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November 16, 2016updated 13 Jan 2017 11:42am

From artificial intelligence to SpaceX, Tesla and Hyperloop – The Elon Musk technology revolution

Elon Musk is at the forefront of some of the most futuristic technology developments imaginable.

By James Nunns

Elon Reeve Musk, the 45 year old South African- born business magnate, investor, engineer and inventor seems to barely go a day without pushing for some ground breaking, revolutionary tech development.

Musk is at the forefront of some of the most futuristic technology developments with the likes of SpaceX, Tesla Motors, Hyperloop and more.

Should all of his ventures pay off and be a success he will likely be remembered as one of the most important people of our generation.

His projects have been numerous, from his days in the early 2000’s at PayPal to being the largest shareholder in the second largest provider of solar systems in the United States.

Here are five of the most groundbreaking projects that will earn Musk’s place in the history books.

 

SpaceX

Never one to start small, Musk first conceptualised the “Mars Oasis” idea in 2001, the idea was to land a miniature experimental greenhouse on Mars.

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Musk and his colleagues travelled to Moscow to buy refurbished intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) but he soon realised that he could probably build the rockets for less cost than buying them, so he founded SpaceX with the goal of “true space-faring civilisation.”

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was founded in 2002 and it develops and manufactures space launch vehicles.

Since the early days SpaceX has won a contract with NASA, worth $1.6bn, to carry out 12 flights of the Falcon 0 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.

The company is also one of two to have been awarded a contract by NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Development program, which aims to create a US astronaut transport capability by 2018.

SpaceX was founded in 2002.

SpaceX was founded in 2002.

On the 22nd of December 2015, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon rocket back at the launch pad. This was the first time in history this had been completed, the significance of which is that it could significantly lower the cost of space flights due to having a reusable rocket.

The company is the largest private producer of rocket motors in the world and it also holds the record for highest thrust-to-weight ratio for any known rocket motor.

Elon Musk said: “An asteroid or a super volcano could destroy us, and we face risks the dinosaurs never saw: an engineered virus, inadvertent creation of a micro black hole, catastrophic global warming or some as-yet-unknown technology could spell the end of us.

“Humankind evolved over millions of years, but in the last sixty years atomic weaponry created the potential to extinguish ourselves. Sooner or later, we must expand life beyond this green and blue ball—or go extinct.”

Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors was in existence before Musk came along but he led the company’s Series A investment round in 2004 and joined the board as its director.

In 2008 Musk assumed control of the company as CEO and product architect and the company has really been revolutionising the car industry since.

The electric car has become much more of a reality partly due to some of the technological advancements that the company has made.

The company has set about bring zero-emission cars to the world and has launched cars such as the Model S around the world. The electric car has a range of over 200 miles and the manufacturer has set about creating a network of supercharger stations across North America.

To accelerate the production of electric cars Musk revealed in 2014 that the company would allow its technology patents to be used by anyone in good faith.

A second Gigafactory from Musk's Tesla Motors is expected to be built in Europe.

A second Gigafactory from Musk’s Tesla Motors is expected to be built in Europe.

One of the big advancements the company has made is with AutoPilot, a semi-autonomous driver assist that is available in all of its cars that have been manufactured since September 2014.

The cars have a camera on the top of the windshield, a forward looking radar, and ultrasonic acoustic location sensors.

The equipment allows the car to detect road signs, markings, obstacles, other vehicles and so on. A Tech Package option can enable semi-autonomous driving, called Summon, and parking capabilities called AutoPark.

The Gigafactory project from Tesla Motors, of which Musk holds a 22% share, is a data centre that will form part of the company’s $5bn battery plant in Nevada.

Musk said in a press conference recently that a second Gigafactory will be built in Europe.

Hyperloop

An Elon Musk concept to create a high-speed transportation system that uses reduced-pressure tubes that carry pressurised capsules in an air cushion that’s driven by linear induction motors and air compressors.

Futuristic technology doesn’t really get much more futuristic than this. It may sound farfetched and much more suited to science fiction than reality but steps are being taken to make this happen.

Hyperloop One revealed this week that the first tube of the “DevLoop” had been installed in North Las Vegas.

Testing of the Hyperloop could begin as early as 2017.

Testing of the Hyperloop could begin as early as 2017.

The significance of this is that the company is effectively creating a brand new form of transportation, which is a fairly rare event throughout human history.

A 3km full-scale and full speed enclosed prototype is being put together in Nevada and its low-pressure environment could achieve speeds of up to 700mph with pods containing people or cargo.

This is obviously in its development stages but soon tests will be carried out for both a track and pod system. So far the company has raised $160 to fund the DevLoop and it could be underway in 2017.

OpenAI

Elon Musk is one of the founding members of OpenAI, a not-for-profit organisation that is looking at artificial intelligence that will be safe and beneficial to humanity.

The organisation has big name backing from the likes of Amazon Web Services, Musk, Peter Thiel and more and it has raised $1bn in funding despite only being created in December 2015.

OpenAI says its goal is to advance digital intelligence in a way that: “is most likely to

Little is known about the technology basis of OpenAI.

Little is known about the technology basis of OpenAI.

benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return.”

The organisation recently revealed that it had partnered with Microsoft’s AI research division and cloud platform Azure. 

The goal is to promote and develop an AI that benefits, rather than harms humanity as a whole and it was partly founded off the back of concerns about the rise of AI and the potential threat it poses.

Musk said: “what is the best thing we can do to ensure the future is good? We could sit on the sidelines or we can encourage regulatory oversight, or we could participate with the right structure with people who care deeply about developing AI in a way that is safe and is beneficial to humanity.”

Little is known about the technology actually being developed and co-chair Sam Altman said that there is no plan to release all of its source code.

SolarCity

Yet another concept from Elon Musk, although it was co-founded in 2006 by two of his cousins, SolarCity is the largest provider of solar power systems in the US.

Musk is the largest shareholder of the company that aims to help combat global warming, much like Tesla Motors which the company is collaborating with to use vehicle batteries in order to ease the impact of rooftop solar on the power grid.

SolarCity could be about to be acquired by Tesla Motors.

SolarCity could be about to be acquired by Tesla Motors.

In 2016 Tesla Motors submitted an offer to acquire SolarCity for around $2.5-$3bn, so the collaboration is likely to step up a gear if the deal goes through after shareholders vote on Thursday.

The company designs, finances, and installs solar power systems and it also sells renewable energy to customers at prices that are designed to be below standard utility rates.

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