between Silicon Valley and the nation’s capital have subsided.

The Future of the Defense IndustryThornton hopes to be manufacturing thousands of products a year within the next five years, with certain systems in the hands of the end-user within 12 months, though some will take more like 12 years.

The future of the defense industry lies in the hands of innovators like Thornton, who are unafraid to take risks and challenge the status quo. The rise of new technologies and processes will allow the industry to adapt to changing global dynamics and threats, ensuring that the military remains at the forefront of innovation and preparedness.


Who is Ethan Thornton?

Ethan Thornton, a young entrepreneur, created Mach Industries at the age of nineteen to create hydrogen-powered military vehicles.

What is Mach Industries?

Mach Industries is a new company working on hydrogen-powered military platforms such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), weapons, and power plants.

Why is the defense industry changing?

Investors are showing a lot of interest in military startups, and the Pentagon is becoming more receptive to partnering with companies other than the traditional aerospace primes.

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What is the future of the defense industry?

Innovators who are willing to take chances and disrupt the established quo hold the key to the defense industry’s future. The military will continue to be on the cutting edge of innovation and preparedness thanks to the proliferation of new technology and processes that will allow it to respond to shifting global dynamics and threats.

First reported on TechCrunch

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