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Can Geothermal Energy Solve Climate Change ?

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Photo credit: Jim Stimac

Climate change has had an enormous impact on our planet and is continuing to affect our earth daily. While climate science is fairly complicated; the majority of the world’s climate scientists are in agreement that carbon emissions are changing the climate in ways that are changing global temperatures. In 2019 alone, the world has released around 37 billion tons more. That’s 50% more than the world emissions in the year 2000 and almost three times emissions as much as 50 years ago. As we look into the future, the world’s population, according to the World Bank, will reach 10 billion by 2050. These projections mean that the world’s energy consumption is only going to be higher and consequently carbon emissions will keep rising despite the need to be reduced to zero. One promising solution that can help meet the world’s growing energy needs while having low emissions is Geothermal Energy.

Geothermal energy is thermal energy that is stored in the deep layers of the earth. The earth’s core is believed to be made of molten iron, and the heat from this molten core dissipates towards the outer solid crust. This heat can then be extracted from deep earth and be used to heat water to produce steam that spins a turbine to produce renewable low carbon electricity. One advantage to geothermal is that it is capable of producing reliable and secure renewable electricity that contributes to energy resiliency.

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Geothermal Electricity Production — Image by DOE

The good news is that Geothermal energy emits a minimal amount of carbon and carbon equivalent emissions (mainly sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide) due to the nature of the geothermal basins where some of the gasses present in the basins of the geothermal wells vent to the atmosphere.

The catch with geothermal energy is that while earth’s this energy is abundant, geothermal energy, similar to hydro power, has geographical limitations where energy projects would be feasible. Specifically, locations where higher tectonic plate activity is present, for example see below where western US has more abundant (red) thermal energy per square meter compared to the east (blue).

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Geothermal Heat flow map of the continental U.S in 2011 by SMU Geothermal Laboratory and Dr. Blackwell, Temperature at 7 km Depth

The catch with geothermal energy is that while earth’s Geothermal energy is abundant, it has geographical limitations.

The State of Geothermal

In 2019, the world added almost 0.8 GW of geothermal power. This is the highest level ever recorded. Thanks to Turkey, Indonesia, and Kenya, who were by far the largest contributors to this increase, together accounting for three-quarters of the global increase. These three countries are also expected to continue leading geothermal power growth until 2021. Overall, the outlook for global additions of geothermal power is promising but nowhere near where it needs to be.

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Indonesian Geothermal Plant — KS Orka Renewables

Low carbon energy transition and the future of geothermal energy

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Electricity Generation Plant by footprint comparison

There is tremendous opportunity for the fossil fuel industry to provide technology and expertise that make geothermal energy economically attractive for all energy users around the globe.

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Renewable power produced for same capacity for various sources

The costs of a geothermal energy system depend on the system size, and how long it will last. The larger the system, the larger the investment required, and the lower the electricity prices. Despite the reliability, availability, and lower footprint requirements, Geothermal energy is poised to have strong competition with Solar PV and Wind in terms of cost of electricity production in the next 30 years. Unless Geothermal technology has multiple breakthroughs (which is not uncommon), solar and PV may have better running cost of electricity compared to geothermal energy. Nevertheless, the cost premium to using geothermal energy will materialize for applications where high reliability, availability, and high temperatures are required. As well as other economic considerations such as the cost of adding energy storage to solar and wind project to match the equivalent of geothermal project.

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Projected cost of electricity from Different Sources over the next 30 years, DOE Estimates

An exciting opportunity for geothermal energy is utilizing energy that has relatively lower temperatures. One can use this energy to build thermal loops (open or closed) that provide thermal energy for distributed energy, district energy and for medium scale commercial and residential applications. Such advanced geothermal systems present a striking opportunity for consumers to tap into reliable continuous renewable power.

Perhaps the most exciting opportunity for geothermal energy is that it can help solve a global problem while we aim for low carbon energy systems by 2050. This is integrating the fossil fuel (oil and gas) industry into a low carbon future. The geothermal industry and the oil and gas industry use similar steps and technologies to locate and drill resources that are then used to produce energy. Geothermal projects require technology that facilitates drilling and maintaining geothermal basins for every project. Numerous advancements in geothermal technologies have been supported by adapting oil and gas technologies to requirements beyond traditional limits. There is tremendous opportunity for the fossil fuel industry to provide technology and expertise that make geothermal energy economically attractive for all energy users around the globe. Geothermal projects proved to create multiple times more long-term jobs compared to wind and solar. If players in this industry are able to achieve this, they will become an essential part of the transition without being left out.

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Long-term jobs Created per 1000 Homes powered, California Based, DOE
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Addressing Climate Change: A close brief look at the future of small nuclear energy : Part II

Into the Future with Small Nuclear Energy

As of 2020, Nuclear energy is the newest energy source humans were able to use to provide a reliable base load electrical power. Humans discovered fire 2 million years ago, and then started using fire to produce steam for motion only 300 year ago, humans then discovered electricity around 260 years ago, then used steam produced by fire to produce electricity only around 140 years ago.

By the early 19th century humans mastered electricity and used it to provide lighting. This resulted in electrification of many sections of the economy, but only in the 1940s and 1950s humans were able to tame nuclear energy. The world discovered nuclear energy in 1942, then in 1952 the world had its first sustained nuclear reaction, this was the year where the world had its first nuclear reactor that could produce electricity. Nuclear energy has been in use for only 60 years compared to fire which has been around for millions of years. In the grand scheme of history, humans are just taking their first baby steps with nuclear energy. This represents a significant opportunity for the world to capitalize on this new form of energy and use it to provide electricity and power. 

This brings us to newest way to move forward with nuclear energy, small modular nuclear reactors for mainstream electricity and heat generation. The idea of a small nuclear reactor is actually not very new. Small nuclear reactors have been used for some time in other applications, these small reactors offered small to medium scale reliable, and unintentionally carbon-free, electric power. Small nuclear reactors have been notably used in nuclear submarines,  aircraft carriers, small nuclear reactors are also used in producing radioactive material that’s being used for medical diagnostics and treatment applications. Why couldn’t small nuclear reactors then provide countries with carbon-free, distributed, and reliable electricity and heat? Usually the first that comes to mind when mentioning reliable carbon free power is hydro power, this power comes form of hydro dams which can theoretically operate 24/7 to provide reliable electric load. However, hydro power is limited by Geography which dictates where it is possible to construct a hydro dam and a power station. Another carbon-free option that is much less popular but exists is geothermal power which uses energy from dead deep layers of earth to extract heat and produce electricity. The third option is nuclear energy which is carbon free and can be deployed at larger scales. However, large scale nuclear projects require extensive upfront capital investment as well as a long period of completions compared with other options like solar and wind. This reality pushed many into looking into smaller scale nuclear projects as an alternative.

‘’The Idea of a small nuclear reactor is actually not very new.’’

When small is better

There are a few advantages that small nuclear reactors offer over other types of carbon free electricity. First, like other large scale nuclear, they offer high density energy production per unit volume. With small nuclear reactors, their power station can fit a million times the energy density of comparable applications like solar or wind energy. The second advantage that small reactors have over solar and wind reliability. They are able to produce dispatchable non intermittent reliable electricity and heat for long periods of time. Solar energy generation requires sunlight for electricity production, meanwhile wind power requires wind blowing at specific range of speeds to produce electricity, this is more problematic to predict and requires some type of energy storage to work with some level of reliability.

The nuclear industry, generally speaking, as overall is well developed compared to other types of carbon-free energy industries. First, the supply chain of nuclear energy is well established, more importantly, there is enough nuclear fuel that can sustain global nuclear energy generation for very long periods of time. These nuclear fuel resources are present in no conflict countries like Canada and Australia. The world can utilize this effective supply chain to be able to build small modular reactors.  

Why Modular?

Compare this to other types of carbon-free solutions. First, small modular nuclear power would be faster to deploy than big nuclear that usually take 5 to 10 or maybe 15 years to build. A small modular reactor would take much less time to deploy, hopefully in 2 years or 3 years or at maximum 4 years. The reactors would be built off site in factories with faster standardized manufacturing processes so they are much faster to deploy. The new small modular reactors that are currently being designed have enhanced passive safety systems. These systems don’t require external human intervention for the reactors to operate safely. They are designed with safety in mind and considering all the drawbacks of other reactor designs. In addition, some designs will be using spent nuclear fuel at larger reactors which will help solve nuclear waste challenges at existing large nuclear facilities and mitigate the challenges of nuclear waste management for these new small reactors.   

If we compare this technology to other carbon-free solutions that help mitigate climate change, the bigger advantage for using small modular reactors is less known to the non technical crowd. We believe that this critical advantage is the most important advantage that these small modular nuclear reactor technologies have to offer. The advantage is the ability to produce high temperature heat simultaneously with cheaper electricity. This is very critical to the zero-carbon energy transition. There are no other carbon-free energy solutions right now that could produce high temperature heat that can be used for industrial applications like the steel industry or the glass industry. Humans cannot use solar energy or wind energy for these applications to produce heat and electricity because it is simply very inefficient and not economical. In addition, the small modular nuclear reactor’s advantage for several manufacturing industries out there is that it is a reliable option where these reactor’s cores are going to be fueled or replaced anywhere between 8 to 20 years. In a 20 years example, where this is done once  or twice for the whole life of a building or an industrial complex.

30 Years ahead

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended to the United Nations that the world limit global warming to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid adverse effects on both humans and the environment. This target is possible, but would require the world reaching zero carbon emissions by the year 2050, as well as fast-tracked and extensive changes in all aspects of society. The prospects for humans to mitigate climate change in the next 30 years can be enhanced by the following: most human related economic activities will transition to be electrified, humans will use hydro power and energy storage where applicable and Geothermal power to produce energy for large scale base energy needs. These are expected to be the dominant power sources for a lot of large-scale applications.

For mega cities and large regions solar and wind will play a huge role in mitigating climate change when coupled with the energy storage solutions (battery and thermal or storage solutions). The last piece of the puzzle and one of the most important pieces of the puzzle is small modular reactors, which will provide high temperature heat that can be used for heavy industries where other forms of carbon free solutions cannot work and would provide reliable cheaper long term energy sources. The following remains unanswered for the small modular nuclear reactor technology:

  • Ownership Models, would this technology be allowed to be deployed by private enterprises or will it be mainly publicly owned, or would it be a public/private partnership?
  • Regulation Leniency, would the technology be allowed to be deployed worldwide in a form of distributed energy systems where facilities are built in factory complexes, and in the heart of cities?
  • True total cost of ownership including construction and operation, would this technology have an economical competitive advantage over other zero carbon solutions? 

The answers to these questions will determine if the small modular reactor technology will be a game changer in our future.

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Addressing Climate Change: A close but brief look at the future of Small Nuclear Energy

Climate change has had an enormous impact on our planet and is continuing to affect our earth daily. However we as humans have the ability to prevent further impact if we act now. This is a global problem and no one country alone can fix it. While climate science is fairly complicated; the majority of the world’s climate scientists are in agreement that carbon emissions are changing the climate in ways that are changing global temperatures. In recent years the consequences of climate change have become more serious. Every year new records are set. The world is experiencing more heat waves, and in fact the last 22 years have been the hottest on record. The world also has the most melting of ice ever recorded in the North Pole.

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Climate Change has been a pivotal issue in public discussions

A Brief Background

The world has released over 1.5 trillion tons of carbon dioxide or CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In 2019 alone, the world has released around 37 billion tons more. That’s 50% more than the world emissions in the year 2000 and almost three times emissions as much as 50 years ago. It’s not just CO2 that is causing global warming, the world is also releasing growing emissions of other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide.

If we stay on this course, our situation is not going to get any better. As we look into the future, the world’s population, according to the World Bank, will reach 10 billion by 2050. At the same time, the world’s demand for raw materials could double by 2060, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. These projections only mean that the world’s energy consumption is only going to get higher and consequently carbon emissions will keep rising despite the need to be reduced to zero. These future projections means that the transition to zero carbon needs needs to be accelerated as we progress into the future. One technology that can help this transition is the use of small modular nuclear reactors.

The State of Nuclear

Before going into more details about small modular nuclear reactors, we need to explore the state of the nuclear industry and its business dynamics. Looking at bulk financial numbers, the nuclear energy industry was worth 300 billion dollars in 2012. While from an operation standpoint, there are currently around 450 nuclear reactors operating worldwide as of 2020. These nuclear reactors produced around 15.2% of the world electricity in 2006. As they stand nowadays nuclear power generation facilities totaled around 389.9 gigawatt electricity in 2019. From a purely technical point of view, these facilities are critical to the global electricity production because they provide base load power. The type of energy source that provides base load power to any electric grid must be the most reliable component of that great. Because this electricity will be used for industrial processes, mission critical applications, to power homes, roads, and every building connected to the grid at all times.

One important business aspect to understand is the ownership model for these nuclear power generating stations. While ownership for these facilities usually vary from one area to another; they are predominantly owned by government entities in countries like France, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, and China, but in some other cases a nuclear power station can be owned by private entities like in Canada where Bruce Power has biggest operating nuclear reactors in the world and it is not owned by a government entity.

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Share of Nuclear Energy in Global Electricity Generated in 2017

Regulation is another very important component in the nuclear business because nuclear energy technology can be utilized to manufacture and make weapons. Historically speaking, nuclear energy has been under strict scrutiny by regulators all over the world with a very important emphasis on safety. The regulation’s emphasis on safety made the design, engineering, construction, and servicing of nuclear facilities highly regulated, which required specific sets of skills when it comes to human capital working in this industry.

From a business perspective, the importance of regulation in the nuclear industry stems from the fact that regulation affects construction timelines for nuclear facilities as well as overall cost of doing business. For example, the construction timelines for nuclear reactors range between 5 to 15 years for large nuclear reactors. These timelines make it problematic for big nuclear projects to compete or be feasible for investment. However, the pressing question is: can smaller projects have faster timelines and deliver an economic benefit while providing carbon free electricity ? We will explore this in part II. Stay tuned.

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SpaceX: changing the world via cheap satellites

Beginnings

SpaceX started in 2002 with the aim of providing affordable space transportation services that will get humans off the planet and into space. At the end of 2019, SpaceX is leading the industry in cumulative launches, the most of any company in history. In addition to the Falcon 9 rocket, the company has two Dragon capsules that are currently serving ISS, with plans for five more under contract with NASA, six more under development, and more to follow. SpaceX has also developed a series of other spacecrafts which includes; the Falcon Heavy rocket, a communications satellite, and a crewed  Dragon 2 capsule. In December 2019, SpaceX completed its 77th consecutive Falcon 9 launch.

Flacon 9 Launch – TimelaplsePhoto: SpaceX

SpaceX recently successfully launched an upgraded version of their Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 satellites. For years, the Russian Proton-M rocket has been more reliable than the Falcon 9, yet still considerably more expensive. SpaceX is also preparing a NASA mission that will launch dozens of satellites.

60 Starlink satellite stack Photo: SpaceX

The premise of SpaceX

The premise of spaceX is to demonstrate that private companies can not only launch vehicles and develop facilities required to support human missions to Mars, but also demonstrate reliability to a degree and at a price that makes private space missions feasible. The Falcon Heavy, used by SpaceX, would also have to be able to make several space station resupply runs, and it also has to be able to recover its Falcon 9 stages after flights to check its systems. If these requirements can be met, the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) and International Space Station (ISS) sponsored programs could not only carry out a number of NASA-sponsored cargo missions, but could also be asked to carry out privately-sponsored manned missions to Mars.

SpaceX Falcon 9 boosters landing Photo: SpaceX

Into the age Low Cost Internet Satellite Network

Many members of the public believe SpaceX is just another company that is reliant on government contracts and finding in order to keep afloat and deliver profit. This mindset will be challenged in the near future as SpaceX is launching a low cost internet satellite network that will offer high-speed internet to consumers as well as Internet access to businesses. The network is called Starlink. This new initiative, which is the company’s largest commercial mission to date, is helping SpaceX pave the way for commercial satellites capable of providing services beyond Earth’s orbit, and will help SpaceX provide more reliable services to the public and businesses around the world.

In order to build this network; SpaceX is planning to launch 1,584 satellites. The company already started launching satellites in May 2019 and they are expected to complete up to 38 launches in 2020. This low cost internet satellite network will help businesses and governments around the world provide their citizens with “reliable, high speed” internet access. This will also boost internet speeds to those in low-income areas that are not currently covered by internet service providers.

Starlink Constellation visualization – Photo: Universe Today

Valuation

SpaceX is privately held. The company was valued at US$12 billion in 2015. However, now in 2020 the company is valued at US$52 billion, largely due to the launch of starlink.  This is a staggering jump, but not unusual for a private company that is not exposed to public market screturny and pressures. Especially with the premise of competing with every internet service provider (ISP) on the planet.  

On the other hand, Virgin Galactic (SPCE) is the closest publicly traded company that you can compare to SpaceX, in terms of being non-governmental and providing services exclusive to space (in contrast to ULA: BoeingLockheed Martin) . Virgin Galactic is valuated at US$2.51billion

Sir Richard Branson rings the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday to mark Virgin Galactic’s trading debut Photo: AFP/Getty

Blue Origin is another company worth mentioning here as it is a non-governmental company focusing on reusable rockets and creating a global satellite internet service. However, this is not a public company (it is owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos). 

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos (left) hopes to start launching the New Glenn rocket in 2021 Photo: BLUE ORIGIN

Hidden Opportunities

Everything that matters to “space” matters to SpaceX as well and most of the things that matter to Elon Musk doesn’t matter to many of his critics.

A few hidden opportunities with SpaceX’s plans that may not be accessible to the public are  the use of the Starlink internet service for long distance High Frequency Trading (HFT). Electromagnetic waves travel faster in space than air or cables, so if Starlink is able to beat the speeds that current HFT trading requires they would hit a gold mine. Another opportunity for SpaceX is monopolizing transport to Mars. SpaceX superior space transport system (if demonstrated) could be the only cheap, reliable, and efficient way for nations to launch Mars missions. This would eventually go beyond purely science based space missions to space mining.

Electromagnetic waves travel faster in space than air or cables

Mike Hassaballa

To conclude, the path to profitability and sustainability for SpaceX is not very clear, but the opportunities and company’s success outweighs any worries about the risks involved.

If you have any questions about this article, or would like to discuss more, learn more, or obtain more analysis, please contact me at https://mhassaballa.com/contact-me/

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The VR Kayfabe : Magic leap , Facebook and the world

In 2012, a company called Oculas was founded in Irvine, California by a group of mostly college drop-outs: Palmer LuckeyBrendan Iribe, Michael Antonov, Jack McCauley and Nate Mitchell. Their goal was to make a better head mounted display. A display better than every of the 50 head mounted displays that Luckey collected over the years. The company used a crowdfunding kickstarter campaign to fund an early version of their product. The idea was to create a head mounted display (headset) that tracks human motion and produce pictures that instantly simulates how pictures of objects would look like while humans are moving – hence the term virtual reality (VR)

Palmer Freeman Luckey, one of Oculus founders – Image: Wired

Two years elapsed, Facebook buys Oculus for a staggering US$2.3 Billion mix of cash and stock in 2014. Luckey, who was 21 years old at the time, instantly becomes worth US$700 million. Facebook then dumps large sums of money into Oculus to get the “virtual reality” headset product to market as soon as possible.

Under Facebook, Oculus becomes the company’s sweetheart. Oculus gets moved from Irvine to Facebook’s headquarters in Melano Park in 2015. In 2016, Facebook/Oculus release a bunch of products starting with the Oculus rift which retailed for US$599 (reduced to USD$399 in 2017). The rift required additional special hardware to operate. This requirement didn’t make the path easy for VR to being a mainstream product. In order to overcome this hurdle, Facebook then launched Oculus Go in 2017. The Go didn’t require special hardware and had a lower price of $US249, at the expense of the quality of experience. There seemed to be a marginal improvement. Buying Oculus appeared to be a strategic win at first glance for both Facebook and Oculus, as this would theoretically allow for great collaboration between the Facebook AI team and Oculus’s virtual reality engineers. However, three years since the acquisition the VR technology still fails to become a mainstream product. Finally, Facebook announced the Oculus Quest in 2019 with a higher price tag of US$399, $50 more than the Oculus Go.

Facebook buying Oculus appeared as a strategic win at the first glance for both Facebook and Oculus as this would theoretically allow great collaboration between the Facebook AI team and Oculus’s virtual reality engineers.

We look at the story of Oculus and after analyzing this. It is evident to us that Facebook/Oculus and VR is a classic Kayfabe situation. Similar to the concept of Kayfabe in wrestling, where everyone understands the game and pretends to play along. Everyone in the VR world is playing along while Facebook tries to bring VR to mainstream culture.

However, this is not going to work. Here is why:

Let’s first back up for a moment and review the first principles of innovative products. In order to bring a product to mainstream culture, first the product/service has to appeal to the customer, second the product/service has to have a value added to the customer.

Using a VR headset, you not only are isolated from physical world but you are also isolated from fellow humans around you.

Examining the VR technology, there seem to be some appeal from certain customers. Mainly customers who are focused on games while others who are into entertainment would find VR interesting. However, this appeal is not enough for technology like VR to become mainstream. In our analysis, we found that Oculus’s VR technology is lacking the ability to break the barrier that VR headsets impose on human senses by obstructing natural vision. VR also struggles to overcome the feeling of isolation that humans experience while using this technology. While using a VR headset you not only are isolated from the physical world, but you are also isolated from everyone around you. The physical connection to people is fundamental to human needs. With that in mind, VR has to not only overcome this fundamental design flaw, but also somehow exacerbates the opposite. By this we mean that VR has to enhance the users connection to the physical world and people in order to become mainstream technology and offer any good to the world.

In our analysis, we that found that Oculu’s VR technology lacks the ability to break the barrier that VR headsets impose on human senses by completely obstructing natural vision.

Mike Hassaballa

The second issue we found VR technology is facing is value add to users. While VR at the first glance seems to be a technology that is intriguing for the gaming and entertainment industry, it unfortunately adds little value to users in other sectors from a technology reediness stand point. In addition, for gaming and entertainment industries, the market is slowly gravitating into low cost/freeware products and services. Simply put, this customer segment wants to get free stuff, which makes it very difficult for technology makers to establish a reasonable price points for a product/service to be come mainstream.

Facebook’s VR experiment is closest to a wrestling kayfabe.

In this last section we tackle others players and make some honorable mentions.

Magic leap which was bought by Google was thought to be a tech unicorn. The company was surrounded by a lot of secrecy, something that is odd in the mainstream tech world and raised red flags if the company has anything to show. The company didn’t produce anything of real value.

Microsoft holo lens embarked on a different path with a focus on using augmented reality to enhance user experience with the physical world. However Holo’s lens failed to become mainstream because the product was very expensive and because it focused on specific group like business and industrial users. In addition it offered mediocre technology and limited experience.

HTS vive has the technology and better experience element, but not enough customer base that can form critical mass for VR to become mainstream..

Finally Playstation used VR to tag along and please some of its gaming customers with a compromise in experience quality.

To summarize Facebook’s VR experiment is closest to a kayfabe. All the VR developers efforts to make VR mainstream is faced by big hurdles to overcome. The two issues described above need to be resolved before VR can have any chance of becoming mainstream.

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The Boston Dynamics Saga

Boston Dynamics: A Quick Recap

In 1992, Marc Raibert decided to start a company while working as a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professor at MIT. He started Boston Dynamics in order to build machines that both break boundaries, and work in the real world. Fast forward 27 years later to 2019, the privately held company which headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts has had a heck of a ride from working on US military contracts to launching robots that run and maneuver like animals, all while being sold two times.

Boston Dynamics location in Massachusetts – Photo by 손진성

Sold, and sold

Boston dynamics was a small company with moderate cash flow. The company took on US military contracts to build robots for the US army and received funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DAPRA) to pursue some projects. These efforts created the astonishing big dog robot. Shortly after, Google put an offer to buy the company from Marc Raibert for an undisclosed amount. This acquisition must have made some sense for Marc, from a business strategy standpoint, as joining Google would mean more resources for Boston Dynamics. In addition, at this time the AI mania was starting to ramp up and Google was leading the way.

Boston Dynamics Robot, Spot. It is a 72kg electrically powered, hydraulically actuated robot designed by Boston Dynamics, trains with US Marines Photo by EPA

The sale deal was to let Marc do their research and work under a bigger umbrella of Andy Rubin founder of Android. This was short lived as Andy Rubin left shortly after some allegations of an inappropriate relationship at Google. Moreover, it seemed that there was integration issues with Google and how Google envisioned AI being implemented versus the Boston Dynamics approach. Google then wanted out, and luckily for both Google and Boston Dynamics, Softbank came in with the visionary founder of the company Masayoshi Son betting on the company and paying $37 million for shares the company.

Black Mirror : Metal head

Boston Dynamics robots and their underlying dynamic balancing technology transcended the idea of making robots that maneuver like animals long before the company was sold to Softbank. In addition to Boston Dynamic’s robot videos going viral, the existence of such robots triggered a wider conversation about robots and their future role. The conversation made its way into popular culture starting with Netflix’s Black Mirror: Metal Head.

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Metal Head, a Netflix take on Boston Dymanics robot – Image: tenor.com

We Promised and We Disappointed

The promise of Boston Dynamics technology was fascinating to many futurists and scientists. However, despite all of the showcases, presentations, videos, and TED talks they were unsuccessful in bringing any product to the market. Boston Dynamics did, however, create this new advanced technology that built a robot that could maneuver like a human, and sold shares to private investors. Boston Dynamics unfortunately promised and then disappointed. The lack of commercial products from the company is puzzling, from a business standpoint, especially since they are operating under Softbank now.

Boston Dynamics Robots Performing daily tasks – Image: Boston Dynamics

“I think robots are going to affect peoples’ lives in a good way. I think it’s going to increase productivity, I think it’s going to release people from dull, dirty, and dangerous [jobs], I would hate to see the great opportunities in a technology like this missed because of fear of what the downsides may be.”

Marc Raibert , Founder, Boston Dynamics

It is Never too late

The good news is it its never too late. In a TechCrunch 2018 conference, Marc Raibert spoke about the pathway for Boston Dynamics and the company’s intent to release a version of their robot that would act as a platform for use in various applications. There is also some news that Boston Dynamics is launching a robot this year. All talk aside, Boston Dynamics is still yet to prove to the public that it has something that can make the world a better place. It also has yet to prove to its investors and shareholders how can it be a viable business. Maybe we will end up with robots that can do the dishes, clean, and carry boxes for people. This is all yet to come.

Boston Dynamics Robots are planed to launch in 2019 – Photo by Boston Dynamics