To the Stars with Data: September 12 2021
Party like it's 2005, but with offshore wind and more powerful computers
This week’s issue features 2005 computing power predictions come true (in graph form), great news from the offshore wind farm front, updates from NASA’s moon buggy and [not] new space telescope, and awesome updates on NFTs. (Don’t worry, I explain what NFTs are.)
Shout out to all the new followers coming on board this week. Y’all rock my socks.
Let’s go to the stars with data!
Thought-Provoking Data Viz
Quick hits. Ray Kurzweil, one of the most famous futurists, published this graph of the exponential growth of computing in his 2005 book The Singularity is Near. Through the graph, he measured the growth of computing power through the calculations per second per $1,000 and also provided thresholds of the computing power of various brains--insect, mouse, human, and all human brains. At the time of publishing in 2005, we were close to the calculations per second of one insect brain.
Digging deeper. Sticking true to Kurzweil’s prediction, we are on the same path. In 2020, the Playstation 5 was released. Based on its FP32 computation power, its calculations per second per $1,000 stands at approximately 26 trillion, or 2.6 x 10 to the 13th. That’s between one mouse brain and one human brain and is right on schedule for 2020. If you want to check out Kurzweil’s other mind-bending charts, which I definitely recommend, check out the book’s website.
Quick hits. Siemen unveiled the world’s first recyclable wind turbine blade. The blade is recyclable because its resin (the material that holds the components together) can be dissolved and the underlying materials used again in new blades. Siemens plan to make their wind turbines completely recyclable by 2040.
Digging deeper. As the world gears up to power the world with green energy, offshore wind farms will become increasingly important. According to a July 2021 report by Orrick, there are a number of large-scale offshore wind projects in the works within the US (the report also provides an outlook for the rest of the world as well, if you want to dig in). Earlier this year, the Biden administration provided support for the generation of 30 GW of offshore wind projects by 2030. Considering that the US has hardly any offshore wind capacity right now (less than 1 GW), that’s quite the improvement.
Quick hits. Bedrock is launching its autonomous submaries to map the world’s seafloor, in particular to support the finding of suitable locations for offshore wind farms. Another startup, Terradepth, is embarking on a similar mission with similar technology. Both Bedrock and Terradepth are also working towards the more lofty goal of democratizing the mapping of our oceans.
Digging deeper. Mapping the ocean floor isn’t something that startups care about to make money. There’s an active project called the The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project whose mission is to map the entire ocean by 2030 and provide the data freely to all. (Bedrock is actively participating in the project.) You may ask why there is an international project dedicated to mapping our oceans; this might give you some context: we know the topography of Mars and the moon better than our own ocean floor. 😱
Quick hits. NASA releases details on the commercial LTV they want to use on the moon in 2027. Helpfully, Jatan's Space's Moon Monday breaks it down. (If you like the moon, make sure to check Moon Monday!) Here are a few notable features:
The LTV will be an unenclosed, all-electric rover that two suited astronauts can drive on the Moon for up to 20 kilometers without the rover needing a recharge.
NASA would like if the rover has at least some autonomous capabilities.
When astronauts on missions aren’t using the LTV, the rover will be remotely operated by people at the NASA-led Gateway lunar station or from Earth to transport up to 800kg of cargo.
Quick hits. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the most advanced space telescope to date (a full 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope), is scheduled to launch on December 18. Currently, it’s sitting in its final stow configuration in California, ahead of its shipment to the launch pad in French Guiana.
Digging deeper. I know what you’re thinking: “A space telescope is ready to launch? So what?” In short, it’s a big deal because the JWST has been in the works for literal decades (since 1996, when Northrop Grumman won the JWST contract). If you’re curious to know why it took so long, I recommend The Orbital Index’s breakdown on why fixed-price contracts are so important.
Virtual Reality News
Quick hits. Audius, a music streaming app (like Spotify) based on blockchain technology, now showcases both Ethereum and Solana NFTs (non-fungible tokens) on users’ profiles. As noted by Decrypt, “the NFT market blew up early in 2021, generating $2.5 billion worth of trading volume across the first half of the year. However, NFT activity has accelerated further of late, with leading marketplace OpenSea processing more than $3.4 billion worth of trading volume in August alone.”
Digging deeper. You can think of NFTs as virtual items whose ownership is readily available to access. (A comparable system in the US might be house ownership, where I could look up who owns the deed to a home.) Audius is in the process of moving from Ethereum to Solana (two different blockchains), so this is a step forward in that progression. Audius also made headlines recently for integrating with TikTok; users can now share their songs from Audius directly into TikTok for others to use in their videos.
🌾 Electric Sheep. They produce a robot ("Dexter") that attaches to new or existing lawn mowers and operates the mower autonomously. Do mowers dream of electric sheep? 🤔