NASA asks private companies to share how they might supply the Lunar Gateway

NASA’s stated goal of sending the first woman ever, and the first man since the Apollo program, to the Moon involves setting up a new space station that will orbit the Moon, which is supposed to begin being built by the end of 2022, per current timelines. Today, the U.S. space agency issued an open call for industry feedback and insight on how American companies might help supply said station.

Like the ISS, the forthcoming “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway” (aka the LOP-G, but much more commonly simply referred to as “The Gateway”) will need regular resupply runs and delivery of cargo — both for the many stages of its build, which are projected to span at least six years to get to its target state of completion. NASA is also considering the possibility that private companies could provide transportation for parts of its lunar landing and, eventually, exploration and base building on the Moon.

NASA’s move today is to release a draft request for proposals, which means that at this stage, it’s not actually looking for providers to submit formal bids — this is the step before that happens, when it’s more informally looking for guidance from industry on what kinds of cargo delivery methods they might even be able to provide ahead of looking to lock in any official contract winners for ongoing business.

To dive deeper into what it’s after and field questions from industry, NASA is hosting a Q&A on June 26, and comments are due on July 10. The more formal actual RFP will happen later this summer, the agency expects, and ultimately, the contract award for this admittedly big job could be as high as $7 billion.

NASA previously awarded private official “Commercial Resupply Services” for the ISS, which is a similar type of business but much closer to home, to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, and then another round of CRS contracts more recently to Orbital ATK (the new Northrop Grumman-owned entity which Orbital Sciences became), Sierra Nevada and SpaceX once again. It’s likely SpaceX will once again bid, as could Blue Origin, Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin, to name a few.

NASA’s OSIRIX-REx probe sets a space record with a close orbit of weird asteroid Bennu

If you follow space news at all, you may have heard of ‘Bennu’ – the near-Earth asteroid that has a slim (but higher than most) chance of colliding with our planet sometime nearly 200 years from now. The asteroid is notable for many reasons, including the recent discovery that it’s actually also “active,” which means that it’s been spewing dust and gravel into the surrounding space as it continuous along its path.

That discovery is what prompted NASA to reduce the distance at which its OSIRIS-REx probe orbits the spacefaring rock. The probe arrived at Bennu late last year to observe the asteroid after a selection process determined which of the known near-Earth ones would be the best candidate for a research mission.

NASA’s probe is now just over 3,000 feet above the centre mass of Bennu, which is closer than your average military attack helicopters fly at cruising distance above Earth, as NASA helpfully points out in the illustrative graphic below.

The mission refers to this orbit as the ‘Orbital B’ phase, and it’s a record not just for Bennu, but also stands as the closes a spacecraft has ever orbited any extraterrestrial body anywhere in the solar system. It’ll remain in this orbit until mid-August, and it’ll focus the next few weeks on photographing the asteroid’s surface regularly to study the dust and gravel ejection mentioned above.

Apple snuck a Raptors tribute into its Canadian home page

The Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championship last night, which is probably not news to you if you’re A) Canadian (like me) or B) a basketball fan. But unless you’ve starting your Friday off shopping for Apple gear on their Canadian website, you might not have noticed this subtle ‘Easter Egg.’

If you go to https://apple.com/ca, which is the Canadian localized version of Apple’s home page, you’ll be greeted by a fleeting animation that pushes down from the top of the screen and lasts only a moment – at first I was confused and only half-paying attention so I figured it was some kind of weird Father’s Day promotion.

Then I reloaded and watched again and noticed that the animation was actually made up of swirling dinosaur, Canadian flag and basketball emojis. Because I’m super smart, it only took me about 15 more minutes to put all the pieces together with last night’s NBA Championship final and the basketball team that calls my city home.

Anyways, it’s fun, and probably done with the approval of headquarters in Cupertino – though there’s likely a fair number of Golden State fans there who aren’t thrilled at the reminder of who took home the win.

Tesla’s in-car touchscreens are getting YouTube support

Tesla has consistently been adding software to its in-car touchscreen infotainment displays – including sometimes things that probably leave a lot of people scratching their heads. During a special Q&A today at annual gaming event E3 in LA, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Tesla’s in-car display will support YouTube someday soon.

This isn’t the first time that the Tesla CEO has suggested YouTube might one day have a home in the company’s cars: In response to a fan’s question on Twitter last August he noted that ‘version 10’ of the company’s in-car software would provide support for third-party video streaming. The company debuted its ‘Software Version 9.0’ last year.

Musk specifically said YouTube would be coming to cars during the E3 event today, at which he revealed that Bethesda’s Fallout 3 would be coming to the infotainment displays, and unveiled a demo video of Android game Beach Buggy Racer running on a display in a Tesla Model 3.

On a recent podcast, the Tesla CEO also said that the company would consider opening the platform more broadly to third-party developers for both apps and games. The company has done a lot on its own to add software ‘Easter Eggs’ to the dash display, but turning it into a true platform is a much more ambitious vision.

On its face, adding attention-heavy apps like streaming video services to a car definitely seems counterintuitive, but to be fair to Tesla, a large number of drivers today use their phones for in-car navigation and those can also all technically display YouTube at any time. It does seem like a case of Musk’s mind racing ahead to a day when his cars are fully autonomous, something he recently reiterated he expects to happen within the next couple of years.

Pioneering private space explorer Anousheh Ansari welcomes ISS commercialization

XPRIZE CEO and Prodea founder Anousheh Ansari dreamt of being an astronaut as a child growing up in Iran, but understandably most people around her were skeptical about her ambitions. Yet in 2006, she made that dream come true when she became the first woman to visit the International Space Station as a privately funded citizen (as well as the first Iranian citizen and the first Muslim woman), traveling aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket as a trained and paying guest of the Russian Space Agency.

At the time, NASA wasn’t thrilled about the idea and definitely did not want Ansari to pay a visit. 13 years later, the U.S. space agency announced earlier this week that the ISS is officially “open for business,” and revealed that pricing for a night’s stay will be around $35,000 per person (that’s just lodging – you still have to figure out your own transportation). At a Creative Destruction Lab event in Toronto this week, I spoke to Ansari about what this milestone announcement means for commercial spaceinterests, and her perspective on the field and opportunity for space-focused startups in general.

“Actually, I wish I had my laptop to I could show a slide from probably six, seven years ago, maybe even longer, which I used that said ‘ISS for rent. It’s coming true! I’m telling you, I can predict the future,” Ansari joked. “But I think it makes so much sense.”

There are a number of reasons the situation has changed regarding how NASA views commercial and private interest in visiting and using the space station. Not least of which is that the station has now aged beyond its original mission parameters, and is definitely nearing its true functional end of life.

The space station is […] already on extended life right now,” Ansari said. “So now they can generate revenue from, make good use of the space station [beyond its intended mission] so they can invest in the next generation.”

Even if its original, official mission is technically ended, there’s a lot of advantage that private companies can still derive from the facility in the interim.

“There’s so much interest in doing research and experimentation on board the space station, I think the cost is incredibly low,” she added, referring to the pricing quoted in NASA’s guidelines for private astronauts. “I mean, there’s still the cost of access, which will mean it’s not affordable for everyone. But the renting space station for $35,000 a night and doing experiments. It’s incredible.”

“I think there will be a lot of companies, a lot of, you know, pharma, medical and health companies will definitely take advantage of that and do experiments,” Ansari continued. “And, and I’m excited. I’m glad it’s happening.”

PLAYA VISTA, CALIFORNIA – MAY 15: (L-R) Anousheh Ansari, CEO, XPRIZE, Peter Diamandis, Founder & Executive Chairman, XPRIZE and Emily Church, Executive Director of the Global Learning, XPRIZE attend the Global Learning XPRIZE Foundation Grand-prize Awards at Google Playa Vista Office on May 15, 2019 in Playa Vista, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Global Learning XPRIZE)

For Ansari, the growth in the commercial space sector has its origins in XPRIZE, the organization she leads as CEO as of last October. The Ansari X Prize, a $10 million prize so-named thanks to a multimillion dollar contribution provided by Ansari and her brother-in-law Amir Ansari, was awarded in 2004, and paved the way for the kind of business SpaceX operates today.

“The first prize was a $10 million prize, to go to space twice within two weeks, because we wanted to show that it can be repeated, which means that it is commercially viable – it’s not a science fiction project, and it can be done at a reasonable cost” Ansari recalled. “We had a requirement, I think it had to be 95%, reusable, outside of the mass of the fuel. We didn’t want someone to build two spaceships, fly this one, and then fly this other one. So it was all designed because we wanted to make sure it can really be a business.”

The key ingredient here was to show, for the first time, that this could be a commercially viable interest at investment levels that were not out of reach for private companies to pursue. And another key ingredient was that the project involved making sure participants actually could launch, and were cleared by relevant agencies to do so.

“We had to work with regulators and the FAA to figure out how people could even launch, because FAA didn’t know how to deal with this,” Ansari said. “They’d never had a private company wanting to launch something to space. So because of our work, and and the work we did with NASA and the regulators, they opened up, they created this division – now it’s called the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation.”

SpaceX’s CRS-11 launch from 2017. SpaceX’s ability to launch privately is due in part to the work XPRIZE did to help establish guidelines for commercial launch operations.

While her work to date has broken a lot of ground and opened up avenues for startups, Ansari had specific requests about new areas of opportunity and consideration for entrepreneurs in attendance at the Creative Destruction Lab event during a keynote talk she gave to kickoff the first day. She noted that there exists plenty of potential for “cloud systems that exist above the clouds,” since data warehouse facilities operating in space would have immediate benefits in terms of energy collection and thermal management.

She also called for startups to focus on making sure they consider knock-on effects of the things they build. Space debris, as one example in the specific – and more generally, a reminder that exponential change naturally engenders a reaction of fear.

“It’s a difficult thing, because as engineers we just like to play with toys and play with technology,” she said. “But it’s up to us in this room to help make sense of this.”

Airbnb launches ‘Adventures’ for tourists seeking more thrills

Airbnb has debuted a new extension of its growing business in providing travel experiences in addition to temporary housing – it’s called Airbnb Adventures, and it’s effectively a collection of tours and trips lasting between three days and a week that go beyond the usual city walking tour.

One such trip, for example, is a wildlife excursion in Kenya that spans three days and centers around a walking trip with a promise to “encounter lions” as well as a campfire learning session, and “bush tea.” The cost is $500 per person, which includes five meals, drinks and two nights’ stay in a tent.

To source these ‘Adventures,’ Airbnb is working with local experts and tour companies, and doing so directly rather than working with larger tour providers that can be a one-to-many connection for sourcing like it does with some of its more vanilla Experiences. The direct route is probably necessary for these types of experiences, which have more implications in terms of liability and insurance. The company is also working with a third-party for verifying the certifications that are often required to provide these kinds of activities safely.

Airbnb is increasingly investing in ares that complement its core product of short-term peer-to-peer vacation housing rentals, and it debuted Experiences, of which Adventures is a part, in 2016. It’s also recently been reported that the company is exploring streaming media. It’s also expected to go public sometime this year, and recently claimed profitability in its operations.

We won’t be listening to music in a decade according to Vinod Khosla

Depending on who you ask, the advantage of technology based on artificial or machine intelligence could be a topsy-turvy funhouse mirror world – even in some very fundamental ways.

“I actually think 10 years from now, you won’t be listening to music,” is a thing venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said on stage today during a fireside chat at Creative Destruction Lab’s second annual Super Session event.

Instead, he believes we’ll be listening to custom song equivalents that are automatically designed specifically for each individual, and tailored to their brain, their listening preferences and their particular needs.

Khosla noted that AI-created music is already making big strides – and it’s true that it’s come a long way in the past couple of years, as noted recently by journalist Stuart Dredge writing on Medium.

As Dredge points out, one recent trend is the rise of mood or activity based playlists on Spotify and channels on YouTube. There are plenty of these types of things where the artist, album and song name are not at all important, or even really surfaced. Not to mention that there’s a big financial incentive for an entity like Spotify to prefer machine-made alternatives, since it could help alleviate or eliminate the licensing costs that severely limit their ability to make margin on their primary business of serving up music to customers.

AI-generated chart toppers and general mood music is one thing, but a custom soundtrack specific to every individual is another. It definitely sidesteps the question of what happens to the communal aspect of music when everyone’s music-replacing auditory experience is unique to the person. Guess we’ll find out in ten years.

Why Vinod Khosla thinks radiologists still practicing in 10 years will be ‘causing deaths’

Doubling down on comments he’s made throughout the years regarding AI’s potential impact on the medical industry, legendary Silicon Valley investor and Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla said on Wednesday that he believes “any radiologist to plans to practice in ten years will be killing patients every day” because machine-powered solutions will have advanced to such a point that they’ll be far more effective than professional human practitioners.

Speaking at the closing keynote of Creative Destruction Lab’s Super Session in Toronto, Khosla also said on stage that “radiologists are toast,” and that they flat out “shouldn’t be a job,” continuing that in a decade when AI-based diagnostic technology has advanced, people in this profession will “be causing deaths, because [they] choose to practice.”

The position was in keeping with his past statements on the subject, dating back to as early as 2017, when he expressed the belief that some types of doctors would be “obsolete” within five years (the timeline seems to have gotten a bit longer in the interim, but he qualified later that this include the time it will take for acceptance of the fact that the tech is better by the community and general public). Khosla added that he also believes that oncologists will also be surpassed by alternatives based on domain-specific AI solutions, but that that’s probably a bit further out on the 15-year horizon.

Instead, he believes that human general practitioner doctors will be more valuable, and will work with AI solutions for more specialized medical fields often currently considered more highly skilled. This is in keeping with the general thinking about how narrowly focused AI is easier to accomplish than machine intelligence that addresses more general topics.

Khosla noted further that oncology is “much easier to automate” than the job of a factory worker, since the job of a factory worker “has much more dimensionality.”

The investor qualified the strength of his statements by adding that he believes the time for being polite is over, since he does believe that on balance people will be more dangerous than machine intelligence in the specific domain of radiology in the ten year timeframe.

Creative Destruction Lab’s second Super Session is an intense two-day startup testbed

Canadian startup program Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) escapes succinct description in some ways – it’s an accelerator, to be sure, and an incubator. Startups show up and present to a combined audience of investors, mentors, industry players (some of whom, like former astronaut Chris Hadfield, verge on celebrity status) – but it’s not a demo day, per se, and presentations happen in focused rooms with key, vertically aligned audience members who can provide much more than just funding to the startups who participate.

North founder Stephen Lake on stage at CDL’s Super Session 2019.

Seven years into its existence, CDL really puts on a show for its cornerstone annual event (itself only two years old) clearly shows the extent to which the program has scaled. From an inaugural cohort of just 25 startups with a focus on science, CDL has grown to the point where it’s graduating 150 startups spanning cohorts across six cities associated with multiple academic institutions. It has consistently added new areas of focus, including a space track this year, for which Hadfield is a key mentor, as is Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space tourist to pay her own way to the International Space Station and the co-founder and CEO of Prodea Systems.

The ‘Super’ in Super Session

This is the second so-called ‘Super Session’ after the event’s debut in 2017. It includes roughly 850 attendees, made up of investors, mentors, industry sponsors and the graduating startups themselves. As CDL Fellow Chen Fong put it in his welcoming remarks, CDL’s Super Session is an opportune moment for networking, mentorship and demonstration of the companies the program has helped foster and grow.

A keynote track included talks by Ansari and Hadfield, as well as from Celmatix CEO and founder Piraye Beim, and a fireside chat with North founder and CEO Stephen Lake. Subjects ranged from the importance of the linkage between exploration and technology, to what Beim described as “probably the first CDL talk to include menstrual health, vibrators, incontinence, and menopause, all in the span of 15 minutes.” Lake meanwhile discussed the future of seamless human-computer interfaces, and Ansari discussed her work founding the XPRIZE program and the impetus behind the current moment and interest in private space innovation.

Celmatix CEO and founder Piraye Beim speaking at the 2019 Creative Destruction Lab Super Session in Toronto.

The variety in the keynote speaker mix and topic selection is reflective of the eclectic and comprehensive nature of CDL’s modern program, which scouts globally for prospective startup participants. Its six hubs then enter into a matching process with startups signed on to take part, where each scores the other and that leads to placement.

How CDL works

CDL’s originating thesis is all about supplying the limiting resource in a startup ecosystem; the thing which the program’s organizers think is the missing ingredient that differentiates Silicon Valley from any other innovation hub in the world. Namely, CDL theorizes that this missing ingredient is what CDL Associate Director Kristjan Sigurdson calls “entrepreneurial judgement.”

Sigurdson explains that this basically boils down to the ability to know what are the most important things you need to do as an entrepreneur, and in what order. The missing piece, he says, isn’t ideas, funding availability or a lack of effort – instead it’s the kind of judgement that results from experience. CDL’s model, which emphasizes five sessions held periodically during which a panel of mentors helps startups set three clearly defined objectives they can accomplish within the next eight weeks.

After each of these sessions, some triage occurs – essentially CDL mentors gathered in closed door meetings and are asked if they’d work with any of the startups that presented during the session. If startups don’t receive sponsorship in these closed door meetings, then they’re not asked to participate in the next session, and effectively are out of the program. All told, the program graduates around 40-45 percent of the startups that enter the program, Sigurdson said.

Group session with small group mentoring on site at Creative Destruction Lab’s 2019 Super Session in Toronto.

CDL is also a bit out of the ordinary in that it takes no equity from the startups it works with – it’s fundamentally an academic program, started by the University of Toronto, and its designed to provide real-world business cases for the school’s MBA students to work on. But it’s become so much more – providing mentorship and guidance as described, and also connecting researchers who often enter into formal advisory roles with CDL companies.

Sigurdson also noted that CDL has actually seen “much higher investment levels” vs. the average for more traditional incubation or acceleration programs. “It’s a program that I think allows companies to raise money much more organically even though it’s an artificial program we created,” he said, referencing CDL’s own comparative research.

Lab-grown and forged in fire

True to its name, Creative Destruction Lab in practice feels like a generative cauldron of ideas, shared with peers and industry specialists for debate, discussion and reformation. Sessions are remarkable to witness – where else are you going to see brand new companies get direct feedback from astronauts and representatives of global space agencies, for instance.

Creative Destruction Lab opening keynote for its Super Session 2019 event.

The model is unique, but clearly effective, and able to scale – as evidenced from its growth to what it is today, from its starting point in 2012, when one founder described it as ‘7 people in a room.’ The room featuring presentations from space track companies alone featured around 50 people in attendance for instance – almost all of which were top-flight industry leaders and investors, including Hadfield, Ansari, CDL alumni Mina Mitry of Kepler Communications, and prominent Toronto angel investor Dan Debow. Startups presenting in the space track included Wyvern, a hyperspectral imaging company; Mission Control, a startup that wants to be the software layer for Moon rovers; and Atomos, which is building space tug for extra-atmospheric ‘last-mile’ transportation solutions.

It’s easy to see why this program results in solid investment pipeline, given the profile of the sponsors and mentors involved. And it’s another strong stake in the ground for the claim that Canada’s startup scene, with Toronto as its locus of gravity, is increasingly earning (and outperforming) its reputation as a global center of innovation.

MIT develops a better way for robots to predict human movement

People and robots working together has tremendous potential for factory and construction site settings, but robots are also potentially incredibly dangerous to people, especially when they’re large and powerful, which is typically the case for industrial robots.

There are plenty of efforts to make ‘corobotics’ a reality, including production machines like the YuMi produced by German robotics giant ABB . But a new algorithm created by MIT researchers could help make humans and robots working together even safer.

Researchers working with automaker BMW and observing their current product flow workflow noticed that the robots were overly cautious when it came to watching out for the humans in the plant – they’d lose lots of potentially productive time waiting for people to cross their paths long before there was any chance of the people actually doing that.

They’ve not developed a solution that greatly improves the ability of robots to anticipate the trajectory of humans as they move – allowing robots that typically freeze in the face of anything even vaguely resembling a person walking in their path to continue to operate and move around the flow of human foot traffic.

Researchers managed this by eschewing the usual practice of borrowing from how music and speech processing works for algorithmic prediction, which are much better when it comes to predicting predictable paths of travel, and instead came up with a ‘partial trajectory’ method that references real-time trajectory data with a large library of reference trajectories gathered before.

This is a much better way of anticipating human movement, which is very rarely consistent and involves a lot of stops and starts, even in a factory worker performing the same action repeatedly over thousands of instances.

This could have potential consumer applications too – researchers note that human movement even in the home would be better predicted using this moment, which could have benefits in terms of robotic long-term in-home care for the elderly, for instance.