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Elon Musk Unveils His First Los Angeles-area Tunnel

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Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk made a brief public appearance late on Tuesday to unveil the first tunnel completed by the underground transit venture he launched two years ago as an ambitious remedy to Los Angeles’ infamously heavy traffic.

But contrary to some of his own hype from several months ago, free rides were not part of the grand opening.

In a 30-minute presentation carried by live webcast, Musk touted the newly finished 1.14-mile (1.83 km) tunnel segment as a breakthrough in low-cost, fast-digging technology being pioneered by his nascent tunneling firm, the Boring Company.

Musk has advertised the proof-of-concept tunnel as a first step toward developing a high-speed subterranean network capable of whisking vehicles and pedestrians below the “soul-destroying” street traffic of America’s second-largest city at up to 150 miles per hour. But such a system has a long way to go.

The new tunnel was excavated along a path that runs not through Los Angeles but beneath the tiny adjacent municipality of Hawthorne, where Musk’s Boring Company and his SpaceX rocket firm are both headquartered.

Musk, best known as head of the Tesla Inc electric car manufacturer and energy company, launched his foray into public transit after complaining on Twitter in December 2016 that L.A.’s traffic was “driving me nuts,” promising then to “build a boring machine and just start digging.”

In May, the company gave the world a preview of the Hawthorne tunnel, posting a fast-forward video of its interior shot by a camera traveling the length of the cylindrical passageway, which measures about 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter.

On Tuesday, Musk put the total price tag for the finished segment at about $10 million, including the cost of excavation, internal infrastructure, lighting, ventilation, safety systems, communications and a track.

By comparison, he said, digging a mile of tunnel by “traditional” engineering methods costs up to $1 billion and takes three to six months to complete.

FASTER THAN A SNAIL?

Musk boasted of several cost-cutting innovations, including higher-power boring machines, digging narrower tunnels, speeding up dirt removal, and simultaneous excavation and reinforcement.

He also invoked his favorite comparison with a snail, a creature he said moves 14 times faster than the speed of a typical tunneling machine. “Aspirationally, we should be slightly faster than a snail,” he said.

Musk did not say how long it took to burrow his new tunnel, which ended up running short of the 2-mile easement his company originally requested for the project.

But he showed pre-recorded video footage of a newly built elevator station designed to carry passengers from street level to the tunnel’s subterranean entryway. The video featured a modified Tesla Model X luxury car on the elevator.

When fully operational, the “loop” system as Musk envisions it will consist of passenger- and automobile-carrying platforms called “skates” that can zip through the tunnels by way of electric power once they descend into the underground network.

Alternately, he said, passenger cars could be outfitted with retractable side wheels allowing them to travel through the loop autonomously.

Musk arrived at Tuesday night’s event in a Tesla vehicle so equipped, emerging from the car at one end of the tunnel – bathed in green and blue interior lights – as he was cheered by a small, enthusiastic crowd gathered for the presentation.

Musk created a stir earlier this year by promising free trips through the tunnel once it opened. However, no such rides were in the offing on Tuesday night. A company message posted online beforehand said tunnel tours “are by invitation only,” citing “unbelievably high demand.”

Clock ticks toward potential Friday shutdown

If successful, the Hawthorne tunnel is envisioned as eventually connecting to a network of other tunnels, yet to be built.

Last month, the Boring Company scrapped plans for a 2.7-mile segment under a West Los Angeles neighborhood, settling litigation brought by community groups opposed to that project.

But Musk’s company said it was moving ahead with a proposed tunnel across town to connect Dodger Stadium, home of the city’s Major League Baseball team, to an existing subway line.

In June, Boring was selected by Chicago to build a 17-mile underground transit system linking that city’s downtown to its main airport. The company also has proposed an East Coast Loop that would run from Washington, D.C., to the Maryland suburbs. – Reuters

– Steve Gorman

READ MORE| Why Do Investors Believe Elon Musk But Not Mary Barra?


READ MORE| Elon Musk’s Net Worth Eclipses $20 Billion For First Time


READ MORE| Tesla’s $675 Million Loss Pulls Elon Musk Back To Earth After Stellar SpaceX Launch

Entrepreneurs

Op-Ed: How Nigerians Can Unlock Their Potential In The Digital Age

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By Uzoma Dozie, Chief Sparkler

Nigerians are some of the world’s most creative, energetic, and entrepreneurial people. We are rich with talent, enthusiasm, and passion.

Nigerians are a global force bursting with potential and an enviable track-record of success. But in a more complex and fast-paced world than ever before, many of us struggle to find the time or have the ability to fulfil their potential.

Ultimately, this comes down to the lack of effective solutions in the market to support the lifestyle and finances of Nigerians and our businesses. For too long, we have been underserved by the traditional physical retail environment, which is limited by bricks and mortar infrastructure and legacy technology – the weaknesses of which have been laid bare by the Covid-19 global pandemic.

Unlocking Nigeria’s digital economy

While Nigerians are being underserved by current circumstances, there is also an exciting opportunity to start filling a gap in the market.

Nigeria’s digital economy is thriving, but it remains informal. Nigeria has a population of 198 million people – 172 million have a mobile phone and 112 million have internet access.

Many of us access social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram through our phones and use them as valuable sales tools, especially female entrepreneurs. Data and digital applications have the potential to revolutionize the daily lives of millions of Nigerians.

Therefore, new digital-only solutions are required. These should not just focus on finances though – they have to be intrinsically linked with everyday lifestyles, rather than thinking about linear processes and transactional outcomes.

Let us take one example. Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence have long been used to provide financial advice. But these chatbots could do so much more and evolve to provide support for more sophisticated usage, such as a personal adviser or lifestyle concierge.

Furthermore, these solutions should not just support Nigerians at home, but the ever-growing diaspora across the world.

Introducing Sparkle

The opportunity to play an integral role in transforming Nigeria’s digital economy and lead the charge in growing the digital economy across Africa inspired the creation of Sparkle.

Sparkle was founded with five core values – freedom, trust, simplicity, inclusivity, and personalization. We are adopting these values and embedding them in everything we do.

We will be leveraging technology and data to create and apply new digital-only solutions which bring more Nigerians into the formal economy thereby benefitting Government, businesses, and individuals.

Starting with the launch of a current account, we will co-create with our customers and collaborate with our partners to improve our services and increase our user base. We embrace collaboration and we are

working with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Google, Microsoft, Visa, and PwC Nigeria, to achieve our vision.

In addition, we want to create a more inclusive economy and break down barriers by accelerating the role and influence of female entrepreneurs, many of whom already operate in the informal economy with the help of Instagram and other social media apps.

At present, we are facing a global crisis in the shape of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has shown us that we need a strong digital infrastructure to ensure the economy continues to function. It will likely completely change the way we operate and conduct business in the future.

COVID-19 has only reinforced our belief that new digital solutions like Sparkle are required now more than ever before to serve Nigerians, boost the formal economy, and unlock potential in the digital age.

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Billionaires

How This Billionaire-Backed Crypto Startup Gets Paid To Not Mine Bitcoin

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It’s everyone’s dream to get paid to do nothing. Bitcoin miner Layer1 is turning that dream into reality — having figured out how to make money even when its machines are turned off. 

Layer1 is a cryptocurrency startup backed by the likes of billionaire Peter Thiel. In recent months, out in the hardscrabble land of west Texas, the company has been busy erecting steel boxes (think shipping containers) stuffed chockablock with high-end processors submerged inside cooling baths of mineral oil. Why west Texas? Beause thanks to a glut of natural gas and a forest of wind turbines, power there is among the cheapest in the world — which is what you need for crypto. 

“Mining Bitcoin is about converting electricity into money,” says Alex Liegl, CEO and co-founder. By this fall Layer1 will have dozens of these boxes churning around the clock to transform 100 megawatts into a stream of Bitcoin. Liegl says their average cost of production is about $1,000 per coin — equating to a 90% profit margin at current BTC price of $9,100. 

So it’s odd how excited Liegl is about the prospect of having to shut down his Bitcoin miners this summer. 

Already this year west Texas has seen a string of 100-degree days. But the real heat and humidity don’t hit until August, which is when the Texas power grid strains under the load of every air conditioning unit in the state going full blast. During an intense week in 2019, wholesale electricity prices in the grid region managed by the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) soared from about $120 per megawatthour to peak out at $9,000 per mwh. It was only the third time in history that Texas power hit that level. And although the peak pricing only lasted an hour or so, that’s enough to generate big profits. Analyst Hugh Wynne at research outfit SSR figures that Texas power generators make about 15% of annual revenues during the peak 1% of hours (whereas in more temperate California grid generators only get 3% of revs from the top 1%).

Turns out that running a phalanx of Bitcoin miners is a great way to arbitrage those peaks. Layer1 has entered into so-called “demand response” contracts whereby at a minute’s notice they will shut down all their machines and instead allow their 100 mw load to flow onto the grid. “We act as an insurance underwriter for the energy grid,” says Liegl, 27. “If there is an insufficiency of supply we can shut down.” The best part, they get paid whether a grid emergeny occurs or not. Just for their willingness to shut in Bitcoin production, Layer1 collects an annual premium equating to $19 per megawatthour of their expected power demand — or about $17 million. Given Layer1’s roughly $25 per mwh long-term contracted costs, this gets their all-in power price down 75% to less than 1 cent per kwh (just 10% of what residential customers pay). 

It may seem like grid operators are paying Layer1 a lot for something that might not even happen, especially with coronavirus reducing electricity demand, but it makes total sense, says Ed Hirs, a lecturer in energy economics at the University of Houston and research fellow at consultancy BDO: “It’s a lot cheaper option than building a whole new power plant or battery system just to keep it on standby.” 

And although this may be a new concept for cryptocurrency miners, it’s been done before. Two decades ago industrialist Charles Hurwitz bought up power-hogging aluminum smelters in the Pacific Northwest and made more money reselling electricity than making metal. “It used to be called load management,” says Dan Delurey, a consultant with Wedgemere Group. “In old commercial buildings you might still find telephone wires connected to air conditioning systems so that grid operators could send a signal to shut off.” More recently we’ve seen companies install radio-based devices to control hot water heaters and lighting systems. Indeed, grid management is a hot enough area that in 2017 Italy’s power giant Enel bought Boston-based Enernoc for $250 million and Itron ITRI bought Comverge for $100 million. What’s emerged are entities, like Layer1, that Delurey calls the “prosumer” — producing consumer. 

As for Layer1, Liegl says his next step is to vertically integrate into financial products, including Bitcoin derivatives and more. “We are building an in-house energy trading division to leverage this into being a virtual power plant.” 

His message to any pikers still trying to mine cryptocurrencies from their bedroom PC or even via cloud services: “I can’t think of something more irrational at this point. It’s like if I wanted to dig a hole in my backyard and try to get oil out of the ground.” 

Christopher Helman, Forbes Staff, Energy

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Technology

Google Diversity Report Shows Little Progress For Women And People Of Color

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Google released its seventh consecutive diversity report on Thursday, revealing modest gains in representation for women and people of color, and a disproportionately white, Asian and male workforce.

The percentage of black hires in the U.S. grew from 4.8% in 2018 to 5.5% in 2019, a .7% increase. The percentage of black hires in technical roles also grew by .7%, the largest increase in the share of black technical hires since Google first started publishing diversity data. Latinx employees, on the other hand, saw a dip in hiring, dropping from 6.8% in 2018 to 6.6% in 2019. The percentage of Latinx employees in technical roles increased by a mere .2%.

Female employees didn’t fare much better, dropping from 33.2% of global hires in 2018 to 32.5% in 2019. Over that same time period, the percentage of women hired for technical positions remained at about 25.6%—a far cry from gender parity. But hiring only shows one side of the coin, which is why Google began to include attrition rates in 2018.

As in previous years, women continued to have a lower than average attrition rate in 2019, while Latinx attrition in the U.S. dipped below the Google average. Attrition was highest for Native Americans and increased significantly for black women.

Overall, Google’s workforce representation—defined as hiring minus attrition—saw a slight uptick for most underrepresented groups. Black and Latinx employees represented 9.6% of the U.S. workforce in 2019, up from 9% in 2018, and women represented 32% of Google’s global workforce, up from 31.6%.

The representation of women and Latinx employees in leadership roles also grew, increasing by .6% and .4% respectively. The percentage of black employees in leadership positions didn’t change year-over-year and dropped by .2% for Native American employees.

Although the needle has barely budged for women and people of color in tech over the last year, Google has made it a point to invest in diversity programs. Through its philanthropic arm, Google.org, the company committed $10 million to support low-income students and students of color in Bay Area STEM classrooms in 2019.

Internally, the company has launched smaller initiatives, such as running all job postings through a bias removal tool, which it says has led to an 11% increase in applications from women. And in an effort to retain diverse talent, Google expanded its retention case management program for underrepresented employees who are considering leaving the company.

Looking at its most recent diversity figures, however, Google concedes that there is considerable room for improvement. “The Native American population is one of those areas where we remain flat and so we will continue to invest more focus in 2020 to make sure that we’re targeting this population as well,” says Melonie Parker, Google’s chief diversity officer.

While she wouldn’t specify what that investment would entail, Parker says that the company is moving forward on its 2020 diversity goals and will continue to focus on representation and creating an inclusive culture companywide. She also notes that even the smallest percentage gains represent thousands of jobs for underrepresented groups. 

One area where Google has seen significant progress is in its internship program: Globally, 40% of interns in technical roles were women in 2019 and 24% of U.S. interns were black and Latinx.

Ruth Umoh, Forbes Staff, Diversity & Inclusion

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