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How One Man's All Nighter Could Save The Planet

Posted: 08/17/2013 12:38 pm

Anyone can pull an all nighter. What student hasn't done this and produced some whiz bang of a term paper the next morning. No big deal right?

So this Elon Musk guy works all night and whacks out a 57-page report detailing the Hyperloop, a souped up hovercraft in a tube allowing the great unwashed to travel at the speed of sound from one city to the next, powered by the sun, all for $20 a shot. Big whoop.

Oh yeah, on the side he's running that Tesla Motor thingy. Sure the company makes those flashy electric-powered cars and is making money, winning major awards and his stock is a market darling. Okay, okay, we can't forget SpaceX, designed to kick off space travel for you and me. In the same week he tossed out the HyperLoop idea, we witnessed a major test of his 10-story rocket ship, which blasted 820 feet into the air, shifted to one side, before returning to Earth intact.

He's also got a bit of a resume. The South African native sits on the board of Solar City and also built PayPal, which went a long way towards disrupting the world's cumbersome and often corrupt global banking business.

Well, in fact, it is a big deal. Can we clone him? Because this guy, who is being compared to everyone from Thomas Edison to Tony Stark, is the kind of entrepreneur we need today. Is he a saint who has never contributed a ton of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere? Hardly. But we need people like him who spend time trying to make things better, cheaper and all wrapped in a more sustainable package.

Musk is not spending his hours thinking of new ways to drill for oil, make better pipelines or gas guzzling cars. We've had enough of that. He wants to contribute to a more sustainable world; not so we can live like the Amish, but so we can swoosh around in this wired world without ruining it.

Just look at why he stopped to think about Hyperloop (an idea he gave away to the public). He looked at California's rapid rail plan and gagged, as he recounted in his blog this week:

"When the California 'high speed' rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL -- doing incredible things like indexing all the world's knowledge and putting rovers on Mars -- would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?"

Some might have thought California's plan was good enough. It would help cut greenhouse gas emissions and mass transportation is always a good thing, right? But Musk says, 'hold on -- we can do better.'

In an interview with Wired last year, Musk talked about his plans at SpaceX and some of his frustrations in the government's inability to develop affordable technology: "So, yeah, there's a tremendous bias against taking risks. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass-covering."

Bruce Leak, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who once worked with Musk at a video game company, told Bloomberg BusinessWeek that Musk "has that Bill Gates energy where his foot bounces and he's wiggling just because he's so smart."

We need more of that energy channeled into projects that solve the problems we have today, not ideas that extend our woes. Why? because we live on a resource challenged planet where we need to constrain some resources while letting loose the hounds of innovation in other areas.

In the book The Sixth Wave: How to Succeed in a Resource-Limited World, the authors argue that identifying waste is the growth opportunity for the new, emerging entrepreneur.

"If you can find waste in a system, the opportunities will follow, because in a world of limited resources waste is a huge source of untapped value," the authors James Bradfield Moody and Bianca Nogrady wrote. "In The Sixth Wave, waste is simply another transaction cost."

In short, the next wave of innovation will be driven by resource efficiency, enabled through the pricing of waste and natural resources, and turbo-charged by clean technologies."

So let's have more toe tapping, more all nighters and more Elon Musks so we can create more turbo-charged energy that leads to a better world.

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  • Otto Lilienthal

    German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal developed 18 different plane models and created the predecessor to the modern hang glider. The latter creation did him in, when it stalled during a test flight in 1896, he fell from over 50 feet. Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

  • Valerian Abakovsky

    In 1917, young Russian engineer Valerian Abakovsky designed a railcar fitted with an aircraft engine, that he hoped would be able to take Communist officials from city to city at high speeds. A test run of over 100 miles from Moscow to the city of Tula in 1921 proved successful, but the car derailed on the return trip, killing all aboard.

  • Perillos

    In the 5th century B.C., metalworker Perillos created a "brazen bull" for Sicilian tyrant Phalaris. The device looked like a bronze sculpture of a bull, but with a compartment inside in which a prisoner could be held. The executioner would then light a fire underneath the bull and the prisoner would be roasted to death. Skeptical of Perillos' creation, Phalaris decided to test it out on its unfortunate inventor. Accounts differ about whether or not the ruler pulled his subject out at the last moment.

  • Alexander Bogdanov

    Russian polymath Alexander Bogdanov didn't invent blood transfusion, but he did found the first blood bank in Moscow in 1925. He believed that receiving blood from healthy people was the key to eternal youth, and all was going well until 1928, when he injected himself with blood of someone suffering from malaria and tuberculosis.

  • Wan Hu

    <a href="http://history.msfc.nasa.gov/rocketry/06.html">Legend has it</a> that during the 15th century, a Chinese man named Wan Hu attempted to take to the skies in a chair equipped with 47 large rockets. Accounts of the event differ--one claimed he made it into the sky before the apparatus burned up, while another described an immediate explosion: "when the smoke cleared, the flying chair and Wan-Hu were gone."

  • Marie Curie

    Marie Curie's pioneering work in radioactivity earned her two Nobel prizes, but it came with a price. Her long-term exposure to ions from the radioactive materials that made up her life's work eventually gave her a bone marrow condition known as aplastic anemia. She succumbed in 1934. Credit: AP

  • Horace Hunley

    The H.L. Hunley was the first submarine ever to sink an enemy ship in battle, and it did so for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Horace Hunley, the marine engineer who created the sub, was onboard during a training exercise in 1863-- he went down with the ship when it sank. </strong>Correction<strong>: <em>A previous version of this slide stated that Hunley was on board during the submarine's final voyage. In fact, the vessel was raised and ridden again after the ill-fated training exercise that killed Hunley</em>.

  • Karel Soucek

    Canadian daredevil Karel Soucek may have made it over Niagara Falls in his custom-made capsule, but when he tried to recreate the famous stunt into a pool at the Houston Astrodome in 1985, the rig malfunctioned. He hit the side of the pool, fatally injuring himself in the process.

  • Franz Reichelt

    Franco-Austrian tailor Franz Reichelt created what would have been the first wearable parachute--if it had worked. Despite many failed attempts, Reichelt himself wore the parachute in a 1912 jump from the Eiffel tower. His invention failed that time as well.

  • Henry Smolinski

    Ex-Northrop engineer Henry Smolinski met his end in 1973 when his AVE Mizar, or 'Flying Pinto' separated from its airframe and crashed. Though the craft had flown successfully in tests, subsequent analysis revealed major design flaws. See it fly at around 3:30 into the video.

 

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