This Thursday, Jeff Bezos will make an announcement about his space company, Blue Origin. The image on the invitation sent to members of the press, a view of the Earth as seen from the Moon, suggests the Amazon founder will unveil Blue Origin’s plans to send both robotic and human missions to the lunar surface, possibly with a NASA contract in hand.
If that’s the case, he won’t be alone. Aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin has already unveiled its lunar plans in partnership with NASA. And Elon Musk’s SpaceX has a plan for a lunar flyby mission, while NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein suggested to a Senate committee in March that the agency was open to using commercial heavy-lift rockets for its lunar crewed missions. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy could serve such a mission.
The last few years have seen an increasing interest in going back to the Moon. The Trump Administration has announced it wants NASA to put humans back on the Moon by 2024, and the agency has also announced plans for a “Lunar Gateway” – a space station orbiting the Moon that would be developed in collaboration with multiple space agencies. That space station brings with it opportunities for commercial companies to develop lunar capabilities to provide support for missions at the Gateway.
Lockheed Martin has a long history with NASA and lunar exploration—it was one of the contractors on the Apollo missions. But billionaires Musk, who runs Tesla as well as SpaceX, and Bezos represent the burgeoning commercial space industry, and the paths the two respective men took to get to this point couldn’t be much different.
What the two companies have in common is that both are very much products of their founders’ visions. Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, just three years after Amazon’s IPO fed his fortune. Two years later, fresh off the sale of PayPal, Musk founded SpaceX with his own personal fortune.
It’s from there, however, that the paths of the companies diverged. For the next 15 years, Blue Origin barely made any noise, save for some controversy as Bezos bought up land in Texas to serve as the company’s test facility in the early 2000s, and some small announcements about milestones it had achieved in agreements made with NASA for about $25.7 million in funding for space development. Bezos remains the sole owner of Blue Origin, and Forbes estimates that the world’s wealthiest man has funneled over $1.5 billion of his personal fortune into the company, financed by sales of Amazon stock.
SpaceX, in the meantime, has been anything but quiet. The company began making noise in December 2003, when it drove its first rocket, the Falcon One, from the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California to Washington, D.C. in order to unveil it at the National Mall for an invited group of Congressional staffers, NASA and FAA officials.. Musk regularly promotes the company and its plans for the future, his eyes firmly set on Musk’s personal vision that SpaceX is to be the vanguard of humans becoming a multiplanetary civilization.
Musk was also more aggressive in obtaining venture financing and government contracts in order to support his company. Though he still maintains majority ownership (Forbes estimates his stake in the company is over 50%), SpaceX has also raised over $2.5 billion to date in venture financing, grants and debt, with a current valuation of over $31.5 billion, according to Pitchbook. Recent SEC filings show it aims to raise another $500 million in capital this year.
Throughout the past decade, SpaceX has kept itself in the public eye —even as it has brought the “move fast and break things” ethos of Silicon Valley to the traditionally more conservative aerospace industry.
“SpaceX is off trying new things, rapidly innovating, breaking things,” said Chad Anderson, founder of Space Angels, a VC firm specializing in the space industry. “They test quite a bit, and we’ve seen some failures. We’ve seen explosions of rockets — they even put a highlight reel together of rockets exploding as they tried to land them. They take it as a point of pride that they’re willing to try new things and they’re really captured the imagination of the public that way.”
By contrast, Blue Origin rarely makes major announcements about future plans, unless it’s unavoidable due to public contracts or other reasons, preferring instead to focus its press efforts on what it’s accomplished. “Bezos proudly proclaims whenever he does a big announcement, he likes to talk about the things that he’s done,” said Anderson. One rare exception for this has been its plans for the Moon. Its robotic cargo delivery lander, Blue Moon, was first announced in 2017, and last summer the company revealed that it had a five year plan to get to the Moon.
While SpaceX has adopted a high-profile view of its risky, iterative innovation strategy, Blue Origin’s development is nearly the exact opposite. The company motto is Gradatim Ferociter, a Latin phrase meaning Step By Step, Ferociously. In interviews, Bezos has quoted the old military maxim that “slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” and every time one of its resuable rockets has a successful launch and landing, a tortoise is painted on its side, a nod to Aesop’s moral that “slow and steady wins the race.”
Despite Bezos’ faith in a more slow-paced, perfectionist approach to development, it’s undeniable that SpaceX has seen more success – at least so far. Though Blue Origin has had 11 successful launches to date, it has yet to send any spacecraft to orbit, instead keeping its launches suborbital, like the Mercury spacecraft that its current system is inspired by.
SpaceX, meanwhile, has had over 70 successful commercial orbital launches, which include not only putting satellites in orbit but also 15 successful deliveries of cargo to the International Space Station. It was the first company to make a cargo delivery to the station, and the company has also seen two successful launches of its Falcon Heavy rocket, currently the most powerful rocket in commercial production.
This track record has also come at some cost to the company. It’s had multiple launch failures, some of which have resulted in the loss of customer payloads, and more recently, a test fire of rockets on the spacecraft it’s developing to deliver astronauts to the space station led to the destruction of that craft— and has also likely pushed the schedule for sending astronauts to the station back to 2020. The company was originally set to have its first successful crewed flight in 2017.
In this billionaire race to the Moon, Bezos and Musk have set themselves up as the Tortoise and the Hare, respectively. But it likely won’t be until at least the mid-2020s that we learn which approach will win.
-Alex Knapp; Forbes Staff
Google Is Making Android As Difficult To Hack As iPhone—And Cops Are Suffering
Apple makes the most secure phones in the world. At least, that’s the common assumption.
But increasingly Android models are as difficult, if not trickier, to break into as the iPhone, according to search warrants and forensic industry sources.
One warrant unearthed by Forbes detailed a case in which cops seized an LG Android phone after swooping on suspected drug dealer, Angel Angulo, who’d allegedly sold methamphetamine to an undercover cop. Upon Angulo’s arrest the police obtained the phone from inside the his Ford Mustang, though the search warrant didn’t detail what exact LG model.
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The police obtained the LG in January and even had permission to force open the device by holding it up to Angulo’s face or depressing his fingerprint to unlock with facial or fingerprint recognition.
But agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have not been able to find a way to bypass the lock screen with their current forensic tools and techniques.
They’ve now asked for an additional 120 days to access the device, according to a filing from the ATF. (No legal representation was listed for the defendant. The Department of Justice hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication).
iPhones less secure than Android now?
Sources in the forensics community tell Forbes that the security of Google’s operating system has become, in some cases, too strong to allow police (or anyone else with direct access to an Android phone) inside. “Some would say iPhones are less secure,” said one source from a large forensics provider.
Google, like Apple, has been continually adding security features to Android, said Vladimir Katalov, CEO of Russian forensics provider Elcomsoft. One of the key updates to Android over the years remains Secure Startup, which encrypts all internal storage so the data within should be accessible only to someone with a passcode or other form of authentication, like a face or a finger.
The anonymous source noted that a considerable amount of resources go into penetrating the defenses of iPhone operating systems, and once a hack works on one iOS device, it should work on all the others. The same cannot be said for Android, which is fragmented across manufacturers’ home-brew updates and countless phone models. If a police officer or forensics professional finds a way to break into a Google Pixel, for instance, the same hack might not work on any other devices.
“While some Android phones can be accessed using generic methods, each new model may contain unique features which require a more customized approach,” said Peter Sommer, professor of digital forensics at Birmingham City University in the U.K. “In addition there are instances of standard Android phones being heavily modified to have secure features.”
The issue of Android security is particularly pressing for Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturer of Android phones, which is set to lose access to Google’s security updates on newer devices. That’s because of the Trump administration’s ban on American companies doing business with the Chinese telecoms giant.
iPhone still trumps Android in some cases, though. When Forbes tested a range of Android phones’ facial recognition systems, there were clear disparities in the security of the technology across the different devices. A 3D-printed head was able to open all the Android phones tested, but it worked much quicker and in all light conditions on a OnePlus 6, whereas Samsung and LG phones were tougher to crack. Forbes also tested Apple’s facial recognition with the fake head. In that case, it proved impenetrable.
–Thomas Brewster;Forbes Staff
The 4IR Strategy To Move Forward
South Africa has created the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, chairs this commission and I am the Deputy Chairman. The commission consists of 30 members.
It is tasked with developing South Africa’s strategy around the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Why this commission and why is the 4IR so important? To answer these questions, we ought to understand first what the 4IR is and what it entails.
As a point of departure, we ought to understand the first, second and third industrial revolutions. The British scientific revolution that gave us Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, gravitation and the study of heat, catalysed the first industrial revolution.
The first industrial revolution gave us coal-powered steam engines that drove trains and ushered the era of using machines to produce goods and services. The luddites, who were a group of activists hell-bent on stopping the first industrial revolution, disappeared into the ash heap of history and the technological revolution marched on.
The scientific revolution that facilitated us to leverage magnetic and electrical forces called electromagnetism ushered the second industrial revolution. Electromagnetism gave us electricity and an electric motor, and these, in turn, spurred the development of the assembly line, which vastly improved production and introduced mass production in factories.
The discovery of semiconductors and the invention of a transistor in the United States (US) ushered the electronic age, which gave us computers, mobile phones, and ultimately led to the invention of the internet.
Seventy years after the discovery of a transistor, there is no significant semiconductor company on the African continent. To solve this serious gap in the political economy of the African continent, industries, society and universities on the continent must come together to develop a strategy and the plan of action on how the continent should enter the primary economy of the third industrial revolution.
The 4IR is a confluence of digital technologies of the third industrial revolution, developments in biotechnology through innovations such as molecular motors, as well as the developments in the physical space through breakthroughs in new materials and robotics technologies.
One of the technologies driving the 4IR is artificial intelligence (AI). Because of AI, machines are gaining intelligence and thus planes are intelligently flying with minimal interference by pilots, the factory floor is increasingly automating, and self-driving cars are reaching maturity. AI is revolutionizing the medical field and making careers such as radiology redundant.
The implications of the 4IR will be extensive. It will reduce the world of work and usher a post-work era, where factories will employ fewer people than ever before. The presidential commission should study this post-work era and the impact thereof on the labor market, equality and tax collection.
This commission will explore the viability of strategies such as the introduction of universal basic income, virtual economic zones and imposing tax on robots in order to prevent the escalation of poverty and inequality.
In the 4IR era, some jobs will disappear, some will change and new types of jobs will be created. It is important that the presidential commission study these changes and design a strategy on how we should move forward. This should include the identification of the required set of skills in order to thrive in the 4IR, and the mechanisms in which the education sector should plan for the development of such skills.
Kai-Fu Lee, the Chairman of the World Economic Forum Council on Artificial Intelligence, wrote in his influential book, AI Superpowers, that in the 4IR, data is becoming the new oil. Countries and companies, such as the US, China, Google, Facebook, and Alibaba, which collect more data will become so powerful that they will influence all aspects of our lives.
The company Cambridge Analytica allegedly influenced the US election through data analytics.
This commission should study and recommend how South Africa should position itself with respect to defence, peace, security, industry, trade, society and politics in the light of the 4IR. Failure to capture this 4IR moment will relegate us to the dustbin of history.
– Tshilidzi Marwala is a professor and Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg in South Africa.
‘A Tweet Can Tank An Economy’
Many perspectives have been shared on influencer marketing, but very few from the brands themselves. What are its business imperatives and ROI?
In the heart of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile, is Brittany Preece, a social media manager at Investec Bank.
As part of the Private Banking marketing team, Preece and her team have managed to successfully implement disruptive digital strategies to meet the growth objectives of the bank.
Traditionally, the role of marketing has been to support business objectives. Yet when companies experience financial difficulty, more often than not, marketing is seen to be the first in line on the chopping block. As a way of adapting to this reality, most marketing managers have had to look at cost-effective, yet creative, ways of achieving business impact.
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Social and digital media have given room for new ways businesses can engage and sell to their customers.
Increasingly gaining traction in South Africa is influencer marketing, an entirely new branch of the sales and marketing funnel which has seen brands leverage popular personalities on social media to promote their products and services online. Globally, the influencer marketing industry is forecast to be worth $5 billion to $10 billion by 2020, according to a study by Mediakix.
For Investec, attracting and diversifying into new markets has informed their decision to leverage influencers as part of their marketing strategy.
“Since 2015, we as Investec, have predominantly used influencer marketing to reach the young professional audience,” Preece says.
“We (Investec Private Bank) have recently evolved our qualifying criteria. We’re no longer just the preferred banking partner for accountants, engineers, lawyers, doctors and actuaries. We’re positioned to be the bank of choice for those who are under the age of 30, consistently earning more than R600,000 ($42,582)a year, with a university degree and working in their area of expertise.”
Seated in front of a glass wall which looks out to a view of a bustling and upbeat office environment, she elaborates that to effectively reach the young professionals’ target market, it is important to identify individuals that can speak to that audience.
“What influencer marketing gives you, that a lot of the other marketing channels can’t, is great reach and engagement with your target audience. Using [influencers] brings a lot of authenticity to the brand, where Investec Private Banking was seen as unattainable to a lot of young professionals,” Preece says.
In the digital universe, content is king. Authenticity is paramount. A study conducted by the Mobile Marketing Association reported that most consumers have banner blindness and suffer from advertising fatigue. They cannot recall the last digital banner ad that they saw.
Ad-blocking continues to be a growing phenomenon, further demonstrating the shift in consumer behavior. Consumers simply don’t want to be marketed to. To this effect, influencers assist brands to reach their customers through content that is more relevant to those consumers.
According to Business Insider’s 2018 Influencer Marketing Report: Research, Strategy & Platforms for Leveraging Social Media Influencers, the average social media engagement rate from influencer marketing averages 5.7% per post.
This is a feat compared to content generated by brands which fluctuates around 2% – 3% per post.
With this in mind, it’s even more essential for brands to involve influencers upfront to co-create an envisioned campaign.
“You want your influencer to buy into what you stand for as a brand. It shouldn’t be a hard sell – consumers see through that. If not done properly, it can look very fake and [we] never want to make it feel like an ad,” Preece says.
Brands and agencies measure awareness and engagement by analyzing a few parameters, including, inter alia, number of likes, comments, shares and followers. Proponents of this theory believe an increase in these parameters lead to brand success.
Detractors of the theory believe awareness and engagement alone are not sufficient indicators of brand success. “Likes and follows are unimpressive without an increase in the bottom line,” says Sinesipho Maninjwa, a financial analyst and commentator.
But technology has its limitations. Dianne Joseph, the Commercial Director of Digital at Nielsen, a leading global information, data and measurement company, elaborates that there are real challenges in measuring sales attribution as a result of influencer marketing.
“The influencer models are difficult to measure because most influencers use their own personal pages to post, and these organic posts don’t offer us the opportunity to implement a tag (for tracking purposes) and, therefore, we aren’t able to track the outcomes,” Joseph says.
The ability to measure what is happening on and off digital platforms, or across social media platforms, is a challenge that most digital marketers face. Different platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have their own unique methods of tracking and storing data. The link between these platforms is, therefore, a lot more tenuous.
But in support of influencer marketing, a number of global studies have come out and shown that influencer marketing does yield a positive return on investment (ROI).
Pierre Cassuto, of social media influencer platform Humanz, who recently set up shop in South Africa from Tel Aviv in Israel, believes that the use of influencers can lead to increased sales. “In the US market, there is about a four times ROI on money spent in the influencer marketing space for retailers, cosmetics and FMCG brands,” he adds.
Cassuto agrees that engagement on its own doesn’t yield conversion. For influencer marketing to yield conversion, the message being broadcast by influencers has to be well thought out and carefully constructed to achieve that objective.
There has to be a reason for someone to do something now as opposed to anytime. That can be around creating urgency around something specific, it can be around creating a limited time availability offer.
Essentially, brands can become creative and purposeful in how they design their entire campaign to track conversion from the ground up. “The way we suggest measuring conversion is by making sure that the influencers have a way that [brands] can track the relationship between the influencers post and the actual conversion,” Cassuto says.
The first looks at providing the influencer a coupon code that they can distribute and share. In doing so, the specific brands will know that the people who redeemed the coupon code came from the influencers. The second options measures sell over time related to increase in traffic due to influencer marketing towards a landing page that the brand is driving to. With this, Cassuto states that brands can do A/B testing to see the impact on days influencers are posting and days when they’re not.
With all the advantages of influencer marketing, should brands solely invest in this sales channel?
Preece firmly holds the view that influencer marketing on its own isn’t the be all and end all. “I do believe that it should be a mix. I believe that an integrated marketing plan that uses out-of-home, billboards, TV and digital is where you see the most results.”
“Things can go wrong with influencer marketing. You are putting faith and trust into a human being who is imperfect. We have a saying: A tweet can tank an economy,” Preece says.
With consumers becoming increasingly selective about what they consume, influencer marketing continues to grow as an attractive sales channel. It is imperative that brands place the necessary care and due diligence before partnering with any influencer.
The perfect fit between an influencer and the brand will determine the overall ROI. After all, effective influencer marketing is the online equivalent of the highly valuable word-of-mouth advertising that marketers have always coveted.
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