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Elon Musk, The Disruptive Technologist

Posted: 26th April 2013
By: CHRIS
Elon Musk, The Disruptive Technologist

Guest author Alejandro Santacreu is an Electronic Product Developer and an OSINT enthusiast. He previously posted here on Cyprus and natural gas, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Let’s assume that you have not heard of Elon Musk. You have, however, probably heard of PayPal, a company synonymous with payments in the Internet era and disruptive technology. You might also have heard about Tesla Motors, which attractively combines electric power and sports car, and SpaceX, a private manufacturing company building the new generation of affordable spaceships. If all those things seem disconnected, the missing link you are looking for is a man: Mr. Musk, Elon for friends.

By exploring Elon Musk in Recorded Future, we can connect the dots between his different responsibilities and technological endeavors as he acts as the disruptive technologist reshaping the transportation and space exploration industries. The immediate, highest level of his network revolves largely around Tesla Motors.

Elon Musk, Disruptive Technologist Network

Elon Musk Relationship Network

A “Where?” and “When?” check reinforces the impression from his network of connections: much at the moment is about Tesla Motors and its immediate future in Europe – Germany being a paricularly promising market according to Mr. Musk – as well as some thoughts on electric Japanese car makers.

Elon Musk Map of Connections

The Musk Effect on Technology

His promises on delivering “lighter, stiffer and safer electric cars” are intimately tied to energy storage technology, just as the renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, by the way. Supercapacitors, the next generation of energy storage solutions which have been announced for so long, will provide ultra-fast charging times and huge energy capacities. They represent the final frontier between the smoky nuclear present and a world of clean air with silent roads crossed by electric vehicles where excuses such as: “excuse me but I have to hang, my smartphone is running out of battery” will be no longer accepted.

As we can discover in the next timeline view, aluminium-air and graphene batteries / capacitors are a bottleneck. From cars and planes to smartphones and other nano-devices there is a huge demand for better energy storage technology and it very likely that current ion-lithium batteries, frequently linked to explosions and burns, will be replaced in a few years. Maturation of a major new market inevitably boosts the energy and investment in complementary technologies, and Musk’s work with Tesla is no different; new battery technologies are both pushing that industry forward as well as reaping the benefits of R&D dollars to further improve.

Graphene Battery Technology Timeline

To Tesla Motors, and Beyond!

The vision of Mr. Musk does not stop on the ground. His ambitions are powered not by electricity; he is fueled by dreams. This is why Elon jumped from an electric car cockpit to a space module and founded SpaceX: to conquer the next frontier, which will not be the final one since dreams are an infinite power for those brave enough to ride them.

“If you have the chance to go back in time and work with Howard Hughes when he was creating TWA, if you get a chance to be there at that moment when it was the dawn of a new era of a brand new era… Won’t you to do that?” That is what former NASA astronaut Garrick Reese answered when was asked by “60 Minutes” why he joined Space-X instead of Boeing or Lockheed.

At the beginning of that very same show we hear that “in the history of space flights only four entities have launched a space capsule into orbit and successfully brought it back to the earth: the United States, Russia, China and Elon Musk”. Well, that is not accurate, NASA has a long experience in outsourcing its projects and according to IBM there has never been a man on the moon without IBM. That could be something to remember when blames is cast at the Obama administration for “privatizing space” when, in fact, there was nothing new about private companies helping NASA. In fact, people like Elon Musk, charismatic and enthusiastic, seems like the right ones to engage with the administration and put space research within the top priorities of humankind, again.

There is no interest in undermining the value of Elon Musk’s astonishing achievements, just the willingness to put things in its right context and, as it was recently mentioned by Arram Sabeti (founder of the more prosaic but equally successful start-up ZeroCater) in his article “From Selling Scoops Of Ice Cream To Founding ZeroCater”:

Musk describes it best: “It’s like chewing glass and staring into the abyss.” In the worst times, the pain is both physical and mental. There’s a part of his 60 Minutes interview I watch at least once a month, where Musk is asked if he considered quitting after his third failed launch. He replies in a quiet, understated voice: “Never. I don’t ever give up. I’d have to be dead or completely incapacitated.”

The In-Sourcing Aspect of SpaceX

One of the most interesting things about Space X is how the company has been built around the incoming wave of relocation and in-sourcing. During recent years, prototyping and automation costs have been lowering, increasing the weight of technological know-how over the labour cost and transportation expenses. In the same way that companies like Apple, Canon and many others (Timbuk2, Shinola…) have recently confirmed their plans to send back part of its production to the geographical areas of demand, SpaceX has been built around the concept that putting things out in the space could be easier and cheaper than never before and compatible with a 100% in-house development.

Digital Prototyping Timeline

In this respect, software is, again, the Archimedes’ lever. If you are in product development you will appreciate reading the case study “Space X delivers outer space at bargain prices”. There you will find how much the NX software from Siemens has contributed to make SpaceX a profitable business and how product development will look like in the near future.

SpaceX has modeled the entire Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets and the Dragon capsule in NX. The software has no trouble handling more than 25,000-part assemblies.

Elon Musk was obviously well aware of the value of making development faster and cheaper using digital prototyping software before creating SpaceX; Tesla Motors also creates using Siemen’s environment. This should be no big surprise: Siemen’s shows a healthy influence on digital prototyping according to the its connections and contract, which include U.S. military projects, NVIDIA, and many other blooming industries.

Siemens NX Business Network

How does the future look for Elon Musk?

You can bet your best horse that somebody like Mr. Musk, a proud member of the Mars Society, a sort of a dreamers’ private club where he seats close to other well known space enthusiasts like James Cameron, will not be satisfied simply by becoming NASA courier. A quick look at the below timeline shows you the expectations for SpaceX to deliver a robotic payload to the moon in a short time (Dec 2013) and subsequently explore planetary satellites (Titan, i.e.) and Mars. These projects include the possibility of mining.

Maybe the question is not how the future looks like inside Mr. Musk’s mind but: “How will Elon Musk look in the future?” He already is the Howard Hughes of today, but how you can deny that he also has the look and appeal to become the Sir Peter Weyland of tomorrow?