🚀 How Mars led to tech innovation


February 19, 2021

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Yesterday’s GameStop Congressional hearing was similar to previous government grillings of social media companies — with lawmakers showing a complete lack of understanding of the industry (in this case finance) that they’re supposed to police.

Elsewhere: Keith Gill — AKA “Roaring Kitty” AKA the top Redditor supporting the $GME trade — said in his opening statement “I am not a cat.”

The Big Idea
Mars rover

Image of Mars via NASA / JPL-CALTECH

What NASA landing on Mars means for business on Earth

Yesterday marked the end of the Perseverance rover’s 300m mile journey to Mars and the start of a 687-day mission to find aliens better understand whether the planet would make for a nice place to live.

Costs for development and operation of the rover will likely total $2.4B

… But the benefits on Earth are likely worth far more

Since the 1960s, NASA’s Mars programs have led to countless innovations, including materials for heart surgeries, methane-leak detectors, and — importantly — carbonating beer.

With Perseverance, it’s no different:

  • Honeybee Robotics developed drill bits for the rover’s robotic arm that were also commercialized for use with standard drills
  • Tempo Automation simulated designs for NASA’s circuit boards and then discovered the technology’s utility in the broader circuit manufacturing process
  • Tech in Photon Systems’ spectroscopy tool for Perseverance is being tested for use in pharmaceuticals, food processing, and wastewater management

More and more companies are building for space

For Perseverance, Maxar Technologies built a robotic arm to scoop samples, Northrop Grumman built navigational sensors, and drone company AeroVironment helped build the rover’s onboard helicopter.

Just this week, Axiom Space raised $130m to build the first commercial space station, while SpaceX raised $850m to fund future missions.

As space travel and exploration have become more popular, other companies have specialized in building anything from wrenches for astronauts to zero-gravity espresso machines for the ISS.

But most money is in the ‘space-for-earth’ business

Known as the space-for-earth economy, goods and services sent to space for use on Earth — including for telecommunications, Earth observation, and national security — made up 95% of the $366B in 2019 space sector revenues.

But as costs decrease and successful missions attract new entrants, expect both the space-for-earth and space-for-space economies to scale up.

For now, the Perseverance rover’s clearest immediate impact on Earth is, without a doubt, limited edition Krispy Kreme Mars doughnuts.

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Snippets
  • Busted: A Reuters investigation found that Amazon’s India operation has given preferential treatment to some sellers, bypassing government regulation along the way.
  • Austin power outage: The city asked Samsung to pause production at 2 chip factories — accounting for 28% of Samsung’s production — to minimize demand on the city’s battered power grid.
  • Freight arms race: J.B. Hunt Transport Services — a $10B business with 30k employees — is teaming up with Google’s AI experts to better match shippers and carriers.
  • NBA star makes bank (literally): Online-only Varo Bank raised $63m in funding, led by NBA star Russell Westbrook. He’ll be advising the company on working with underserved communities.
  • Airbnb booked Atlanta as the host city for a new tech hub that’ll house at least a few hundred programming and product employees in an effort to attract talent with diverse backgrounds.
  • This club is getting crowded: Invite-only social audio app Clubhouse reportedly topped 8m downloads, up from 3.5m as of February 1. Incredibly, the app — valued at $1B — still doesn’t generate revenue.
  • More fun: The CEOs of Alphabet, Facebook, and Twitter will be making another Congressional appearance in March to discuss misinformation on their platforms (and hopefully some GameStop… because #2021).
Copyright Cops
Pex

Meet Pex: the internet’s content guardian

Here’s an interesting stat: 58% of Instagram videos contain music.

Yet on Instagram and other platforms, who makes sure the original music creators (AKA “rights holders”) get paid or are given credit?

One startup — Pex — just closed a $57m round to be that industry’s white knight: It’s a royalty attribution company that scans social networks to ensure that rights holders’ are paid, can request takedowns, and can seek attribution data.

Pex started as Shazam for videos…

… only for CEO Rasty Turek to realize no one actually wanted that (awkward!). Fortunately, the backend tech was perfect for identifying the illegal use of copyrighted songs.

This time, market fit was there — Pex raised $7m and acquired Dubset, another startup that “fingerprints” over 45m tracks for 50k artists to make sure people get paid.

To date, Pex has a database of 20B+ audio and video tracks.

Pex’s crown jewel: its attribution engine

This technology creates a multi-sided marketplace for content regulation among the following parties:

  • Rights holders — those who own the content rights
  • Creators — those who license and remix the content
  • Content platforms –– places like Instagram, where creators share their content
  • Law enforcement agencies — countries and agencies that govern content ownership

Because Pex’s revenue is based on its brokered licensing deals, it is incentivized to help all parties in the marketplace.

So next time you see a Renegade dance rendition (or get Rick Roll’d), picture Pex’s bank account going cha-ching.

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The Rumble Down Under
Australia

Big Tech vs. Australia, explained

Over the past 3 years, Australian regulators have been prepping a new bargaining code to force Big Tech firms to pay for content on their platforms…and matters came to a head this week.

Tech reporter Casey Newton has a great breakdown of the events:

What is Australia trying to accomplish?

Australia’s media landscape is operated by a handful of big players. They hold significant political sway and have pushed regulators to create a law to force Facebook and Google to directly pay publishers for content.

The process is decided via binding arbitration that “encourages platforms to avoid the process altogether by signing one-off deals with individual publishers.”

What did Google do?

Google has signed deals with a number of publishers — including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — to pay for content in Google News Showcase.

The deal is a trade-off to make sure news links remain in search results. “Removing links to news stories from Google would break the search engine in Australia, opening it up to rivals,” says Newton.

What did Facebook do?

With only 4% of posts on its networks related to journalism, Facebook decided it won’t go into arbitration with publishers; instead, the linking and sharing of news stories in Australia is no longer allowed.

What will happen next?

Newton lays out his view:

  • Google has opened itself to every other country rolling out similar arbitration deals, and the “basic tenet of the open web — that hyperlinks can be freely displayed on any website — just took a body blow.” (FWIW: Tim-Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, says the Australian law would make the internet “unworkable.”)
  • Facebook is forcing publishers to decide if the value it brings is worth it. Without official publications, the platform is ripe for more misinformation but this may also be a catalyst for people to find their news in other (potentially less toxic) channels: websites, newsletters, etc.

While Australian’s move is meant to support journalism…

… the code doesn’t actually say that publishers have to allocate money to journalists. It also misunderstands how internet content works (FB and Google do link for free).

Newton suggests more clearly impactful moves: 1) Tax Big Tech based on revenue, and earmark some of that money to support journalism; 2) Create a bargaining code that forces publishers to create and support jobs.

As is, he believes the current bargaining code amounts to a “shakedown.”

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Space tech of the day
moon walk

Nice shoes bruh! (NASA / Getty Images)

The Apollo 11 moon landing took place in 1969… which means the computer onboard was quite archaic.

In fact, the Apollo computer that sent Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had 32,768 bits of RAM.

For comparison, the max iPhone model (512GB) has 4,398,046,511,104 bits — this is “seven million times more than that of the [Apollo] guidance computer,” according to The Independent.

Think about that: The smartphone in your pocket is millions of times more powerful than the computer that brought man to the moon… and, yet, we’re all out here making GameStop memes.

Shower Thoughts

  1. People who jog on the roads in the dark, wearing dark clothing and no lights or reflectors are a unique combination of a person who cares about their health and well-being and doesn’t care about their health and well-being.
  2. Hal from Malcolm in the Middle has been arrested more times than Walter White from Breaking Bad.
  3. Schools will put hundreds of children in a cafeteria and get mad at them for being loud.
  4. If you put an Alexa on top of a roomba, you would basically have a prototype of Rosie from the Jetsons.
  5. A 50% chance of precipitation is the laziest prediction a weatherman can make.
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