Liquid Instruments: Delivering Test And Measurement Solutions That Provide Advanced Capabilities

By Amit Chowdhry • Sep 25, 2023

Liquid Instruments is a company that delivers modern, software-defined test and measurement solutions that provide advanced capabilities, a great user experience, and custom programmability for maximum flexibility and performance in a range of applications. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Liquid Instruments CEO Daniel Shaddock to learn more.

Daniel Shaddock’s Background

Daniel Shaddock

Along with being the co-founder and CEO of Liquid Instruments, Shaddock is a professor of physics at the Australian National University, where his research is focused on precision optical metrology using advanced digital signal processing. Shaddock said:

“Prior to this, I was a Director’s Fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where I served as the interferometer architect for the LISA mission.”

“I was also lucky enough to be part of the amazing team that authored the paper announcing the observation of gravitational waves, an achievement that was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. I received my Ph.D. in physics, as well as my bachelor’s degree in physics, from the Australian National University.”

Formation Of Liquid Instruments

How did the idea for Liquid Instruments come together? Shaddock shared:

“Test and measurement is not exactly a new area of technology, as its origins date back to at least the 1930s. Over the last few decades, test and measurement has relied on the same tried-and-true concepts for tools, leaving little room for innovation, which is surprising given how many high-tech sectors it serves.”

“During my time as an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I had the incredible opportunity to be part of the team that developed a laser interferometer to measure the distance between spacecraft. This interferometer was at the core of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission to map the world’s water reserves from space with groundbreaking accuracy.”

“The sophisticated instrumentation developed for GRACE-FO using field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) was the inspiration to launch Liquid Instruments. Inside each Moku device is a powerful FPGA that allows it to be reconfigured into whatever instrument the user chooses, instantly. Now users can quickly access 12+ software-defined instruments — from test essentials like an oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer to advanced tools like a lock-in amplifier and laser lock box — with a single device at a fraction of the cost.”

“When using a Moku device, users simply select an instrument to launch and start taking measurements. From my work, I knew firsthand how bulky, expensive, and inflexible conventional test equipment was. My co-founders and I recognized the tremendous opportunity to modernize and disrupt this space by making it more flexible and software-centric while also reducing the barrier to entry. “

“This is why we created the Moku product family — to bring engineers and scientists versatile, high-performance test instrumentation that’s upgradable and easy to use. Since our devices can be reconfigured on the fly, test engineers can upgrade their Moku equipment with over-the-air updates to add more functionality as their needs evolve without needing to purchase entirely new pieces of expensive hardware.”

Favorite Memory

What has been Shaddock’s favorite memory working for Liquid Instruments so far? Shaddock reflected:

“One of my favorite memories is how our team came up with the name ‘Moku’ to describe our products. Almost a decade ago, as we were preparing for our first big trade show, we had to print out banners with the name of the product on them. We had spreadsheets full of ideas, but we still didn’t have a name. Some of us were in Australia, and others were in California. As we were listing names, we thought about the geographical midpoint between us, which is near Hawaii.”

“That led us to ponder the question, ‘If you could only take one piece of test equipment to a deserted island, what would it be?’ Of course, the answer was our device. At that point, we downloaded a Hawaiian dictionary and settled on Moku, which is inspired by the Hawaiian word for ‘island.'”

Challenges Faced

What are some of the challenges Shaddock faced while building the company, and how have you been able to secure funding in such a challenging economic climate for tech? Shaddock acknowledged:

“The most important, yet most difficult, audience to please is our users. The engineers, students, and professors who use our products have high expectations — they’re our strongest motivators to improve our products. Developing a product that is tailored to our users’ complicated and ever-changing needs has been a challenge that we’ve gladly accepted.”
“By listening to our users, we’ve developed innovative ideas and technology that have attracted a generous amount of funding despite the uncertain economic conditions in recent years. When it comes to leading a startup in an unstable economy, it’s important to remain curious and constantly question how we can better serve our users while improving our product in kind. By focusing on their needs, we can continue creating better test equipment and delivering real value to even more scientists and engineers around the world.”

Core Products

Moku Products from Liquid Instruments

What are Liquid Instruments’ core products and features and how will this technology revolutionize the test and measurement industry? Shaddock explained:

“Liquid Instruments offers three distinct software-defined test and measurement devices: Moku:Pro, Moku:Lab, and Moku:Go. All Moku devices combine sleek, compact hardware with an intuitive software interface, delivering 12+ instruments in one easy-to-use solution. Users can choose from three versatile options: Moku:Pro for technology development, Moku:Lab for research, or Moku:Go for a portable design and test solution. Software-defined instrumentation offers a more versatile approach to test and measurement with more efficient, affordable, and user-friendly test tools for advanced learning and research. All Moku products feature highly intuitive software that is easily upgradable, allowing users to access the latest enhancements with a quick download.”

“Instead of constantly buying new tools to keep up with the changing pace of technological advancements, Moku users can enjoy an entire test bench of next-generation instruments in one easy-to-use solution. They can tailor their Moku device to accommodate their specific needs and adapt it later to enable greater functionality as their experiments evolve or if they need to expand functionality across additional use cases. Compared with traditional single-function equipment designed for standalone, on-site use, Moku devices are engineered to be network connected, allowing for seamless data sharing between multiple systems and users — a crucial capability for efficient collaboration across distributed global teams.”

Evolution Of Liquid Instruments’ Technology

How has Liquid Instruments’ technology evolved since launching? Shaddock noted: 

“Our technology is innovative at its core — we’ve introduced an entirely new approach to test and measurement built around flexible software. The secret to success in this industry is constantly evolving to meet changing demands of users across key industries that are experiencing accelerated digital transformation initiatives. The technology that launched our original product, Moku:Lab, has evolved and expanded significantly over the past decade. Today, we offer three targeted, unique, and innovative devices to meet the distinct needs of engineers, students, and scientists. We release software upgrades regularly, ensuring our users can access the latest test features and instruments.”

“Our devices are compatible with AI tools like ChatGPT, which offers users new ways to generate custom FPGA code that is instantly deployable to Moku devices without needing any prior knowledge of digital logic design or programming. Ultimately, to meet the exponentially changing needs of high-tech sectors that the test and measurement industry serves, our company is constantly evolving to offer next-generation, software-defined solutions that allow users to access multiple instruments simultaneously, easily integrate functions to perform complex tests, and add more functionality to their equipment through software upgrades.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of Liquid Instruments’ most significant milestones? Shaddock cited:

“In 2019, we acquired our Series A funding of $8.16 million, which propelled our company to accelerate product development and market reach into new education, research, and industrial markets in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Nearly three years later, we secured a Series B funding round of $30.4 million.”

“This funding allowed us to accelerate our growth plans, expand our product line, and introduce novel services that connect lab measurements directly to the cloud. Beyond launching new updates and capabilities for our suite of products, we’ve also expanded globally to build on our momentum of continuous 100% year-over-year growth over the last three years. Our scaling efforts have proved successful — we’ve seen recent sales growth in 41 countries, adding 11 of those countries in just the past few months.”

Customer Success Stories

Upon asking Shaddock about customer success stories, he commented: 

“At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of professors from the Center for Gravitational Astrophysics at the Australian National University (ANU) were warned that a full shutdown of their lab was imminent and could last for months. They needed to quickly configure their setup to enable long-term data collection. Our team at Liquid Instruments worked with them to implement the solution: a beta release of arbitrary log time data logging through the Lock-in Amplifier instrument for Moku:Lab.”

“This update was done entirely in the firmware, and effectively addressed their need to collect a continuous monthlong data segment. Within a few weeks of the beta release, the feature had been passed along to all Moku:Lab users worldwide through a simple software update, highlighting not only the competitive innovation, but also the flexibility and adaptability of Moku:Lab.”

“Over the past few years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with customers across multiple high-tech sectors, including aerospace and defense, education, and photonics, which has given us the opportunity to expand our market reach and capabilities to even more industries that require innovative and flexible solutions for test and measurement.”

Total Addressable Market

What total addressable market (TAM) size is Liquid Instruments pursuing? Shaddock assessed:

“The multibillion-dollar test and measurement market spans many industries, from optics to aerospace, and education to commercial R&D. As we continue to expand the functionality of our products and grow our presence globally, we see tremendous potential for Moku devices to make a significant difference for customers in a range of fields.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates Liquid Instruments from its competition? Shaddock affirmed:

“When developing a product or building a startup in a competitive industry, it’s imperative to remain curious and find better ways of doing things rather than staying stagnant. We differ from our competitors because of our mission to constantly question the status quo. With many of us on the team being engineers ourselves, we’ve experienced the frustrations that come with using traditional test equipment. Our deep experience in the field has allowed us to develop more innovative solutions that outlast competing products.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of Liquid Instruments’ future company goals? Shaddock concluded:

“After spending our first few years focusing on product development and establishing our core market in optics and photonics, we’ve started expanding into other key high-tech industries, including aerospace, defense, semiconductor, LiDAR, automotive, AI, and quantum. Following our most recent funding, we plan to accelerate our growth by introducing many more features to help users optimize their workflows. We want to enable our customers to conduct their research and test processes with increased insight and efficiency as their sectors accelerate on their own timelines.”

“We also plan to ramp up our global expansion with more diverse hiring and recruiting efforts, an increased focus on channel partnerships and programs, and comprehensive product education. Follow us on social media to stay on top of our latest news and product updates.”