The Wonder, July 20 - Spaceports, Flying Taxis, and Wave Power

INblog, technology, the wonder|BYsf appworks

A Weekly Snapshot of Life-Changing Technology

Happy Friday!

And it’s an especially happy Friday for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who this week became the richest person OF ALL TIME.

You know what else is rich? This week’s edition of The Wonder.

Spaceports

The UK has selected the site for its first spaceport and rocket launches are planned for the early 2020s.

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Andrew’s Take: Spaceports sound like stuff of the future, but there are many already operating. However, their purpose is evolving as small satellite launches are increasing and civilian space flights begin happening more frequently. In fact, the richest man ever will be offering rides for $200K starting next year, if you’re interested.     

Darius’s Take: The UK is jumping into the space business. What’s interesting is that space investments used to be a way to advance science, but we’re at a point where you can actually make money from them (the UK is counting on $5B over the next decade).

Flying Taxis

Jet engine maker Rolls-Royce has drawn up plans for an electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicle, or flying taxi. It hopes the vehicles could begin operating early in the next decade.

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Andrew’s Take: We’ve been waiting for this (and hoverboards) since Back to the Future, but we haven’t been able to commercialize the tech in a scalable way. Autonomous piloting and advances in electric-powered engines bring this closer to reality in the same way they brought drones from being expensive military weapons to hobbyist toys in just a few quick years.

Darius’s Take: It will be interesting to see how the logistics of this work. I think we’ll figure out the tech before we figure out the infrastructure and regulation

Wave Power

Japanese quantum physicist Tsumoru Shintake has developed a propeller-driven turbine that could turn waves into electricity at a fraction of the cost of existing efforts.

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Andrew’s Take: Scientists have been trying to harness wave power for decades, but nobody has solved the cost problem. Shintake is trying to do for wave power what Elon Musk did for space travel – approaching an old problem with fresh eyes, a novel approach (make the turbines much smaller), and using the kind of inexpensive parts you could find at RadioShack. If he pulls it off, this could be a breakthrough in renewable energy sources.

Darius’s Take: It’s a novel approach for turbine engines, but there are many other working concepts to harness wave power such as wave floaters. It’s still good to see more and more ways of harnessing clean energy being developed.

One Fixer...

…Say what you will about Elon Musk (and his sometimes questionable social media decisions), but the guy is trying to help. After sending a team of engineers to Thailand to help with the cave rescue (a move for which he was ridiculed), he this week promised to personally pay to provide clean water to the people of Flint, Michigan.

Thanks for reading! We’ll see you next week.

-Andrew and Darius