I happen to share a birthday with one of the most prolific technologists of our times. Elon Musk and I were both born on June 28th. Elon got his start selling a startup called Zip2 to Compaq for $307 million in 1999. From there his online bank X.com merged with another company to form PayPal. PayPal was bought by eBay in 2002 and it was with this windfall that Elon went on to start SpaceX, the rocket company that lands rockets on autonomous drone ships in the ocean. In 2004, he joined Tesla and created the energy and electric vehicle manufacturer that has taken the market by storm. His list of technology ventures goes on and on... OpenAI, Starlink, Neuralink, The Boring Company. He also helped create Solar City which was later acquired by Tesla.
As you can imagine, these technologies fit well in a spy novel. I've worked in self-driving cars, rocket ships, hyperloops, solar power, the LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite network Starlink and more. I've worked hard to make the novel accurate, including descriptions of these and many other technologies, but in an attainable way. Please note that the novel is not at all like my blog. I will go into some of the technologies I use in the novel in detail in this blog, but the novel is meant to be more like a Mission Impossible movie. There is technology in the MI movies, but it's not meant to take away from the fun and excitement of the film.
These amazing thing about these technologies is they are all very real technologies. The SpaceX Starship is taller than the Saturn V that launched the Apollo astronauts to the moon. It has successfully launched itself about 6 miles into the sky and then after free falling back toward earth, fired its thrusters to right itself and land an upright landing, ready to refuel and launch again. Reusability of rockets is significant because it dramatically lowers the cost of space travel. In the past, every rocket was a one-time use vehicle. On August 18th, 2020, SpaceX set a record by using the first stage of a falcon rocket for the sixth time.
SpaceX is enabling another Elon company, Starlink. Starlink is now operational in parts of the world, beaming down high-speed internet access to remote parts of the world using satellites that SpaceX launched into a "low earth orbit". Since they are much closer to the ground, you can achieve high quality, high speed internet with Starlink's satellite network. This is unlike earlier satellite networks that were slow because the satellites were so far up in the sky!
SpaceX's dragon capsule has an "autopilot" for docking. The first manned crew mission on Dragon docked autonomously to the International Space station. Of course, it's not just landing pads in the ocean and space capsules orbiting the earth that are working on autopilot. Tesla's neural network for self-driving cars is getting smarter and smarter, with a goal of someday allowing full-self driving cars on any road, Today, Tesla's autopilot system remains a driver assistance program and is not fully autonomous. However, as a Tesla owner, I can attest that the autopilot capabilities are amazingly good and significantly reduce driver fatigue on long drives. Tesla's ability to seamlessly update the software on their cars to add vehicle enhancements and improvements to autopilot is one of the clear advantages they have over the traditional legacy automakers. Here's an image of how Tesla's autopilot 'sees' the world.
Tesla's approach is to use pure vision, enabling a car to see with 8 cameras and a series of ultrasonic sensors for close in maneuvering. The images are processed by a highly trained neural network operating on specialized computer on-board the vehicle. Tesla can also pull scenes down from their fleet of vehicles to train the neural network. Before it is used by production cars, new versions of the neural network run in "shadow mode" along side the current production neural network to test them in the real world situations. This enables Tesla's autopilot to continue to improve at a rapid pace.
Anyway, it is sufficient to say, if you like reading about some of the different technologies Elon Musk has engaged in, then you'll want to read The Quantum Contingent. I promise to highlight many of the technologies throughout the thriller, but if you want to talk details, you'll probably need to do that here on the blog. The novel is a thriller, not a tech manual!
Thanks for listening, let me know if there are any topics you'd like me to highlight in the blog.
Greg's blog will cover some of the things he learned as well as some of the tech and locations he used in his new novel, The Quantum Contingent.