December 20, 2019 •Evelyn J. Arevalo
Featured Image Source: Vanity Fair
Elon Musk has been chasing crazy ideas for the past decade --from launching rockets into space in hopes of colonizing Mars one day, and developing electric cars that drive autonomously, to creating a brain chip implant in hopes of achieving symbiosis with artificial intelligence. This past decade has shown how a crazy idea, hard-work, and a team who believes in your mission can build a successful business that in the long-run could completely change humanity's destiny.
As 2019 comes to an end, let's take a quick look back at some of the innovative technology Elon Musk's companies' engineered this past decade.
All Image Source: SpaceX
Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, with the ultimate goal of taking astronauts back to the moon and enabling human life on Mars. Through the ups and downs of every year that went by, his company has engineered the most technologically advanced rockets in the industry. SpaceX worked their way up from a rocket that almost didn't make it to orbit in 2008, to developing the most advanced orbital-class rockets that have lifted off and returned from space 47 times by 2019.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket boosters are capable of lifting off into space and returning to land vertically on autonomous drone ships at sea, in order to be reused again. A true innovation for the spaceflight industry, no other rocket company in history has achieved that level of reusability. Returning orbital-class rockets from space truly became the SpaceX's signature feat!
SpaceX developed Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket in operation. After many years of development and flight delays Falcon Heavy performed a debut flight in 2018, launching Musk's Tesla Roadster into space, proving SpaceX rocket technology is reliable to take just about anything into orbit. In 2019, the company gained contracts to launch commercial satellites to orbit on Falcon Heavy. The massive rocket has performed three flights now.
Throughout the years the company has obtained many contracts to deploy commercial satellites into orbit, turning into a profitable business.
SpaceX also gained contracts with NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) to launch their Dragon spacecraft with cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). They have successfully performed 19 resupply missions to the space station from the year 2012 to 2019. SpaceX aims to launch crewed missions for the first time next year on the new version of their Dragon spacecraft. Crew Dragon had it's first demonstration mission in March this year, docking autonomously to the ISS -another tech innovation by SpaceX. It is the first spacecraft in history to dock autonomously to the space station.
All of SpaceX's accomplishments have brought them closer to flying humans to the space station as soon as next year in 2020!
Musk plans to fund his dreams of colonizing Mars by offering global internet services via satellites. He founded Starlink to form a mega-constellation of small satellites that will beam high-speed internet across Earth. So far they have deployed 120 satellites out of 12,000. Starlink satellites are very innovative, they are a flat type of satellite with a single solar array that will be able to autonomously maneuver to avoid collisions with space debris and other spacecraft by utilizing inputs from the Department of Defense’s debris tracking system. Once operating, each Starlink satellite will link to 4 others using lasers. No other internet-providing satellites do this. They will have the ability to allocate broadband resources in real time, placing capacity where its most on demand. And will also be capable of directing signal away from areas where it might cause interference to other systems, in space or on Earth.
The Air Force program, named Global Lightning, started testing Starlink satellites this year, they beamed high-speed encrypted internet into user terminals fixed to the cockpit of a C-12J Huron twin-engine turboprop military airplane. According to the SpaceX President, Starlink has been, “one hundred times faster” than previous connections, the technology has demonstrated internet speeds of 610 megabits per-second, equivalent to a gigabyte every ~13 seconds. That's fast!
Musk founded Neuralink, a company developing brain-machine interfaces. This year he showed off some of the technology they have been developing a brain-machine-interface chip to implant in paralyzed individuals to allow them control of computers or phones. The device could one day enable amputees to regain mobility via use of prosthetics that they could control with their thoughts. Hearing or other sensory deficiencies, like reversing vision could also potentially be solved with the implant. Long-term, Neuralink really is about figuring out a way to connect the human brain to artificial intelligence. Musk said, "This is gonna sound pretty weird, but we want to achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence."
Neuralink's current prototype design consists of a device implanted behind the ear, connected to a tiny chip with electrode threads. The threads are 4 to 6 μm in width, which makes them significantly thinner than a human hair. These threads are threaded into the brain, where they can stimulate the neurons or nerve cells. Which is a huge technological advancement Neuralink has made because these thin flexible threads are less likely to damage the brain compared to the materials used in our current brain-machine interfaces. These threads also create the possibility of transferring a higher volume of data. Besides developing these threads, Neuralink’s other tech innovation is a neurosurgical robot that automatically embeds the the tiny threads into the brain.
The company has been testing the first prototype of Neuralink on a laboratory rat, with performance levels that exceed today’s brain-interface systems, in terms of data transfer. Musk said they have tested the microchip on a monkey too, "A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain."
In the future, this device could turn humans into cyborgs with artificial intelligence as well as help many individuals who suffer from brain and mobility deficiencies.
Tesla's mission is to accelerate the transition towards a cleaner, more sustainable future for everyone. The company has gone through a lot of challenges throughout the years, they almost went bankrupt in 2008 during the recession but have managed to transform into a great business with cutting edge technology. They have engineered durable solar powered batteries that can power your home and electric vehicle. The company is mostly known for their "S3XY" line up of electric Tesla cars that are basically computers with wheels, capable of autonomously driving with Autopilot software. Tesla constantly develops new software to upgrade the vehicles' capabilities and enhance the user's experience. One of their goals is to achieve full autonomous driving capabilities, which will need approval from law makers. Currently Tesla vehicles' Autopilot feature can assist the driver by self-parking and centering itself in lanes, with the ability to automatically change lanes. Also assists by automatically adjusting its speed to maintain a safe distance from vehicles ahead to avoid collisions. Users can summon the vehicle to and from a garage or parking location as well. Tesla became one of the leaders in safety ratings in the automotive industry. One of things that currently sets Tesla apart from other electric vehicle manufacturers is the ability to charge at 1,229 Tesla supercharger stations placed throughout the world.
The Boring Company
Musk tweeted the Boring Company into existence in December 2016, when he joked about being so frustrated by Los Angeles, California traffic, "Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging..." he wrote, "I am actually going to do this. It shall be called 'The Boring Company.'" Musk aims "to solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic" by building an underground network of high-speed transportation tunnels. He envisions vehicles transported into the underworld by elevators, going down into layers of underground routes where thousands of cars could travel at high speeds on electric tracks. They are developing a zero-emission, autonomous transport system, named Loop, for these futuristic tunnel roads. They have begun digging tunnels in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
All of these companies will completely revolutionize how humans live in the future!