Thomas's Innovation Wrap #6

🛰️ Space elevators, 💎 McDonald's AI, 💲 and the WeWork IPO


Here’s the wrap of last week’s innovation news.

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🛰️ Space

Two astronomers from the University of Cambridge and Columbia University have put a twist on the space elevator idea by proposing a “spaceline”. Unlike a space elevator which would reach from the Earth up into space (and is currently unfeasible), a spaceline would reach from the surface of the Moon to Earth and would be more like a skyhook than a tower. The astronomers believe it would cost in the billions of dollars to create and would reduce the fuel needed to reach the surface of the moon to a third of the current value.

SpaceX has accelerated its plans to launch Starlink, its low-earth orbit satellite broadband service, and now plans to launch for the Southern United States late next year. Unlike traditional satellite broadband, Starlink is expected to offer low 25ms latencies, gigabit speed, and will eventually be available worldwide through a constellation of 11,943 satellites.

An illustration of the Earth, with lines circling the globe to represent a telecommunications network.

Scientists have detected water vapour in the atmosphere of an exoplanet that lies in the habitable zone of its host star for the first time. The exoplanet is called K2-18b and is 110 light-years from Earth.

Earth-Like Exoplanet

💎 Artificial Intelligence

McDonald’s is increasingly looking at tech acquisitions to improve its business - last week they acquired Apprente, a startup that builds conversational agents that can automate voice-based ordering that they’ll apply to the drive thru. This is the third tech deal McDonald’s has made this year.

Shopify acquired warehouse-robot startup 6 River Systems for $450 million to expand its AI-powered fulfillment network.

“This acquisition is a sign that the market is accelerating and in fact, we’re on the cusp of a golden age of robotics,” Matt Murphy, a managing partner at 6 River Systems investor Menlo Ventures and a member of the startup’s board, wrote in a blog post on the acquisition.

DHL’s Innovation Centre is showcasing the latest in logistics technology.

Microsoft is using artificial intelligence to improve conference room audio.

Google says its AI can detect 26 skin conditions as accurately as dermatologists, providing more technical details on their blog.

📱 App Economy

Software is replacing paper processes and making the world more efficient. Here CNBC looks at how Uber, Amazon, and others are impacting the trucking world.

Harvard Business Review looks at the strategy behind TikTok’s global rise, which has been stunning.

In just two years, TikTok has emerged to rival companies like Netflix, YouTube, Snapchat, and Facebook with more than one billion downloads in 150 markets worldwide and 75 languages.

MoviePass has discovered that selling a movie ticket subscription service for $10 per month (below cost) actually isn’t sustainable, and after blowing through hundreds of millions of dollars in a few years it is now shutting down and probably dead.

💲 Finance

After receiving a cool reception to its S-1 filing one month ago, WeWork has made corporate governance changes and plans to IPO on September 23. SoftBank, which urged WeWork to shelve the IPO, will buy at least $750 million worth of shares in the IPO. Some are speculating the valuation could fall to as little as $15 billion (well below the last round at $47 billion).

⚡ Other Snippets

The 5G era is almost here. Verzion Ventures discusses the firm’s 5G startup investing strategy. Qualcomm believes 5G will be everywhere. Apple launched its new iPhone 11 without 5G, which will likely hurt sales in China.

Editing genes with CRISPR may be a way to cure HIV.

The anti-vax movement is effectively reversing decades of progress in disease prevention.

An artificial leg has been made with sensors that provide feedback to the wearer. The two men who have tested it described it as “close to lifelike”.

New Scientist writes that Australia’s anti-encryption law is hurting press and personal privacy.

Have a great week.


About Thomas Rice

Thomas Rice is the portfolio manager for the Perpetual Global Innovation Share Fund, based in Sydney, Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @thomasrice_au.