Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why I admire Elon Musk -- illustrated by videos of three of his talks

Musk's Tesla Energy talk was off the grid.
Let's not bury the lead -- I admire Elon Musk. He is an inventor/entrepreneur reminiscent of people like Samuel Morse and Thomas Edison. Let me tell you why I admire him, then suggest that you watch videos of an interview of and two talks by Musk.

Musk was thoughtful at an early age. While he was in college, he concluded that the three areas that would most affect the future of humanity were the Internet, sustainable energy and space exploration. He did not expect to found companies in all three areas, but went to grad school to work on energy storage for electric cars (using capacitors, not batteries). He realized that his capacitor storage might fail and decided he would rather work on the Internet than study it.

He speaks of large problems he wants to solve, not of business, profit, return on investment or stock prices -- those are means to his ends. He wants to bring Internet connectivity to sparsely populated and developing areas and provide 50% of global, long-distance connectivity (5-15 years), accelerate the advent of sustainable transport (half of our cars to be electric in 13-14 years), send people to Mars (12 years) and eliminate use of fossil fuels (a generation or two).

He is not trying to do any of this on his own -- he wants to be a catalyst. Tesla was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport, not to dominate the car industry, so they will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use their technology. Similarly, Musk sees their huge battery factory, Gigafactory version 1, as a product to be replicated by others -- The Tesla policy of open sourcing patents will continue for the Gigafactory and battery systems.

He is a relaxed speaker with a sense of humor. Musk and Steve Jobs are two of the best speakers I have seen, but a Jobs presentation was planned and rehearsed to perfection, while Musk seems to be speaking off the cuff. That being said, his product introductions in the following Tesla Energy talk were reminiscent of Jobs -- he used a few slides with images, not text, and spoke over them in the Jobs style. He even included a Jobs-like surprise. He revealed that the auditorium and talk were powered by his batteries, which had been charged using solar power (image below) -- like Job's "one more thing" moments or the "three new products" that turned out to be the iPhone.

If you would like to get to know Elon Musk and how I came to admire him, I recommend the following videos. (I have my students watch them).

Sal Khan of the Khan Academy interviewing Elon Musk
April 2013, 48:41, 502,483 views

This conversation gives insight into Musk’s goals and his motivation for investing in Tesla and SpaceX and you get know Sal Khan as well.

You can see a partial transcript here.

Recruiting engineers for the SpaceX satellite Internet access project
January 2015, 25:53, 23,348 views
In this talk Musk describes his plan to create a constellation of satellites to provide fast, global Internet service.

You can read a transcript of the talk here.

Announcement of Tesla Energy
May 2015, 18:02, 2,112,997 views

In this presentation, Musk announces products -- integrated, open-source battery systems for consumers, enterprises and utilities and the open source Gigafactory to manufacture them.


You can see the transcript here.

If you'd like to see more, there is a YouTube channel that claims to have links to every Elon Musk video and you can read an excerpt from a forthcoming biography of Musk here. It's a long post that traces events from his early desire to grow plants on Mars in order to stimulate interest in space through the near-bankruptcy of Tesla and/or SpaceX, which was averted at the last minute by winning a NASA contract. You can see a video (4:53) of an interview of the author, Bloomberg's Ashlee Vance, here.

Update 6/29/2015

This post looks at "the bad behavior of visionary leaders" and concludes that leaders like Musk, Jobs, and Bezos could be more effective if they behaved better:
The question raised by the stories of these three men is not whether being tough, harsh and relentlessly demanding gets people to work better. Of course it doesn’t, and certainly not sustainably. Can anyone truly doubt that people are productive in workplaces that help them to be healthier and happier?

The more apt question is how much more these men could have enhanced thousands of people’s lives – and perhaps made them even more successful — if they had invested as much in taking care of them as they did in conceiving great products.
I've personally been chewed out by the young Bill Gates and wonder whether he should not be added to this list.

Update 8/2/2016

Gigafactory footprint:
room for 93 Boeing 747s or 50 billion hamsters

Elon Musk and JB Straubel, Tesla's Chief Technical Officer, gave a short presentation at a ceremony celebrating the completion of the first portion of their first Gigafactory. Some of the points they made:
  • The Gigafactory is a machine for making machines -- designed just like a multi-layer chip.
  • It's more important to design the factory than to design the product it makes. (The Model 3 design is done).
  • They will improve the factory "clock speed" and "density" over time.
  • This is their first Gigafactory and they anticipate at least one will be built on each continent.
  • When complete, Gigafactory 1 will have production capacity equal to all the other lithium ion battery factories in the world combined.
  • Gigafactory 1 will operate 100% on sustainable energy.
  • They expect to cut the production cost of their electric vehicle batteries and Powerwall storage packs by 30 percent.
  • Batteries will be recycled, significantly reducing the cost of future batteries and eliminating the demand for "replacement" lithium.
  • Their self-driving car target is to be about 10 times safer than the average driver.
Here is the video of the presentation:


Update, August 5, 2016

Ten years ago, Elon Musk published his first master plan. Here is a summary:
  • Build sports car
  • Use that money to build an affordable car
  • Use that money to build an even more affordable car
  • While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation options
With the roadster, models S, E, and 3 he has achieved the first three goals. Solar City is the fourth.

Now he has released part two of his master plan for Tesla.
  • Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage
  • Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments
  • Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning
  • Enable your car to make money for you when you aren't using it
The first step is underway -- he is building the largest battery factory in the world (by far) and Tesla has purchased SolarCity. No doubt, the Gigafactory will turn out batteries integrated with solar panels for roofs and electric cars.

Tesla's purchase of SolarCity has been controversial, but I would not bet against Elon Musk.

Note that this is just his short-term plan to free the world from fossil fuels. It's part of the long run plan to create a colony on Mars so he can die there (without crash landing).

Update 2/4/2018

You can see links to videos and transcripts of 166 of Elon Musk's talks, press conferences, etc. here. The first talk is an October 2003 presentation in the Stanford University Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series and the last, so far, is his September 2017 talk "Making Life Multiplanetary" at the meeting of the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.

The site is a community effort -- a large-scale collaboration. When Musk gives a recorded talk, a link to the video is posted on a wiki and the community members transcribe it. If you view a talk and the transcription is incomplete, you can pick up where the last editor left off and extend the transcript.

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