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7 startups Elon Musk and Tesla have needed (or wanted) to build a stronger electric car ecosystem


Tesla would not have gotten where it is had it not worked with smaller technology startups, made investments in those sorts of companies, and bought assets along the way. Their work and unique approach to automated driving is the product of years of development.

The deals, investments, acquisitions, and even failed buyouts can show us what Tesla has not been able to produce on its own and where it is still looking for help. They are in a tough business, trying to be the final industrial breakthrough for sustainable energy ecosystem and utilization by consumers. Achieving that not only means making sure their own cars are great products, but that the infrastructure that can support that lifestyle is prolific. That has led to deals both for the growth of the business itself (factories in Michigan and Germany) as well as mega deals that will support growth for the entire alternative fuel industry (SolarCity).

Here are just a few of the deals and attempted deals Tesla or its executives have made and how they have direct bearing on the company’s (or industry’s) future.

Elon Musk on Tesla Solar. Credit: Tesla
Elon Musk on Tesla Solar. Photo Credit: Tesla

1. Riviera Tool (now Tesla Michigan)

In January 2015, Musk was asked if Tesla would ever set up shop around Detroit. It came on the heels of Michigan passing a law that prevented Tesla from selling manufacture direct vehicles to Michigan residents. He remarked during a press conference, “It’s not out of the question. Maybe Michigan shouldn’t stop us from selling cars here. That would be a nice gesture.”

Tesla bought Riviera Tool out of Grand Rapids just a few months later. It was the first step toward expanding its manufacturing capacity. It became the second manufacturing facility under Tesla’s umbrella and its first foray into the traditional center of automobile production in America, although it is some distance from Detroit itself.

2. Grohmann Automation

Elon Musk gives President Barack Obama a tour of SpaceX. Photo credit: YouTube
Elon Musk gives President Barack Obama a tour of SpaceX. Photo credit: YouTube

Tesla bought this company out of Prüm, Germany last year for an undisclosed sum. They specialize in automated manufacturing, which will be critical in more than quintupling their production lines over the next couple years.

“After increasing our output target to 500,000 cars per year by 2018, we began searching for the best engineering talent in automated manufacturing systems,” a Tesla blog read in November 2016. “Under the continued leadership of Mr. Grohmann, several critical elements of Tesla’s automated manufacturing systems will be designed and produced in Prüm to help make our factories the most advanced in the world.”

It built up on the purchase of Riviera and added a third facility for producing Teslas to the Fremont and Grand Rapids locations.

“Accelerating a sustainable energy future is only possible with high-volume factories. They allow us to manufacture high-quality products with economies of scale, making them more affordable and accessible to the world,” the company said in a statement when the deal was first announced. “As the machine that builds the machine, our factories are so important that we believe they will ultimately deserve an order of magnitude more attention in engineering than what they produce.”

3. SolarCity

RODENAS, GERMANY – MAY 18: A herd of sheep graze amongst sun-tracing photovoltaic panels installed at Solarpark Rodenäs on May 18, 2009 in Rodenas, North Friesland, Germany. (Photo by Bert Bostelmann/Getty Images Israel)

Calling SolarCity a startup might be jarring from some, but remember what constitutes a “startup” varies depending on whom you ask. More important than size might be its independence from public markets. SolarCity’s solar storage batteries are the most prominent product of their kind on the market today. Musk is also the owner, and has faced resistance from board members and accusations of a conflict of interest as he tries to merge SolarCity with Tesla.

Tesla explained the strategic rationale behind the buy in two ways to its investors, stating “The acquisition of SolarCity will create the world’s only integrated sustainable energy company, from energy generation to storage to transportation. Just as Tesla has demonstrated the superiority of electric vehicles, the solar roof and Powerwall 2 will transform energy generation and storage.”

Tesla wants to integrate the car into the greater sustainable energy infrastructure and ecosystem envisioned by SolarCity, covering all products, the home, and obviously cars.

“Tesla’s mission has always been to help solve this problem by accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy. To achieve this, energy needs to be sustainably generated, sustainable energy needs to be stored for later use, and sustainable energy needs to be used for transportation. And to be effective, the technology used for generation, storage and transportation all need to work together in an integrated way that makes the experience seamless.”

Of course, that is more rhetorical. Getting down to brass tacks, Tesla said that SolarCity let them expand their business into the general power grid.

“A combination of Tesla and SolarCity will create a tightly integrated solar and battery combination that will provide grid-independent, renewable backup power today, and a hedge for customers against future changes to net metering. More significantly, the integration enhances the opportunity for the combined company to sell grid services into the $50 billion per year distribution and transmission market. A number of utilities across the country are beginning to incorporate battery storage to help manage the grid.”

The director of the Energy Innovation think tank, Sonia Aggarwal, says integrating so many alternative energy solutions under one roof (no pun intended) really is the most exciting part of the deal.

“Different distributed energy resources have different profiles that enable them to be able to provide different services. And if you’re only working with one of those resources, even if you have a big set of resources you’re managing, you still might not be able to provide the different types of services the grid will require,” Aggarwal told Green Tech Media. “But if you have a portfolio of distributed energy resources, I think it provides a lot more flexibility to an aggregator to come in and provide both local and bulk system services.”

4. Off Grid Electric

Off Grid Electric was founded in January 2012 by three inspiring entrepreneurs Xavier Helgesen, Erica Mackey and Joshua Pierce

You don’t get to hear much about Tanzania in tech magazines, but this company has an advantage that a lot of the Africa-focused companies trying to bring alternative energy sources to infrastructure-lacking regions don’t have: it’s partially owned by SolarCity, which means it will likely be part of Tesla in the near future. SolarCity led two $16 million and $25 million rounds with Tesla investor, DBL Partners. SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive is also on the board.

“There are no shortcuts to building infrastructure, but there are innovative business models like pre-paid solar that can reduce the cost and accelerate the deployment,” Off Grid Co-Founder and CEO Xavier Helgesen wrote last year. Much of sub-Saharan Africa is without Western electrical infrastructure. By selling solar accessibility packages individually, they are bringing direct power to consumers and will allow the African economy to grow. “What prevents more of these businesses from getting off the ground? Often, it’s the lack of reliable, affordable electricity. Without electricity, the barber can’t power his clippers and the vegetable stand can’t stay open after dark.”

Solar energy package sold by Off Grid Electric (known in Tanzania as M Power)

5. Axiom Energy

Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel is an investor here along with the alumni network MIT Angels. Axiom focuses on energy storage systems for industrial refrigeration like in grocery stores. Their aptly dubbed Refrigeration Battery, works off excess capacity to “store cooling.” They actually use a ginormous block of frozen salt water to power their machines, similar to the ice tanks built and used by company Ice Energy. The batteries provide up to six hours of energy.

“An industry first, the Refrigeration Battery makes it possible for supermarkets, cold-storage facilities, and food processors to intelligently store and deploy refrigeration,” their website claims, going on to describe in rather simple terms the concept behind the technology. “The battery plugs into your refrigeration system, just like a display case. It stores thermal energy produced by your refrigeration system during off-peak hours, and deploys it during on-peak hours. As a result, electricity demand is reduced by up to 40 percent during peak hours—a significant cost savings.”

6. Simbol Materials

Simbol’s manufacturing chain (Simbol)

Elon Musk reportedly offered $325 million for these guys, whose lithium extraction technology peaked his interest back in 2014. Lithium is a critical component in modern batteries.

“This is a compelling opportunity to combine two innovative companies on a mission to advance clean and sustainable energy technologies worldwide,” Musk wrote to Simbol CEO John Burba, according to The Desert Sun. “We’re very impressed with what you and your management team have created at Simbol.”

Using hydrothermal brines, they say their tech is “fundamentally different” from traditional material extraction methods for things like lithium, zinc, or manganese.

“We transform these materials using by-products from the geothermal plant, such as CO2, wastewater, and condensate, into high performance battery materials using our proprietary materials synthesis technology.”

7. Mapbox

Mapbox (screenshot)

Tesla contracted Mapbox for a $5 million project a couple years back. Their main product, Mapbox Drive, draws data from multiple mapping sources and can be installed into the dashboards of modern vehicles. In a filing with the SEC, Tesla did not get more specific than calling it a “vehicle map-related project.”

Rather than using a fleet of vehicles like TomTom or Here to build their maps, they rely on GPS data garnered from phones. Last June, Forbes reported the company was planning to have its software installed in an undisclosed auto manufacturing partner’s vehicles by the end of 2016. It was not clear if that was Tesla, but given the deal between them it’s definitely an educated guess.

They have raised $62.8 million according to Crunchbase including from Tesla investor DLB Partners. DFJ Grwoth, the Foundry Group, Thrive Capital, Pritzker, Janis Krums, Promus Ventures, and Jon Winkelried are also on their list of financial backers. Their challenge will be to continue fostering relationships with manufacturers even as they become weary about software companies from Silicon Valley trying to cut into their business.

“The big tech giants want to own the relationship with the consumer,” Mapbox Co-Founder and CEO Eric Gundersen told Forbes last year. “We want to empower car companies to own the relationship with the driver.”

INTV confab focuses on digital TV as Hollywood descends on Jerusalem


The two-day INTV conference concluded yesterday in Jerusalem with the poignant words of Hugh Laurie of Dr. House fame giving insight into the spy genre and the difficulty of creating good fiction in an age where our reality is no longer unbelievable.

“I think the frightening thing about the world is that everything is precisely as it seems. It’s fucking mayhem,” Laurie said to a packed auditorium at the 170-year-old Jerusalem YMCA across from the famed King David Hotel overlooking the Old City.

It was the most well-attended part of the event for sure, but the thoughts put out by producers, directors, innovators, and execs covered a number of critical issues for people both making entertainment and distributing it.

Laurie’s frank comment capped the second day of the event, which gave a lot of attention to the issue of false information and fake news being distributed across social networks.

“That’s the first time in the history of media that mainstream media created less engagement than fake news,” said Danny Peled, managing partner of the KDC Media Fund. KDC is sponsored by Keshet, the prominent Israeli media company that was behind the conference.

“You’re probably asking yourselves, ‘Why now?’ The main reason is because of this guy,” pointing to a photo of Mark Zuckerberg strutting a Silicon Valley stage. He said it “might be a tragic decision” what Facebook did implementing its “Friends before Publishers” policy in June 2016 that prioritized friends’ article posts without consideration to how reliable they were. That amplified the growing problem of fake news, debatably influencing public perception of the major candidates during the presidential election and thereby influencing its outcome.

He pointed to the fake story about a Yoko Ono affair with Hillary Clinton as a prime example of findings from a Stanford study that reported 90% of Americans cannot tell the difference between real and fake stories. But most importantly is that trust in news sources is lower than ever, down to 32 percent according to a Gallup poll late last year.

If getting your message to readers is made more difficult by now having to compete with fiction masking as non-fiction, the fiction business itself is also facing a crowded field of contenders.

Scott Reich, SVP of programming for Fullscreen Media, said that it was hard keeping people loyal to any particular media brand or TV show. With the options multiplying to get your fill of TV, Reich believes that the role of the story has become more important. Younger viewers are not automatons as much as Generation Y might like to think he points out, noting that instead the way to hook viewers is with a fleshed-out character that the audience wants to follow.

Familiarity was far more important in previous generations because there were fewer options. The cliche channel changing of the 90s, best illustrated by the way (spoiler) The Truman Show ends, has amplified.

Reich was sitting next to Adi Soffer-Teeni, Facebook’s head of operations in Israel. Besides touching on the social media habits of teenagers these days, she stressed that today’s entrepreneurs and anyone in their 30s or 40s should not try too hard to cast today’s youth in a different light than their own generation.

“When I think about my daughter and myself today, we are a lot more similar than I was with my mom,” Soffer-Teeni declared, itself an impactful comment for the audience.

Referring to media, leisure, and habits, she pleaded with the audience to consider that the main difference with Generation Z is that they are being born into new technologies that Generation Y is adopting, but previous generations did not adapt to or have the chance to adopt.

“Some talk about Generation Z as Generation Y on steroids. I think in many cases it’s true but also not.”

Jerusalem’s YMCA during the INTV conference on March 7, 2017 (Gedalyah Reback / Geektime)

Constant consumption a goal of modern media

Consumption is indeed growing for Gen Zed, but what Soffer-Teeni thought was more important was how deeply they were tying themselves into different media.

“The living room is changing mainly because we’ve invited so many more people to watch with us,” going on to say she and the rest of her company tallied over 60 million people talking about the Super Bowl on Facebook during the game last month as well as 200 million different pieces of media.

“The depth of the consumption, the layers being created, with a lot of engagement and discussion around it, is very different today.”

She talked up the possibility of building a full sequence of media that is algorithmically customized for every user in order to keep them engaged, similar to YouTube’s automatic play of new videos and a similar feature on Facebook’s mobile app.

“The main thing I think is we want that sequence to be very personalized. The better tech, AI and algorithms we will be able to create a sequence of media that will be very personal.”

Creating fiction in an unbelievable world

As much as the conference was playing up new entertainment and ways to push it, Hugh Laurie’s appearance was as much about promoting his series The Night Manager as it was a chance for him to demonstrate he wasn’t just a brilliant fictional doctor, but a pretty articulate British actor.

“My worry for the future of the genre . . . is essentially that all spy stories – in fact all stories – depend upon at least beginning from a position of stability or normality. That’s what a story is. You have a normal situation, you depart from it, then you return at the end with an altered normality.”

“And now,” he said half-chuckling, speaking somewhat stupified, “I just don’t know where is the sort of stable veneer upon which great conspiracies can happen? Every hour that we watch CNN was a ‘pitch me’ scene for a TV show five years ago.”

Now, up is down and orange is the new black (that’s a political reference). Laurie directly referenced deployments of new missile defense systems and wars of words between China and the US make reality out to be a geopolitical thriller.

Stephen Garrett, executive producer for The Night Manager and also sitting on the closing panel with Laurie, chimed in that their show and Laurie’s shady character, in particular, were actually relevant in our current state of affairs.

He facetiously argued to the audience that Laurie’s character could not possibly relate to modern politics.

“His character we could describe him as an extraordinarily wealthy man. It’s unclear how he made his money. He doesn’t file tax returns. He has a passing familiarity with the truth and lives in a very big house by the sea. There is absolutely no connection whatsoever.”

Can’t get a visa for Silicon Valley? Maybe try out Montreal


Last year, I had the opportunity to think of one of the most ridiculous headlines I could for April Fool’s Day. I pulled it off with the zinger of a headline, “Rogers Centre to be converted to massive refugee co-working space for startups if Trump elected.” 

It sported fake quotes from real figures in Canada that promised to protect Silicon Valley’s most coddled entrepreneurs, replace the SkyDome’s astroturf with cherry wood floors, and consider the possibility of building a wall all along the US-Canadian border to keep out American refugees.

Damn it.

One year later, and we have been met with eerily similar events. President Trump has issued a six-month freeze on approving new H-1B visas starting in April. Many are debating what to do about real refugees from the Middle East fleeing the US for Canada, and there are loud whispers in the Bay Area about setting up satellite offices in Canadian cities to take advantage of what is perceived to be a more lenient Canadian immigration system.

Entrepreneur Michael Tippett founded True North following the election, providing logistical services to companies looking to move their visas-holding immigrant employees northward to Vancouver once Trump clamped down on H-1Bs.

It might be more lenient than the US these days, but discussion about loosening it up further has not exactly resulted in excitement among Canadian lawmakers.

“Even though our Prime Minister has stated that his government will loosen restrictions, it’s actually now taking longer to get landed immigration paperwork approved,” Montreal-based SourceKnowledge President and Co-Founder Patrick Hopf told Geektime in an email. While Hopf’s company has him focused on video networks and adtech most of the day, he has become an outspoken advocate for opening up Canada’s borders to take advantage of Trump’s hardline on immigrants, especially the professional ones.

Hopf is specifically trying to get Montreal onto foreign engineers’ radar, one of Canada’s top four startup ecosystems. It’s “the second most popular location for most types of ICT jobs” after Toronto according to Canada’s Information and Communications Technology Council. Americans definitely were looking to escape when Canada’s official immigration page crashed immediately following Trump’s election, and one can reasonably suspect some of those searching were based at startups in New York, Boston, or the Bay Area.

Yet, the city and its province Quebec might be the tightest of the tight on immigration policy up north.

“Quebec adds an extra layer of complexity. A procedure that should take two months now seems to be taking six to eight months for Quebec, which is obviously much too lengthy as speed is essential when onboarding new employees.”

That being said, Montreal is burgeoning. Microsoft bought deep learning Montreal company Maluuba last month, while Google invested $3.4 million in the local Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA) and a new lab. Relay Ventures has put money into local startup automat.ai, and several other firms are hunting for prospects. The foundations for strong companies are there, much like Stanford serves as the bedrock for the San Francisco Bay Area, but the pool needs replenishing.

“With the available talent pool of developers in Montreal being essentially tapped out, the reality is that the province will need to absorb the added skilled workers without delay. It will become a critical success factor for technology startups here in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.”

“While the Canadian ecosystem has made huge strides in the last four to five years, with many innovative startups growing to scale, Canada’s quality of life, inclusive society and robust social services also make it an attractive alternative for skilled workers,” Hopf argues.

One could point to salary as a drawback for Americans making the trip, but if those Americans are moving from Silicon Valley it would be tough to argue about moving anywhere. Many US cities have a lower cost of living and provide more disposable income than San Francisco and its environs.

Canada’s top three metropolises do the same, but Montreal would be the cheapest. If you had a monthly salary of $7,900 (US) living in San Francisco, you would only need $3,396.50 (or $4,549.78 Canadian) to have the same standard of living, according to Numbeo. The problem is average salaries, as the average software engineer in Montreal might make $45,224.94 (American) according to Payscale, compared to $110,786 in San Francisco. The average engineer would lose money moving to Montreal, even with the lower cost of living.

Hopf admits that situation needs to improve but is extremely optimistic it will. He argues that throughout Canada, the cost of doing business is still very much cheaper. According to KPMG’s competitiveness index, Montreal is the third most competitive metro in the world falling just behind Mexico’s capital and Monterrey. On the other hand, San Francisco’s rising costs have kept it at the bottom of their rankings.

“I think we’ll see salaries start to become competitive with Silicon Valley over the next several years. Investors know that their dollar goes further in Canada due to the exchange rate and this, in turn, allows startups to offer more competitive packages to their employees. This trend will only escalate as the ecosystem grows.”

So should Montreal launch a specific initiative to attract US startups or venture capitalists to open offices there?

“Functionally, the favorable exchange rate, government-subsidized research, development tax credits and the affordable cost of housing already provide great incentives for US startups and VCs looking at moving to Montreal. What we’re lacking is a centralized hub like we see in the Silicon Valley and in the Ottawa/Waterloo corridor,” referring to Toronto and the startup-dense hub of Waterloo and Kitchener. “Montreal is missing that type of environment that can be a draw for growth-oriented startups to converge around. The Cité du Multimédia in Old Montreal was supposed to provide this, but it really hasn’t blossomed yet.”

Considering what Tippett’s True North is doing, which specifically targets current H-1B holders to set up shop by inviting them on a $6,000 tour of the city’s ecosystem, Hopf doesn’t necessarily endorse the approach for Montreal nor does he degrade the idea. From there, Hopf offered praise for highlighting the nearby opportunities in Canada, which could serve as a reservoir for a Silicon Valley economy fretting over the loss of critical staff.

“I think the individual trips themselves are less important than the exposure it provides for the Canadian tech industry. True North communicates that the Canadian tech ecosystem is serious about attracting the best possible skilled workers.”

Google Translate upgrades neural machine translation for Hindi, Russian, and Vietnamese


Google Translate is rolling out a major upgrade for several languages over the next few weeks starting with Russian, Vietnamese, and Hindi, the product lead announced on Google’s company blog late Monday.

“Neural translation is a lot better than our previous technology, because we translate whole sentences at a time, instead of pieces of a sentence,” Product Lead Barak Turovsky said. “This makes for translations that are usually more accurate and sound closer to the way people speak the language.”

There’s no need to manually update your Translate app as the data will be included in Google’s translation memory bank.

Google announced the switch to neural networks-powered interpretation last fall and has initially rolled out changes to eight major languages. This deep learning approach to translation is more versatile than the previous phrase-based method the open translator had been using.

Last November, Google revealed their technology worked better than expected as it was able to infer translations in a third language based on translation data between two other languages, something Google calls “zero-shot translation.” Extremely simplified: imagine being able to use your knowledge of English and Spanish to be able to guess French. Some readers mistakenly understood Translate was creating its own language, when in fact it was doing something akin to neural mapping that matched linguistic paradigms of vocabulary and phrases across different languages (something Google dubbed an ‘interlingua’).

Google Translate operates in 103 languages, while some services like Microsoft Translator and Yandex.Translate cover fewer but include things like low-volume Russian languages, South American dialects, and even Elvish.

30 nominations Donald Trump still hasn’t made that are critical for US technology growth


Much ado was made of a recent Washington Post infographic about just how few nominations to critical positions President Donald J. Trump has made since taking office. As of Sunday, March 5, 2017, he had nominated 35 people to positions that the United States Senate must confirm before they can take a seat at their desks. But a total of 517 people still need to be nominated to positions only the President can appoint.

For activists and slacktivists looking for things to make Trump look bad, this set of circumstances actually sounds worse than it actually is. He has actually outpaced three of his four immediate predecessors in terms of nominations. Thirty days into Trump’s term, 14 had been confirmed out of 33 nominations. Only Barack Obama, who had 28 confirmed out of 44 nominated, was quicker to fill those staff positions. The appointments are typically made in consultation with the first people the president appoints: the secretaries of respective departments.

Several “under secretaries of state” responsible for US policy on specific regions around the world and virtually all new ambassadors have not yet been nominated. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will likely have input on who gets those jobs. Secretary Betsy DeVos will probably get a lot of say on who gets the jobs of assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education and director of the Institute of Education Sciences.

A lot of these positions are vital to the future of the United States’s economy, especially its tech sector. A controversial order last week freezing H-1B visa issuance for six months (starting in April) has Silicon Valley fearful for its growth prospects as much of the startup economy is dependent on foreign talent.

Appointments will have tremendous impact on advising the president, possibly making him more timid on policies where he is aggressive and more assertive where he is resistant. This will apply not only to immigration, but to transportation policies, space travel, energy efficiency, cyber security, and beyond. Here are just 30 of the over 500 positions President Trump has not yet filled which can be occupied only after he sends nominations to the US Senate for confirmation.

1. Chief Technology Officer of the United States

Megan Smith CTO of United States visits AOL HQ in New York on April 27, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Adela Loconte/Getty Images Israel

Outgoing: Megan Smith

This position is actually part of the Executive Office of the President (featured more prominently lower on this list), but the importance of this position is borne in its title. Aneesh Paul Chopra was the first “CTO” in US history when President Obama announced the position early in his first term back in April 2009.

“The idea is to advise the President and his team on how to harness technology, innovation, and data on behalf of the American people,” Smith said in 2015. “So that’s a specific thing, and yet a broad thing. And it can evolve, based on what’s happening in our nation and what’s happening in tech.”

She went on to describe a major focus of the office as digital and open government. Put another way, the CTO is in charge of identifying and implementing new technologies that would help streamline government services and access to public information.

Smith is an MIT-educated engineer with a stint at Google X. She represented cutting-edge technology in the role and no doubt was also in a position to serve as a direct adviser to the president herself. The mere existence of a title like this indicates how important new kinds of computer technologies have become to the United States. Filling this position should be a major priority for President Trump.

Department of Energy

2. Assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy

Acting: Steve Chalk

The assistant secretary leads the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is an office within the United States Department of Energy first formed after the 1973 gas shortage crisis. The reasons for its birth inform its motivation to find alternative sources of energy.

The assistant secretary is charged with driving development of renewable energy, sustainable transportation, and energy efficiency as well as managing 12 national renewable energy laboratories. The office’s budget is ballooning, from $1.82 billion in 2014 to $2.89 billion in 2017.

3. Director, energy advanced research projects department

Outgoing: Ellen Williams

The position was also an invention of President Obama announced in late April 2009. The director is in charge of ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which is modeled after the DoD’s DARPA agency. Arun Majumdar got the nod as the agency’s first director.

Department of Commerce

4. Under secretary for standards and technology

Outgoing: Willie E. May

This is a relatively new position, created by Congress in 2010. The under secretary also serves as the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology which are supposed to promote American industrial competitiveness with an emphasis on innovative technologies.

Department of Labor

5. Administrator, wage and hour division

Outgoing: David Weil

As boring as it sounds, people stuck in the new gig economy are going to want to hear clear policy from the federal government. Many might assume the policies coming out of this office will benefit the likes of Uber executives more than Uber drivers with a staunchly conservative and pro-business administration in power, but even if that is the case a clear set of policies will be critical for these workers. Tax policy is incredibly important and could make a major difference in the lives of low-earning Americans working through Silicon Valley’s juggernaut marketplaces.

Weil was a timely appointment by the Obama Administration. He is the author of “The Fissured Workplace,” which warns of the negative effects of a gig economy and the breakdown of the traditional employer-employee relationship. Instead of direct employment, companies are contracting out to other companies who may actually be hiring freelancers. Lost in this chain of human resource provision is who exactly will provide benefits to employees.

“The core problem of fissuring is that no one is bringing those costs into their own consideration of how they are structuring these relationships and in particular things like compliance with workplace laws or the kinds of benefits they are either going to provide or that they expect other people to provide, subsequent layers of these organizations are left open.”

Listen to the whole video (4:45)

Having someone who is fully aware of the consequences of the changing economy, the rise of marketplaces and diffusion of employer responsibility will be critical in ensuring the productivity and satisfaction of workers across the US economy and perhaps the world considering the number of foreign offices US tech giants operate.

Department of Transportation:

Federal policies on self-driving cars are slow in coming but even the industry is demanding them in order to create consistency throughout the country and override contradictory regulations between cities and states. President Trump’s idea to eliminate two regulations before implementing any new ones sounds like an elementary form of Republican libertarianism, but that’s the rule of the administration and it is disconcerting to many in the Valley. The newly appointed Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, is known as someone opposed to over-regulation. The key here will be ensuring that appointees can implement safety regulations and licensing procedures to protect the public during vehicle tests and to ensure it’s known who is driving what, when, and where.

6. Under secretary of transportation for policy

Outgoing: Blair Anderson

7. Assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs

Outgoing: Vinn White

Formally chartered in 1993, the position is tasked with market liberalization and ensuring a competitive domestic airline industry. The title implies clearly making air travel seamless across borders, but also focuses on access to more local, even rural jurisdictions classically cut off from access to air travel. In terms of new technologies, open access to the internet is one minor point and possible implementation of LiDAR on aircraft a major point that the next assistant secretary will have to cover.

8. Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST)

Outgoing: Mark Dowd

This position is responsible for finding “breakthrough knowledge” and facilitate collaborative research. Much of the rest of the checklist is generic when you think about it, but part of the description written on the office’s official page is telling for the environment the next assistant secretary will have to deal with.

“Congress transferred all RITA (Research and Innovative Technology Administration) programs into OST in order to provide opportunities for increased research collaboration and coordination, while upholding the integrity and impartiality of transportation statistical data.”

Collaboration and networking is essential considering the abundance of data collected by Uber, Lyft, Google and other companies now geo-mapping US roads and tracking commuter tendencies.

9. Administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)

Acting: T. F. Scott Darling, III

10. Administrator, Federal Highway Administration

Outgoing: Gregory G. Nadeau

11. Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Outgoing: Mark R. Rosekind, Ph.D.

Department of Veterans Affairs

12. Under Secretary for Health

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Dr. David Shulkin (L) to be new Veterans Affairs Secretary February 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Shulkin was joined by his wife Merle Bari (2ndR), son Daniel and daughter Jennifer (C). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images Israel

Outgoing: David Shulkin

This one might not seem so obvious, but the existence of a Veterans Affairs (VA) position dedicated solely to health is with good reason. The pursuit of more innovative prosthetic limbs and even bionic limbs depends largely on the population those products would service.

Bionic ankle startup BionX has actually gotten investments from the VA, demonstrating the department is well-aware of how necessary cultivating this technology is not merely for the long-term health of veterans but also the morale of those currently serving.

Unfortunately, many veterans are rehabilitating after life-altering injuries that have left them without one of their arms or legs. As robotics makes these bionic limbs more dexterous and increasingly finds ways to meld them with the brain’s neural networks, the VA will be a critical partner in financing research and perhaps a top customer for new products once they are ready. Other technologies like eye-tracking developed by startup RightEye have also gotten the VA’s attention.

Lucky for this position in particular, Trump has appointed outgoing Under Secretary David Shulkin to head the entire Department of Veterans Affairs. That should be a good sign the position won’t be lost in the shuffle.

12. Assistant secretary for information and technology

Acting: Rob C. Thomas II

The long title for Mr. Thomas is Acting Chief Information Officer and the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology (OI&T), a position he has actually held for two years already. He oversees what the VA says is a colossal $4 billion IT budget and directs about 16,000 personnel (half civil servants, half contractors). All software development and new software testing goes past this desk.

Department of the Interior

13. Assistant secretary for land and minerals management

Outgoing: Janice Schneider

14. Assistant secretary for water and science

Outgoing: Tom Iseman

Department of the Treasury

How the largest companies in Silicon Valley file their taxes and how transparent they are might become burning questions in the near future. A few companies have managed to dominate venture capital investments, taking in money that is previously unheard of for private companies. Besides public interest in disclosure, the IRS will likely come back around to check the filings of some of the Bay Area’s biggest firms.

15. Assistant secretary for tax policy

Outgoing: Mark J. Mazur, leaving for Brookings Institution

16. Chief counsel, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (plus eight members of the IRS oversight board)

Outgoing: William J. Wilkins
Acting Chief Counsel and Deputy Chief Counsel (Technical): William M. Paul
Deputy Chief Counsel (Operations): Debra K. Moe

Executive Office of the President

17. Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Outgoing: John Holdren

Often referred to as the Science Adviser to the president.

18. Intellectual property enforcement coordinator

Outgoing: Daniel (Danny) Marti

The Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator had the chance to release its three year strategy for 2017-2019 in December 2016 outlining how it will coordinate resources with other government agencies like the US Patent & Trademark Office. As legal battles between Apple and Samsung on the one hand and now the likes of Google and Uber on the other become more prevalent, sorting out patents will be critical to make sure new innovation stays in the labs and makes progress rather than in the court room sitting idle.

19. Associate Director for science, office of science and technology policy

Outgoing: Jo Handelsman

20. Associate Director for technology, office of science and technology policy

21. Associate Director for national security and international affairs, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Outgoing: Dr. Patricia K. Falcone


Implementing the goals outlined by past administrations and this White House’s reported enthusiasm to get to the moon will be a tall task. Balancing the long-term interests of NASA with the constant fight for budget and an apparently fiscally conservative executive branch makes that even tougher. NASA endeavors to get to Mars before it prioritizes any other programs, but the race to the Moon and the nagging suggestion a Moon landing would be a great test run for a Martian trip will be on the next administrator’s desk. Probes to Jupiter’s Europa moon and a number of other programs will also be at the top of the agenda.

22. Administrator

Robert Lightfoot, acting administrator of National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA), speaks during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce aviation summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 2, 2017. The 16th annual summit is entitled Technology, Innovation and the Future of Aviation. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images Israel

Acting: Robert M. Lightfoot, Jr.

23. Chief Financial Officer

Outgoing: David Radzanowski

24. Deputy administrator

Outgoing: Dava Newman

National Science Foundation

25. Deputy Director

Outgoing: Dr. Cora B. Marrett

Department of Homeland Security:

Threats to US infrastructure, integrating new technologies while respecting privacy, and the sudden but seemingly impulsive enforcement of stricter visa requirements will have incredible influence on US tech firms. Cyber security companies will hope for a piece of the pie when Washington hands out contracts to guard valuable infrastructure, but at the same time a balance will likely have to be struck on things like H-1B visas if said cyber companies want to succeed in the short term.

Even surprise checks on people holding visas that test academic skills in computer programming leave some in Silicon Valley trembling that getting granted a visa might be no guarantee that a major recruit from India who specializes in a critical skill will actually be able to leave the airport. Flexible appointments at immigration services and border control might be critical to ensuring a steady flow of talent and knowledge to Silicon Valley.

26. Under secretary for science and technology

Under Secretary for Science and Technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Dr. Reginald Brothers speaks at the 2016 Concordia Summit – Day 2 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Israel for Concordia Summit)

Outgoing: Dr. Reginald Brothers

27. Assistant Secretary, Office of Cybersecurity and Communications

Acting: Danny Toler

28. Assistant Secretary, Infrastructure Protection

Outgoing:  Ms. Caitlin A. Durkovich

29. Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Acting: Lori Scialabba

30. Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Acting: Kevin K. McAleenan

Forget Uber: How Lyft can win raising another $500 million for self-driving cars


Last year, it seemed like the end was nigh. Rumors Lyft was trying to exit the market as it faltered against Uber made it seem the ridesharing wars were about to end. Travis Kalanick’s Uber would reign supreme and Lyft’s founders would limp across the finish line in a distant second place. 2017 has turned that thinking on its head and World War U has been reignited anew. Lyft is out for new capital while questions reverberate about Uber’s IP, company culture, and leadership. Indeed, Lyft might be about to win the pennant with a wildcard spot.

The Wall Street Journal first reported March 1 about Lyft’s new $500 million fundraising effort, not an unexpected development in the capital-intensive ridesharing industry but a timely one considering Uber’s PR near-collapse.

Lyft’s record is not totally clean. They too have been on the receiving end of legal wrangling over their services just like Uber. But thus far there haven’t been any cataclysmic blog posts about sexual harassment cover-ups at Lyft, no allegations they are stealing critical autonomous vehicle (AV) technology from the likes of Waymo, nor seeing their executives lose it at a frustrated company driver. Lyft also has not ignored local safety regulations on automated vehicles, as Uber arrogantly tested its cars on San Francisco roads despite several reports of running red lights.

Talk last year that Lyft was looking for a way out seemed to foretell the end, as even major suitor General Motors reportedly rejected an acquisition proposal (which led a $1 billion funding round in Lyft last year with half a billion bucks). Lyft is currently valued at $5.5 billion, and the new valuation according to the New York Times would be in line with the investment amount at $6 billion.

The pivot to AVs

A Chevrolet Bolt EV self-driving test car is displayed during a news conference at GM headquarters in the Renaissance Center in Detroit on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. GM will begin producing self-driving cars at a Michigan factory — and testing them on the state’s roads — in a step toward building the vehicles on a large scale, CEO Mary Barra said. (Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg via Getty Images Israel)

While Lyft and its main rival have had trouble justifying investments based on an unprofitable taxi business, the prospect of developing autonomous technology and deploying it to save on labor costs or embedding it in other kinds of transportation has been a tantalizing one. Lyft Co-Founder and President John Zimmer predicted as much would be the case by 2021 in a manifesto named “The Third Transportation Revolution: Lyft’s Vision for the Next Ten Years and Beyond.”

Lyft illustrated timeline for rise of self-driving cars (John Zimmer via Medium)

“Once this happens — once autonomous networks provide better service at a lower cost — our country will pass a tipping point. And by 2025, owning a car will go the way of the DVD,” Zimmer asserted last year. When and if the age of human-driven cars comes to end is a matter of debate, but besides the point. Lyft will have its own test fleet of thousands of autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs to play with in 2018. Reuters says the fleet of cars — which will be dubbed Bolt AVs — will be the largest of its kind in history should it be deployed on time, easily surpassing Google and Waymo’s 60-strong battalion.

Lyft will at least in part benefit from the fact GM is handling a lot of the IP, much of it acquired from startup Cruise Automation in a $1 billion+ deal in mid-2016. With questions piling up about Uber’s technology, particularly if they will be financially liable to Waymo (owned by Google) for industrial espionage, Lyft is in a far more secure space with its General Motors backer and Cruise ally. The possibility that a new manufacturer partner could join Lyft’s team of investors is also very real.

Zimmer wrote on Medium last year that some self-driving tests were “marketing stunts,” though it wasn’t clear if he was explicitly referring to a rival like Uber or one of several other companies conducting experiments. Right now the marketing battle is being won by Lyft, which may be a harbinger to them winning the war.



Google Translate integrates into Gboard with latest android, iOS update


Google Translate is now fully integrated into Gboard, thanks to a new update to the company’s recently released mobile keypad.

The keyboard, still in beta testing, now features a Translate button that will pop up a box on screen featuring a translation of what you type as you write it. Gboard is closed to beta testers, as the app’s Google Play page says they have more than enough at this point.

Google already has a right click option for Chrome users to click through to a separate Google Translate window with an interpretation of a highlighted text. There’s also a plugin through Chrome that will automatically display a translation when text is highlighted (though this function only seems to work for up to two or maybe three lines of text).

Of course, a feature like this update might get a little distracting as the translation reformulates, but should be pretty satisfying once the sentence is finished.

Such a feature might be a Godsend for people operating in a second language. A similar feature would likely be welcome with apps like Tandem, that pairs native and new speakers to chat together. There was no indication an API might be available for app developers, at least not yet.

Gboard also gets some new auto-correct suggestions support for Bashkir and a new set of skins via updates to its theme selector.

Translate has become one of Google’s most important functions. Although it is free, it has served as a window into the advanced neural network and machine translation research Google has conducted over the last several years. It now offers over 100 languages and at least 30 of them (including Japanese) in instant visual translations for street signs via mobile cameras.

Massachusetts plans to tax self-driving ‘zombie cars’ might not jive with industry


Boston ain’t having any of your zombie apocalypse, at least not of the vehicular variety. The state of Massachusetts is considering taxing driverless cars used by ridesharing services that wander the streets in limbo without any passengers.

Twin bills were presented in the state House and state senate by Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D) and Senator Jason Lewis (D), respectively, at the end of January. It sets the bar rather low in terms of revenue — $.025 per mile — with the intent to discourage road space being hogged by robotic hatchbacks.

“The rate would be mostly based on miles, but would make it go up or down depending on where you’re driving, the time of day, and the number of passengers,” Farley-Bouvier told Metro, suggesting some flexibility in how the tax would work.

There were other critical features the laws would demand of autonomous vehicles, including a failure-alert system, regular and constant software updates, be zero-emission vehicles, be marketed as autonomous cars, and have a panic button.

Lewis explained it went beyond the likes of Uber and Lyft.

A self-driving Uber on the streets of San Francisco December 2, 2016 (Geektime/Yaniv Feldman)

“We could have situations where people with autonomous vehicles go somewhere and because there is either very little parking or because they don’t want to pay for parking, they could just have their cars just driving around and clogging up the roads,” Lewis said, who added a per-mile rate might be fairer than per-gallon, treating different sized cars more equitably.

The idea of taxing autonomous vehicles or robots in general was recently suggested by none other than Bill Gates, but in his case he was concerned both about lost revenue for governments if workers become unemployable. Others also have in mind using the funds raised by new taxes to retrain workers made unemployable. The European Union recently turned down a resolution supporting such a tax.

MIT-founded startup nuTonomy started testing in January its version of a self-driving Renault ZOE on the streets of Boston and Singapore.

Google's self-driving car.
Google’s self-driving car (Photo Credit: CC BY 2.0 Steve Jurvetson via Flickr)

“Boston and Massachusetts are leaders in rethinking the future of transportation, and we are grateful for their partnership and support of nuTonomy’s efforts to develop a fleet of self-driving cars to serve the public,” nuTonomy CEO and Co-Founder Karl Iagnemma said in November when the tests were announced. “These tests in the City of Boston will enable our engineers to adapt our autonomous vehicle software to the weather and traffic challenges of this unique driving environment.

With the sudden rush to get test vehicles on the streets, municipalities and states have hurried to keep up.

The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets — an industrial alliance that includes the likes of Ford, Waymo (Google), Lyft, Uber, and Volvo — has advocated for federal regulations for the industry that would override state and local laws. The reason is simple: standardize the industry to avoid mistakes by vehicles crossing state lines. For instance, Massachusetts’s idea that vehicles be exclusively electric or based on hydrogen cells might not jive in more conservative states.

A major example is the coalition’s recent opposition to the SAVE Act, a bill only introduced in five states (including Michigan) that would restrict self-driving car deployments to automakers, precluding players like Google or Uber from deploying them independently.

“We do not support state bills currently under consideration in many states, including Georgia, Tennessee, Illinois and Maryland, which would favor one company, create an uneven playing field and deter life-saving innovations from reaching citizens in these states, by precluding or severely limiting technology companies from testing or deploying fully autonomous vehicles,” the coalition said this past February in a statement.

Duolingo vs. WhatsApp: Berlin startup Tandem has app that lets you chat with natives to learn a new language


People generally hate learning foreign languages. Outside of the aspiring polyglots, it’s difficult for one to work through a textbook to memorize vocab and new grammar rules, while on the other speaking in a broken and slow fashion can be humbling or even humiliating. The latter is considered critical to really embed a new tongue’s infrastructure onto the mind, meaning you often just have to suck it up and break your teeth. Tandem is an app that allows that conversation to happen in a private, comfortable way. It takes the old pen pal concept and digitizes it with video and chat. By pairing learners with native speakers, it integrates the chat of WhatsApp into the language learning of Duolingo.

So how does someone finally become inspired to launch such an interface?

CEO and co-founder of Tandem, tells Geektime that it was his experience on a trip to Sweden when he was a student that led him to create this app.

“I wanted to find a Tandem partner to practice my Swedish with, but people just wanted to speak to me in English and I didn’t learn anything!” he says, explaining that, “The Tandem app makes it easy to find a partner through your mobile and brings language exchange to everyone, anytime, anyplace. I wish it had been around during my student days!”

It now boasts over 1 million members, 15 million monthly chats and over 10,000 hours of calls per month. They have the luxury of being able to offer over 100 languages and over 2,500 language combinations because if any given user has a language to offer, it becomes an option to learn. Tandem’s development team merely needs to support the typeface of a given language and virtually any dialect can be used for two-way conversations.

At this point, they haven’t noticed that any particular language community has really taken to the app in comparison to anyone else. It might still be too early for that, then again it’s possible they have managed to build something with widespread appeal.

Tandem screenshots (Google Play)

“This isn’t something we’ve noticed – as long as there is at least one speaker of a language, you will always be able to find someone to practice with,” Aschentrup tells Geektime. “The top languages for English native speakers are Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean and Chinese.”

They’re backed by Atlantic Labs, Faber Ventures, RubyLight, and lastly by Hannover Beteiligungsfonds from Aschentrup’s native Hannover. So far, they have raised nearly $3 million.

Another advantage Tandem has versus other language-learning platforms, methods, tactics, books, what have you, is that you can also apply it to visual languages. Tandem’s creators recognized its applicability to the deaf early on, creating a conduit for fostering multilingual signers.

“We launched 11 sign languages in January and American Sign Language is already the 10th most popular language for English speakers!” exclaims Aschentrup, indicating that interest in signing is picking up among the hearing-abled. That could mean Tandem’s private, visual platform is offering easy access to a skill long-sought by some language learners. Another possibility is that the chance presents itself to learners who had never given serious thought to learning signs before, perhaps because it was considered a difficult-to-access skill.

The chats are in real time and any delay is because of real people on the other end of the chat thinking through an answer or delaying responses for reasons typical of two-way phone messages. There was no indication people were yet using Tandem as a dating funnel, but given some have used Google Translate to communicate with lovers across languages, it’s not a crazy notion.

The social element here might have the potential to blow up as its own network by breaking down barriers that kept different language communities separate. Tandem’s success might get people to rethink their linguistic silos, or signal to other social networks that breaking down those barriers in order to meet new people might just boost their own engagement numbers.

The Tandem team with Co-Founder and CEO Arnd Aschentrup seated in the middle of the couch (tandem.com)

With the recent boom in chatbot technology, it seemed appropriate to ask if the company considered a bot option for users. As language-learning enthusiasts could probably predict, bots aren’t at the point that they can fully nail down the natural flow of conversation, much less be up-to-date with vernacular. Never mind the need to express opinions.

“We strongly believe that learning with actual humans is much more fun, personal and effective. A big part of a language exchange is making friends all around the world.”

But it is a fair question when it comes to getting down some basic, mechanical skills in verb conjugation or syntax. Aschentrup says Tandem is considering how bots might augment the social nature of the app.

“The potential for bots, in our view, is to act in the role of a Tandem coach, [which] guides and helps both Tandem partners through their learning journey, e.g. to practice the right things and work together effectively.”

However one of the values of chatting with an actual person is that it provides the opportunity to encounter elements of speech like slang. This can be both advantageous to new learners as well as an obstacle. For sure a fluent speaker will need to be down with new catchphrases and the tone that goes along with certain lingo, but it can be confusing if you are getting bombarded with abbreviations or internet code or deliberately wrong grammar common when speakers coin new slang.

Aschentrup says it’s all about balance. Does Tandem tell the native speakers to keep it clean and proper when chatting it up with newbies?

“What’s more important – speaking naturally or speaking perfectly? Our members are free to practice however they like, so long as the community remains respectful and positive. We personally feel slang and idioms are one of the best parts of learning a language.”

What Blue Origin’s ‘Amazon Space’ plan means for SpaceX, nanosats and lunar investment in 2020


Jeff Bezos is sick of being second fiddle. His reusable rocket company Blue Origin actually beat SpaceX to the punch landing a rocket back in late 2015, but SpaceX grabbed all the glory a week later and has not looked back since. Now a mere days after Elon Musk announced SpaceX would send two tourists on an orbit around the Moon, Bezos is taking his cue from Amazon and announcing Blue Origin payload deliveries to the lunar surface will begin by 2020.

Blue Origin was already working on the idea before SpaceX’s announcement, though the latter might have influenced their decision to go public with the idea. Bezos has been circulating a seven-page proposal around the halls of NASA and the White House for a lunar lander project that would ferry 10,000-kg payloads of supplies to a central point near the Moon’s south pole by the Shackleton Crater. It assumes “future human settlement” and presumably would include the delivery of supplies to whatever moon base were to be built there.

Basically it’s Amazon Space, which if it hasn’t been trademarked yet better be soon (go to amazonspace.com and you will be redirected to Amazon).

“It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay,” Bezos told the Washington Post, a paper he owns and got the privilege to report the story. “A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.”

(CC BY 2.0: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons)
Jeff Bezos is the owner of Amazon, Blue Origin, and the Washington Post (CC BY 2.0: Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons)

Bezos wouldn’t create an Amazon Space service if he didn’t think he would have customers. Those are becoming more abundant.

Several ventures are working on regular travel to and from Earth’s celestial neighbor. Moon Express plans to build a helium-3 mining business while the United Launch Alliance (backed by both Lockheed Martin and Boeing) are designing a transportation network. Bigelow Aerospace is also designing inflatable habitats that could be used there. Even more significant is China’s promise to land a probe on the moon by 2018 and the European Space Agency (ESA) plan to construct a “moon village.”

Investments are growing. The Space Angels Network and delivery service DHL are among several backers for former XPrize participant Astrobotic out of Pittsburgh. A July 2013 report by Chad Anderson optimistically forecast a $1.9 billion lunar delivery market by 2020. That figure now seems plausible.

His main competitor would presumably be SpaceX, though they have not been as specific about a lunar delivery service. Blue Origin’s move here would be a rapid escalation of the company’s current capabilities, but shows Bezos is both confident the industry will indeed grow and that he feels an urgency to get there. SpaceX may choose to explore the option of its own direct-to-Luna services in the wake of the proposal, which Musk likely got a peek at as a member of President Trump’s technology advisory team.

Moon Express and other competitors like SpaceIL will make an effort to land rovers on the lunar surface in early 2018 with launches planned for late 2017 as part of the Google Lunar XPrize contest. It’s feasible that members of the participating teams, even if unsuccessful this time around, will court investors for new space-bound and moon-faring startups by the end of the decade.

The current space startup scene is dominated by nanosatellites from companies like Finland’s Reaktor, Planet, Astroscale, SpacePharma, NSLComm (SkyFi), and a growing host of research institutions. As those sats become more powerful and rocketry more aggressive in trying to reach beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO), expect more proposals to send nanosats to places like the Moon as part of efforts to more systemically map the lunar surface for mining efforts, exploratory missions, and dry runs for future Martian missions.

Expect some of those nanosat companies to be among the first to offer a lunar-monitoring service with their own satellite constellations that would help prospectors and agencies like NASA survey terrain before landings.

The lunar segment of the space industry is set to grow, and Bezos plans to be part of that unfolding chapter of scientific and economic history.