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Would you like to skip over LA traffic in a personal electric aircraft that is quiet and environmentally friendly? Well, so does Erik Lindbergh, grandson of the famous Charles Lindberg who ushered in the golden age of aviation. Finding that he had the same passion for flight as his grandfather, Erik is working on the cutting edge of air travel.
Erik believes in entrepreneurs and supporting the private sector. This is why he’s hosting contests for 10 million dollars. The private sector is where he feels leaps in technology will happen. The founder of Tesla, Elon Musk has joined forces with Xprize. Joining with heavy hitters like Airbus and Cessna, they are chipping away at the hurdles of these dreams of hybrid propulsion.
Defying gravity defines the spirit of Erik Lindberg from his personal battles with Rheumatoid Arthritis and taking those struggles to bring technology forward for the greater good. Advances like checking your watch to read whether or not you need to go to the doctor for ebola or you just have a common cold. Sounds unbelievable but it is on it’s way and greener than ever.
– Welcome back to the Urban Monk. I am happy to be in studio with a friend of mind who’s doing some heroic work, and he is working to escape gravity. He is the grandson of Charles Lindbergh, who we’re gonna get into, and he has run some miles since. I mean, just done some phenomenal work in the space of aviation, in the space of space, and also fighting against gravity himself. So Erik, welcome, welcome, welcome to the show.
– Thanks Pedram.
– It’s good to have you here. We’ve been talking a lot over the years. I’m so intrigued about the work that you’ve been doing, and you’ve been kinda carrying a legacy, a family legacy, but also, just kind of doing things that are so far ahead of where people envision we were then, just trying to get airplanes in the air. Now we’re up in space. Now we’re trying to innovate airplanes. So real quickly, so people contextualize, who was your grandpa?
– So, my grandfather was Charles Lindbergh, best known for flying across the Atlantic nonstop in 1927, which really showed the world. It electrified the world. It was a time when communications, for the first time ever, really, it almost instantaneously spanned the globe. So the world went, “Wow! We can jump continents with these transportation machines called airplanes.” And it jump-started the golden era of aviation. My grandmother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, also was a pioneering aviator in her own right. In 1933, they flew around the world in a float plane, and saw the world’s largest flood disaster in China, the Yangtze River flooding, and then they flew all the rest of their lives, seeing our Earth from above. So for me, understanding how their viewpoints changed as they saw the planet. This technology that enabled this travel could also harm our quality of life, and that’s probably the most important thing that they passed down to me, I think.
– So once we get high enough to look down at this little blue ball, you start to see things within a context of the birds eye view, quite literally. Then all of a sudden it starts to, I mean, I remember there was this huge moment where we talked about, I think it was Apollo. These guys got up into space and looked back, and it was like the first shot of planet Earth, and it was just like this changed everything. Like, oh my god, that’s home?
– Oh, yeah. Right.
– Oh, Frank White, in his book, “The Overview Effect,” talks about it. And he talks about my grandfather, and he talks about Lovell putting his thumb, Jim Lovell putting his thumb up to the window of the space craft, and blotting out the Earth. Makes the hairs on the back of my next stand up.
– [Pedram] Yeah.
– And in talking and, I’ve met a lot of the astronauts through my work with XPRIZE Foundation. I have to say, rest in peace to Gene Cernan, what an incredibly wonderful man. They all changed as a result of their flights into space, and looking back down at our planet, and realizing everything that they knew, and loved, and depended upon to survive is down here on this fragile blue ball. So, how do we make sure that this spaceship Earth survives and thrives into the future? It’s really the only sustainable spaceship we have.
– That’s it. It’s really interesting to think that we can go up and live in a space station, or colonized Mars, or the moon. Man, that stuff is so far away in Sci-Fi still. Right? Like forests take a long time to grow, and we’re talking about single cells growing to trees, and, I mean, that’s Sci-Fi. This is all we got right now. Right? And this is it. This is what we need to preserve. You’ve kinda carried on this aviation legacy, and you’ve started to look at electric flight. And to me it’s electrifying, right, because we’re talking about taking one of the big, kinda, petroleum consumption industries, that is here to stay, and transforming it into something that has less of a carbon footprint, and less noise, and a lot of things that you’re doing. So let’s talk about electric flight, and like how you got into it.
– Sure. Well first of all, being grandson of Charles Lindbergh, it was intense. I’m just normal me, right? But people would come up and go, “Oh, your grandfather was this, that, and the other, and that’s really cool and intense,” and I didn’t know exactly where to put that. And he hid for the latter half of his life from the public eye, really didn’t step out, unless it was something he really cared about, World Wildlife Fund, et cetera, because it cost him so much. That publicity cost him his firstborn son, privacy, anything, and so we grew up kind of, like whoa. I call it “Lindbergaphobia.” It’s a little intense to have that legacy, but a buddy of mine, when I was 24, just kept bugging me about going flying. He wanted to go flying. “Let’s go do a demo flight, and see what it’s like, and this is so cool.” And he went and did one and finally it got so annoying that I was like, “Alright, I’ll go take a demonstration flight,” and went, “Wow! I wanna do this.” I just got it. I wanted to fly, and as I got my private license I was like, “Oh, I wanna do what my flight instructor’s doing. I could teach people how to fly.” So I went on and got my instructor ratings, commercial certificates, and became a pilot. But as a pilot, I was teaching people, and we’re sitting there on the runway, with the reciprocating engine, making a lot of noise, broadcasting it over a large area when we’re flying, and the student may or may not be good enough, or whatever. We’re burning fuel, and something about this bothered me back then, and as I went through my life, holding both this, “I wanna be a pilot,” and, “I need to balance advances in technology with preservation of the environment. How do we do that?” So when I saw my first electric aircraft at the big aviation trade show, Oshkosh AirVenture, eight years ago, I went, “Oh, it solves that problem. It’s clean. It’s quiet. It can use renewable energies. How do we help make this industry grow faster?”
– And there are some limitations. Batteries, so it turns out jet fuel is pretty packed with energy, and it burns really well, and it helps this whole industry go. The batteries are heavy, and we’re just not quite. I mean, we’re in this transition right now, right, where cars are starting to work, walls are starting to hold power.
– [Erik] Yeah.
– Humanity is starting to turn that corner, but not enough to keep those things in the air for long. Where we at?
– We live in an amazing age of technology, and I think that, I hope that, we can use that technology to create a better quality of life for our kids, and not decrease that quality of life.
– So, applying it well is the key. How do we do that? So I just thought, “Well I’m not an engineer. How do I help this industry? Start at some organization? Start at giving some prizes? Doing prize philanthropy? Recognizing the companies that were demonstrating electric flight and these small prototypes?” Mostly, airplanes like gliders. So they have a lot of lift, but they also are fairly draggy. So they go slow, because as you said, the energy density of a battery, the same mass of a battery, if you put that mass in gasoline, there’s more BTUs in the gasoline. So there’s more energy. So we’re not quite there yet. That’s the constraining point. That said, Solar Impulse flew around the world, we have speed records now, time to climb. Companies like Airbus, and stealth companies, like Zee.Aero in the Bay Area, funded by one of the Google founders, et cetera, are coming up with electric propulsion for personal air vehicles in the small, two to four seat range, that are gonna change the way we move around the planet.
– Or at least move around traffic, right, to start. Who’s this kid that just did this piece? Samsung built him a personal drone, and he snowboards down this mountain, the freakin’ drone picks him up–
– I saw that.
– Takes him back up, and it was like, he just democratized helicopter skiing with a little drone.
– He was flying with a water ski rope.
– I mean, I lost it. I was just like, “I want that right now. I want that right now.” Right? So, I mean, that’s happened. So, now how far is that for me? So I went to LAX for something yesterday. It was an hour there, two and a half hours back. How nice would it have been to do that? So that distance, what are we talking about? Jumping over traffic.
– That’s the holy grail. We’ve been talking about it at XPRIZE Foundation. This is an organization that I’m on the board of trustees, and we do prize philanthropy. We put up large, 10 million dollar prizes to break through technology that’s not being solved by industry or governments. We did the Ansari XPRIZE that opened up private space flight industry, and we have a whole suite of prizes. We’ve been at an electric aircraft prize. What would it take to build a vertical takeoff, translate, vertical landing, x number of miles, personal air vehicle that could take one or two people autonomously, with safety systems, do it quietly; that would lessen our dependence on the infrastructure of roads? So we’ve looked at that. We need 10 million bucks, probably more to administer such a prize, but we’ve had people nibbling at that, and talking about it, and some of these companies are going ahead and working at it. So we’re not sure if industry’s gonna address this, or if we really need a prize to address this. So that’s where we’re at in that, sort of, phase. In the meantime, I’m building a demonstration aircraft down at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Eagle Flight Research Center, and I say I’m building it. Well, I’m helping raise the money for it. It’s 95% built by students, who are engineering that, looking at the battery systems, baking the batteries in ovens, because batteries can be volatile. They don’t want us to take Samsung Note 7s on airplanes anymore, ’cause lithium fires are really spectacular.
– [Pedram] Yeah.
– This stuff is all coming really fast, and I think, is it gonna be five years? Is it gonna be 10 years before we can take an Uber personal air vehicle, or a Lyft? Let’s be democratic here.
– And do that? And I live on an island up near Seattle. If I could go across the water. Seattle traffic is not quite as bad as LA. That’s the holy grail of transportation, short distances.
– Personal transport. Listen, what was the wake? So you guys, Peter Diamandis, and this whole group at the XPRIZE, put up 10 million dollars. The Ansari XPRIZE was basically the first, if I recall, the first person to get up into height orbit considered space or something, just to kickstart it? So help me kinda remember this. But also then, what has been in the wake of this? This entire industry that we’re seeing now, with the Falcon rockets and all, I mean, could that be attributed to this incentive structure?
– Yes. Okay, so let me start at the beginning. In 1996, a group of us launched a non-profit foundation. We announced a prize under the arch in St. Louis, with 20 astronauts, including Gene Cernan, the head of NASA, all of regional business leaders, et cetera, and we announced a 10 million dollar prize to be awarded to the first privately funded man to space program. It had to fly up to 300, sorry, 62 miles, return safely, and do it again within two weeks, showing you that it’s reusable, renewable. Unlike the space shuttle, which had to be refurbished.
– Got it. So you didn’t want just a rocket the way the space shuttle had to work, ’cause you’d have to just launch these things up there, put a bunch of pay load, and gas into doing that. Or did you use reusable rockets?
– Or throw away a lot of the vehicle.
– To do that.
– So the holy grail is low cost, access to space. That’s what we were after, in fact, we wanted to create. John Glenn did a suborbital flight 30 years before. So it wasn’t that this was a new thing. It was privately funded, and if private business could make that a magnitude of order cheaper, then we could start to realize the benefits of space. So what we really wanted to do was jumpstart the private space industry. That competition, then, would lower the price, the cost, of getting people to space. And people laughed at us, at first. Again, like electric aircraft, space is even tougher.
– Mhm, it’s far.
– Getting out of the gravity well is a huge thing, and you’re using all these explosive propellants in a very explosive atmosphere. So it’s incredibly difficult. I’ll give you a book that Julian Guthrie wrote about it, called, “How to Make A Spaceship.” It really tells how hard it was to do this non-profit. I make it sound like it was easy, but we should have failed, and we nearly failed, if it weren’t of people stepping in at different times. What that did is that, Burt Rutan, in 2004, backed by Paul Allen, put SpaceShipOne into space with Mike Melvill; too old to fly for the airplanes, but he could fly an untested experimental rocket ship into space. They did it. They won the largest cash prize in history, and what it did was it opened up people’s eyes. We used a prize, just like my grandfather went after a prize in 1927. That opened up, really, the golden age of aviation. We’ve now done that, and people went, “Oh, this is cool.”
– That’s possible.
– Larry Page came on our board from Google, and he said, “You know, this is really cool, but this is a tool. This isn’t just,” we were all space geeks, right, but he said, “You could use this for a lot of other things.”
– This is an innovation incubator that you guys just hatched.
– Exactly, and Elon Musk came on the board, and these guys have that vision of what are the great industries of tomorrow that are gonna help our planet, move us off the planet, do heavy manufacturing in space, so we don’t harm the resources here on Earth? So, I’ll say, yes, we did jumpstart this new golden age of space travel.
– That’s unbelievable. And it’s how good things get done. It’s how great things get done, and so now, you guys are looking at electric flight. What else? Is there anything else that is on the horizon with these prizes that we should know about?
– Oh, the sky’s the limit. What is it? What is innovation? It’s born of frustration. Why aren’t we doing this? Oh, well… to be a part of a small team of people, who got SpaceShipOne hanging in the Air and Space Museum next to The Spirit of St. Louis, is incredibly empowering. We shifted the world’s perspective on space flight. How do we do that again? It’s empowering, and it’s led all of us to just practice innovation and thinking, and whenever you see a problem, you see an opportunity instead. It’s just, if it’s impossible, it just hasn’t been worked at from the right direction. Some direction that nobody’s looking at. So, at XPRIZE, yeah, we have Tricorder, the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, which is a handheld electronic device that will out diagnose 10 board certified physicians, and get all your vitals, and including the absence of symptoms. What that’ll do is democratize medicine for you and I.
– Like, “Oh, I got this crazy thing, it’s bothering me.”
– [Pedram] “No one can figure it out.”
– Or it’s just your first step, ’cause it’s cheap, and it’s easy, and pretty soon it’ll be integrated into a cellphone, and you could diagnose yourself. You don’t necessarily have to go to the doctor. That frees up the doctors to work on harder stuff. That’s a huge shift right there, and it’s coming from this technology. So we’ve whittled it down to two teams competing, and the prize, I think, if the timeline holds, will be end of the year, beginning of next year. That’s totally exciting.
– [Pedram] That’s amazing. That’s amazing, and the AI is really capable of going through the if-then clauses, and looking at all the symptoms, and clusters of symptoms, and at that point, then the question is, is it Kasparov or is it IBM Blue, right?
– This is the age we live in.
– [Pedram] Yep.
– And it’s changing dramatically. So that’s one really exciting prize, ’cause we’ve all had that, “Oh, am I really sick? How do I make this decision with my kid? Do they go to school or not?” And the actual act of going in to the doctor is a huge investment. It’s time. It’s energy. It’s waiting, et cetera. So if you can go, “Oh, you should be fine. You need to drink tea, and you need to take care of yourself.” Or, “Oh, you’ve got deadly Bora Bora disease, you gotta go now.”
– Get outta here.
– That’s when we need the doctors really badly. So I see that just being the beginning of a healthcare revolution.
– You’re no stranger to healthcare. You’ve had your own challenges escaping from gravity, and so you’ve had injuries. I mean, we actually get along real well, because of our passion for skiing, right? You ski a lot, and, you shouldn’t be skiing. So the fact that you can ski is really a testament to your willingness to keep fighting against gravity–
– And doing what you gotta do. So let’s get into the history of that just a little bit, because you’re so hyper-human in that.
– Well, you could the skier in the room, right? They don’t stop talking about it.
– I started skiing when I was in between my mom’s legs on the rope tow, in the rain, or whatever, and I grew up with this incredibly physical sense of self. I was a state champion gymnast when I was 12. I had boxes full of water ski trophies. Climbed and skied Mount Rainier, and when I turned 21, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. And I didn’t know what that was, and it just felt like I had a sprained wrist, and then two sprained wrists. It mirrors itself in the body, and the symptoms. By the time I was 30, I couldn’t walk. I had worn all the cartilage out of my knees, and that physical sense of self was just gone. I walked with a cane. I destroyed my wrist cartilage because I was putting so much pressure on the cane. I should have been using a walker or wheelchair, and I lost that sense of me, and I was very lucky to have, a sort of, modern but. Modern technology, I had both of my knees totally replaced, and got my, sort of, mobility back, and then I started taking a breakthrough biotechnology drug that worked. And I started being able to build strength back, and range of motion, and I got some measure of that physical life back. I don’t know if I’ll get a third chance at life, and that kinda motivates me. And the one thing before we talk skiing, ’cause I might get lost in that skiing, this process of 1986, I was diagnosed, was it 10 years later I had my knees replaced. And then started taking this drug. They didn’t know what to do for arthritis. There were a couple of drugs that had huge side effects, gold salts, and Methotrexate, a cancer drug, or Prednisone. So immediately, you’re just like, what do you do in the face of that? You’re suffering your life. You’re losing your life. So you open up to alternative healthcare, and I tried all kinds of things. From bee venom therapy to supplements to psychology, and so forth. It really opens you up, and I think, my life was… I started really on an alternative healthcare path at a young age, and it’s because of that disease process. It happened to be that a medical, I say, breakthrough biotechnology drug helped me, and that’s awesome. That works, but in many cases, I’m suspicious of doctors, and healthcare, and big pharma, and so forth. I trust them as far as I can throw them, and that’s not very far. Right? But I made that deal with the devil, quote, unquote, so to speak, because I hadn’t had, I had lost already. And I thought, if I get 10 years of quality of life in return, and then I get cancer, ’cause they didn’t know the long-term effects of this drug, I would do that. I was in that desperate a situation.
– [Pedram] Right.
– What I’ve done since then is slowly add, and come to a place in my life where I practice. I practice movement, and I believe movement is the key to longevity. I have to move, even if it’s painful. I have to keep moving, and slowly I’ve rebuilt my life, walking, standing, skiing, now I climb mountains. I can’t really climb down, ’cause it makes my knees swell up and hurt, but if you put me on skis or wheels–
– You can bomb down.
– I can bomb down. I don’t wanna crash, but–
– Yep. Yep.
– But yeah.
– There’s a lot that’s happened since too. I mean, so when we first got into rheumatoid arthritis, and go, “Okay, we get what this is.” A lot of immuno-suppressive stuff. It’s just like, fight fire with fire. We don’t know what this is, but we know the basic mechanism. So let’s just shut down the immune system, and see if it helps.
– Now, in this, kinda, realm of functional medicine, there are a lot of doctors looking at why. Why the body is starting to freak out and attack its own tissue, attack itself–
– And I would say, you guys should do an XPRIZE on that, man, because, we’re about five to 10 years away from really starting to understand the genetic, epigenetic, and some of the kinda functional mechanisms here, and I think that that breakthrough drug is going to be on the front end of something else. It is an incredible time to be alive, and I would say that within your lifetime, RA, like rheumatoid arthritis, and all these things are going to have solutions. And the Tricorder might even pick up the solution, if you guys play it right. It’s fascinating what’s happening.
– It’s an exciting time.
– I know, I totally agree. My immune system is compromised. I have allergies now to nuts,
– [Pedram] Sure.
– And other things. That said, I’m high functioning. I travel again, I work hard, and I play hard, and I ride single track mountain bike, hour and a half, two to four times a week to keep, not only to keep me in shape, but as a meditation. I don’t meditate as much as I’d like to, but when I ride, I check out, and I know these trails like the back of my hand, and sometimes I’m, “Oh, I didn’t mean to do that loop again.” I was just lost in my mind. That regenerates me. It helps me solve problems, and work out relationships, and think of new brainstorms to work on. That exercise, and again, I just feel like that is the key to my longevity now. Moving my joints.
– You’re no different than anyone else. You’re just a guy who has your back against the wall, and has no choice, but–
– At this point, yeah, you’re right.
– Right? But genetically, epigenetically, we all moved, and so that processing that happens when you are ambulating and moving is where the brain starts to synthesize, and take the sensory motor strip and just kick down information, integrate things. I do my best thinking on the mountain. I mean, I was just Vail for three days, and I was with a business partner. We’re talking on the chair lift, and then just going.
– You can’t lose yourself, yeah, that’s–
– Well, hey you can’t afford the luxury of a thought, you know what I mean? You’ll hit a tree. You just gotta be present.
– That activates all the subconscious thinking, and that’s the most powerful part of the brain. I believe.
– That’s it. That’s it. So you play in circles that would be considered, kind of high level, right? You’re hanging with some very high level people, founders of Google, Elon Musk, and all these things. Is there a general sentiment out there of enthusiasm? Like, “Hey, we can do this.” Like, “We can apply our creative genius to make the world better.” Like, these truly believe this and are going for it?
– That’s an awesome question. Some do. Peter Diamandis, the founder of XPRIZE, and Human Longevity Inc., and Planetary Resources, and so forth, believes that the future is incredibly bright. He’s written books, “Abundance” and “Bold,” that really lay that out. Statistically, now is the best time to be alive. There is actually fewer wars than we have had in history. We see them really up close and personal because of our media, but, Crisis News Network, et cetera, they force it. But we have better disease control. The globe has a higher standard of living, and it’s coming up, so the general sentiment is yes. Some people are concerned about AI, and about how we develop machines that are super intelligent, and is there an intersection at that singularity between humans and machines, where the machines say, “Well these humans are a threat to the planet, therefore we need to do something about that?”
– [Pedram] Yeah.
– That’s an interesting conundrum, and I don’t know the answer. Some are concerned about it, and some think that we can…
– [Pedram] Build in safeguards?
– Well, pull the plug. I don’t know.
– Something. So that’s, sort of, the question of the next 20 years. Can it be? And I can’t necessarily control that. What I can do is go out and put positive intention in my life, and keep working, keep innovating, keep looking at problems as potential solutions, and helping innovators come up with solutions to problems. And in that sense, I’m a total optimist. I think we’re gonna do great, and we’re done with that era of destroying things to get ahead. It’s phasing out. I have heard now that we’re reaching parity between the cost of renewables, like wind, and solar, and coal. It doesn’t really matter. Coal may get subsidies, ’cause people don’t like to lose their jobs or their income, et cetera, but money will trump that. Sorry. Money will make that a reality, because the businesses that are cheaper will win out, and that’s the important thing.
– All this talk about coal in the last election, if you talk to anyone who knows what’s up in the markets. The markets have already moved. Coal’s done. Right? So promising jobs back to people to hog coal is really, it’s regressive. There are a lot other ways to produce energy, right? And that’s the reality of it.
– Yeah, and the reality of the politicians saying, “We’re gonna create jobs,” is a fallacy. They need to figure out how we’re all gonna get, sort of, universal incomes, because jobs are going away.
– To the robots, less so than to the Mexicans.
– To the robots. Yeah, I mean.
– Yeah. Well, whatever
– Yeah, machines.
– Politicians… Have never, I shouldn’t say that. I should say, the people. The people in this room, the people in this building, the people in this state, California, have more power than all the politicians in the world, to change the future, and that’s what we did with XPRIZE. In fact, Al Gore came to one of our XPRIZE events, when we were doing rocket races in the desert, and he said, “I really get it now, that the private sector has way more power to change the planet, than the politicians do.” And it’s true.
– It’s absolutely true.
– We’ve been tracking this for about last year and a half, for our next movie called, “Prosperity,” and it’s all about conscious capitalism. I’ve been following the captains of these industries, and the economic democracy that comes from you allocating power with the dollars you spend on the companies that you support, is something that is the, kinda the biggest secret in the industry, right? So you just keep getting bombarded by media messaging, saying, “Keep buying this crap.” And all you have to do is just, “Buy this from a ethical supply chain,” and it starts to transform the world. If I want private space flight, we actually had a guy in here last week or something, who has now, basically, identified that by 2020, 50% of the exhaust, the pollution that comes from petroleum in Los Angeles County is actually from gardeners, and weed whackers, and blowers and crap, because the cars have gotten so good. And they’re like, we already have the technology. Just wear a battery, and everything just goes electric, and then, your gardener doesn’t get cancer, the world’s a better place. So it’s like this real easy lever, right, to transform an industry.
– It’s quieter. Oh yeah.
– So, I’m like, okay well we’ll invest in that. That’s great. Let’s do that. So how, right? That’s a world I wanna see, sure. So how bout the world where I get to get on private electric aircraft, and go across town, and not sit in traffic, and not make any noise? How far away? What do we need to do as consumers to make that happen? Or is that just still in the lab?
– It’s coming. What I would say is, buy another laptop, buy another cellphone, buy, I live on a small farm, and I’ve got electric leaf blower. I never wanted one before, ’cause they’re noisy. It’s quiet, and I’m able to just, kinda, take care of my thing. I go out in the garden, I do permaculture, which means I’m gone for weeks at a time, and I come back with the weed whacker, and whatever survived I kinda mow around, and it’s electric. At least it’s quiet, et cetera, and and my kale survives, and now seeds and comes back. I’m in my fourth generation. I love that stuff, but–
– Are you suggesting that buying laptops keeps inspiring new generations of batteries, like you gotta keep money in an industry that’s innovating on the battery tech?
– Yeah, I’m being slightly facetious. Laptops, I mean, everybody needs their laptop anyway.
– But it helps. That batter miniaturization and power density, it’s coming from those industries, ’cause that’s where people spend money.
– Got it.
– Doing it with your electric drills, and electric chainsaws, I actually have one of those, ’cause I have a little Japanese wood-fired hot tub on my farm, and I like–
– That sounds so cool. I want one of those.
– I like to soak, and I grew up with wood heat, and it’s quiet to cut some pieces of wood. It’s a tiny firebox, really efficient. That’s where we need to go. When I got into electric flight and building this aircraft, I realized, in fact, I got invited by the National Park Service to demonstrate quiet flight above the Grand Canyon National Park. We haven’t been able to quite make that happen. We’re hoping next May on the 90th anniversary of my grandfather’s flights, we can fly the E-Spirit of St. Louis, all electric, and do more quiet flight testing with the park service, because–
– The parks want this?
– Yeah, because it’s quiet. So the national parks have a mandate from Congress to protect the night skies, and natural sounds inside the national parks, but if you’ve ever been to Grand Canyon, there’s 50 thousand air tour operations per day, some helicopters, some fixed wing, broadcasting noise over the park, and the park service would actually like more people to witness the park from the sky. It’s extraordinary. I’ve done it, but quieter. They see this as a pathway towards clean, quiet flight. So, that’s why I started building this plane down at Embry-Riddle. I’m building it, the students are building it. Totally cool, and we’ve started a hybrid consortium development with OEMs like Airbus, and GE, and Pratt & Whitney, and Cessna to build a 450 horsepower equivalent hybrid propulsion unit, that would be some sort of generator that puts into the batteries, and the power plants, for a nine seat size aircraft. So we’ve started that development pathway.
– Awesome, and so then you proved this out to national parks. They say, “You wanna fly over our parks, you gotta fly one of these,” and then policy starts dictating industry, and it becomes a virtuous cycle kinda thing?
– We’ll see, but I thought that’s a worthy thing to do. It’s absolutely worthy, and the park service wants it, and if you’re disabled, you can’t hike down into the canyon.
– [Pedram] Right.
– If you can fly over it, that’s awesome. It’s awe-inspiring, and that’s just the fixed wing flight that I’ve been working. There’s other people working on what’s called, “distributed propulsion.” That means multiple props up in the air, like you talked about the snowboarder, Jeremy something or other, he’s snowboarding behind a drone, right? Picture a drone, an Opticopter or a Quadcopter that’s scaled up to human size. That’s the future of transportation. You look at what drones are doing today. They can go stick themselves on the wall and land, and come back. That’s our future. We can be transported round by vehicles like that. Scaling it is the issue right now, but if you wanna look at the future, that’s what it is, and there’s companies like Zee.Aero, E-volo in Germany, that are building this distributed, many props facing upwards. Some are hobby motors that carry vehicles, personal air vehicles, if you will, that’ll be quiet, have redundancy. So they’ll be safe, and if you use renewable energy to power those, we’re there. For short distances, five years? Is it five years? Is it eight years?
– It’s inevitable. It’s inevitable. It’s happened.
– And I said battery technology is kinda the sticky point, well there’s one more big hurdle, and that is the infrastructure. The FAA and the Air Traffic Control, how do you start to do that? We, I would say, the FAA got caught behind, big time, with drones. Drones are everywhere now.
– And they were like, “Whoa, how do we do this?” Every kid has a drone.
– [Pedram] Yeah.
– And they’re flying, and airliners are narrowly missing them, so–
– [Pedram] It’s a thing.
– It’s a huge thing.
– It’s a bigger thing when grandma falls out of the sky.
– It’s a bigger thing.
– So we need that redundancy, ballistic recovery systems–
– [Pedram] Parachutes.
– Balloons, parachutes, balloons, et cetera, there’s all kinds. And autonomy now, and the distributed propulsion if you lose a motor or prop, no problem, the code takes over, and you’re totally stable, and you land. Pretty soon people aren’t gonna be driving cars. They’ll either drive themselves or we’ll be using personal air vehicles.
– I was just talking to someone about this, and it’s fascinating to me. Google’s car crashes, and everyone’s like, “Oh see, there’s a thing.” But if you look at the amount of self-driving cars that are being tested right now in the thousands and thousands of hours, and you start looking at the accident data, any day USA, I think that within a couple years, we’re gonna have enough data to substantiate saying, “Hey, the bots are driving way better than us. Why don’t you stay in the backseat and text?”
– They already are.
– They already are.
– I mean, Tesla got hammered ’cause that guy crashed ’cause the big white truck–
– The reflection on it.
– Pulled across, and it didn’t quite, “Okay, well that’s fixable.”
– In the meantime, what’s their record? They’re way better than humans.
– [Pedram] Yeah.
– And they’re not all the way there yet.
– Yeah, and uncle Frank likes to drink and drive. There’sso many things that humans are doing wrong, and causing fatalities that, okay so if this becomes an inevitability, it’s just like, okay, you can drive, ’cause this is America, and people want their liberties, but let the computers just do it, and read a book or whatever. And then, Amazon’s flying their drones everywhere, and delivering your toothpaste, eventually I just see those dots connecting pretty quickly, and having automated flight patterns that are kinda tied in to a FAA database, or something, right?
– Yeah. That infrastructure will come, I think, fairly rapidly. It’s gonna be hard. Hard ’cause people don’t like change, but the technology’s coming. We’re at this curve, exponential curve in data, right, data processing that enables all this stuff, and we’ve been building, building, building for a long, long time, but you know what happens with an exponential curve. All of a sudden, it hits the curve and it goes straight up. We’re just getting there, and it’s an extraordinary time.
– I love what you’re doing. I love the fact that you fought your way back up, and have been going up mountains and skiing down, and just going after just cool shit, man. You’re doing some really interesting stuff. How can people support what you’re doing? How can people keep eyes on your work? I mean, we’re kinda rounding out to the end of the show here, and I’d like to keep you here for a week, but it’s so–
– [Erik] I’ll come back.
– Yeah, come back.
– So how can we get more of this? How can we keep our eyes on the XPRIZE, and the work that you’re doing?
– Yeah, I’ve just built a new website called “Escape From Gravity,” which, kinda my story of, sometimes gravity sucks harder when you’re in bed trying to get up after a hard day of skiing, sometimes from other things. Or we wanna escape, and see our planet from space. So that kinda links my endeavors, Powering Imagination is my business, doing electric flight. So poweringimagination.com. EscapeFromGravity.com, and that’ll lead you to Powering Imagination. And XPRIZE, xprize.org. It’s an amazing non-profit that we should’ve failed at, but we made it happen, and if you wanna read more about it, “How to Make A Spaceship,” by Julian Guthrie. The story’s finally been told, and I’d love to give you a copy of it today.
– [Pedram] I would love that.
– I got a few copies with me. It just made the New York Times Best Seller list, and I think the Forbes or Fortune Magazine Top 10 Business Books. It’s starting to really gain acceptance for what it is. This is a game changer, in terms of changing, and tackling the grand challenges we have coming at us. Tackling them proactively.
– So you take big social problems, things that the world needs, you gameify innovation, you incentivize innovation, and let humans do what they do best, which is be creative, and think outside the box–
– And really contemplate, yeah. ‘Cause that group think is hard. When you’re an organization, and you just have those bumpers on, I work with a lot of corporations. It’s really for them to think outside any box.
– Sure. Oh, crowdsourcing innovation is an amazing tool, and we’ve just touched the surface on that. The garage innovator, I’ll say, Burt Rutan, building his little thing at scale composites in the desert in Mojave, created a spaceship that went for a fraction of the cost, and Boeing early on looked at this. Some guys from Boeing, and they said, “No, we can’t do that. It can’t be done for 10 million bucks.” And it costs 10 million bucks to do a study, right?
– But there’s garage innovators, the guys building cars, et cetera, and inventing hardware, that have incredible expertise, without the cumbersome nature of a bureaucracy around them, can cut right through that. We’re seeing more and more of that. It’s a very exciting time.
– Fast and light. Fast and light.
– And actually, they’re gonna industries and jobs that don’t exist right now, and so people who are worried about where their manufacturing job went, aren’t looking ahead at all the new industries that are being birthed, and all the new opportunities. I know that the local solar panel installation company is booked out 18 months. There’s just so much business, because everyone’s like, “Oh, solar, cool.” They can’t get enough installers.
– So, if you used to work a job that no longer exists, look at where the world is moving and be a part of the solution, and get up. Defy gravity. It’s time to get up off of it. There’s a lot–
– A lot to be said.
– What’s really true is you gotta be flexible, and you gotta fail forward fast. So that you learn each time, and then can make a different decision and move forward, ’cause that’s the way we’re going. If you fail and you stop, you’re like, “Oh, I can’t do this,” or, “I can’t do life,” you gotta escape gravity, the gravity of that moment, and find something else. Find a new way, ’cause if you don’t continue, and move, and grow, and learn, and adapt, then you’re not gonna go anywhere.
– What’s funny is, my last movie we did in the African Bush–
– Oh yeah, origins.
– And just origins, and we tracked the lions, and we learned how to survive out there, and if that’s where we all come from, the law of the bush, the law of the jungle, if you don’t fall forward, if you don’t innovate forward, you’re lunch. Right? And society is shifted to the point, where we feel there’s this social structure, and this net, and you can always fall backwards and complain to your politician about how the world sucks, but the energy of life is one of, kind of the evolution of thought and innovation, to keep being part of what’s moving and supporting. Look, I think that there needs to be a social net, and stuff like that, but a lot of it is, “Look forward, not backward.” This is–
– [Erik] Yeah.
– This is a very exciting time.
– Well, there are lots of predators out there, and they’re not just looking for the individual. They’re gonna eat Kodak for lunch.
– [Pedram] Oh yeah.
– They’re gonna–
– Oh yeah.
– They invented digital photography. They should be, but they’re like, “Nah.” Oops.
– [Pedram] Yeah, yeah, lunch it is.
– They got eaten for lunch, and there’s more and more markets being disrupted now than ever. Those big established companies need that innovation.
– It’s a, well you know, “eat or be eaten” is the law of the jungle.
– We need that innovation also.
– That’s it. We all do. We all do. So, Erik, man, I’m so honored to have you come visit. The only thing that I’m kind of upset about is we didn’t get to ski this weekend. Let’s all come up and get some skiing in with you, yeah.
– Let’s, yeah. Absolutely, it’s a deal.
– Yeah, a plan, great. Great to see you, and thank you for stopping in. Let me know what you think. I will see you in the next show. This is Dr. Pedram Shojai, the Urban Monk.