• A major mixed reality (MR) product launch…
  • DeepMind makes a mathematical breakthrough…
  • Foreign direct investment in EV technology…

Dear Reader,

It’s usually not easy being first.

And it was no different for Dennis Tito.

Not only was the successful entrepreneur the first civilian to make it into Earth’s orbit, he was also the first to stay on the International Space Station (ISS). It’s hard to believe that was more than 20 years ago now, back in 2001.

I remember it well. I also remember that NASA wasn’t happy about it at all.

Tito managed to arrange his trip to space via the Russian Federal Space Agency for $20 million. He was slotted on the Soyuz TM-32 mission, which was to visit the ISS. In that way, he was able to circumvent NASA, which wouldn’t have agreed to take him to space in the first place.

In fact, NASA famously turned away Tito and the two cosmonauts from the Soyuz TM-32 mission when they arrived at Johnson Space Center for pre-mission training in preparation for the ISS.

Despite the lack of cooperation and preparation, Tito and the Soyuz TM-32 mission went ahead as planned. The team spent seven days, 22 hours and four minutes in space and returned safely to Earth.

Dennis Tito Celebrates His Post-Space Landing

Source: Bloomberg

Tito, like me, started his career in aerospace engineering. And he also shifted into the world of investments.

I was disqualified from NASA’s astronaut training program due to a lower back injury that I sustained playing football in high school. But that didn’t mean that I would never get to space. 

Tito has been an inspiration to me, a trailblazer, and the person who literally kicked off what has now become a critical part of the new space economy – commercial space travel.

No longer is the magic of circling our pale blue dot in zero gravity – or having unfettered views of the universe – off limits to anyone who doesn’t work for a government. Whether it’s Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, or SpaceX, commercial space travel is on the cusp of becoming normal.

And Tito, who is now 82 years old, is at it again. This time, he’s planning on orbiting the moon.

Announced just days ago, Tito and his wife have booked two seats on a weeklong journey into Earth’s orbit, and then around the moon on a SpaceX Starship.

Tito’s trip is the second moon trip announced by SpaceX. The first was announced back in 2018 when Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa committed to buy out an entire Starship and bring as many as eight others with him on the journey.

These developments are all incredibly exciting, as SpaceX’s first Starship mission to orbit is almost certain to happen next month. It will launch from the SpaceX Starbase in South Texas and splash down off the coast of Kauai.

It’s also the same spacecraft that will return NASA to the moon more than 50 years after the Apollo missions.

Tito’s ride will happen sometime after NASA’s moon mission and Maezawa’s team journey, which means that Tito will have to keep himself in great shape over the next few years in preparation for his trip to the moon.

That means he’ll become the oldest person to have made it to space… another first.

Go, Dennis! I hope I’m not too far behind you…

The first AR / VR product to straddle the line…

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, just released its next-generation virtual reality (VR) headset. It’s called the Meta Quest Pro.

Here it is:

The Meta Quest Pro

Source: Meta

I haven’t had a chance to try this one out yet. But judging by the technical specifications, and everything that I’ve read, this looks like a fantastic product.

The Meta Quest Pro is about 50% more powerful than the previous model, the Meta Quest 2. It also employs lenses with a wider field of vision and higher refresh rates. That makes it very attractive for fast-moving action and immersive graphics.

What’s more, the lenses can monitor the user’s pupils and facial expressions. That means our digital avatars can truly reflect our own eye movements and facial expressions in real time.

If we think about interacting with others inside of a metaverse, this makes that experience as lifelike and relatable as possible. Others will be able to see our natural reactions within a digital world.

The Meta Quest Pro is set to ship on October 25. That’s next week.

The headset will cost about $1,500. That’s four times more expensive than the Quest 2. It’s also more costly than most laptops.

So the Meta Quest Pro is straddling the line between the consumer and enterprise markets. It will be interesting to see how the market adopts this technology. Will more adoption happen in the consumer markets or the enterprise markets?

But the price point isn’t the only way in which this product walks the line…

The Meta Quest Pro is also capable of augmented reality (AR). The lenses utilize “passthrough” technology that allow users to see the real world in front of them when not engaged in VR.

And of course, the lenses can overlay graphics on top of the user’s real-world field of vision. This is also referred to as mixed reality (MR).

This is a first for Meta. All previous Quest models were purely VR, as were the original Oculus VR headsets. This is the first product to employ both AR and VR capabilities. And there’s a very strategic reason for this.

As we’ve discussed before, augmented reality won’t become a mass market product until the technology can be deployed in sleek, form-fitting glasses that consumers can wear daily.

The Meta Quest Pro certainly isn’t that.

However, it is something of a bridge. It will enable users to experiment with AR, perhaps for the first time.

And that will warm up the market while Meta gears up for its big AR product launch. That could definitely happen by late 2023, but almost certainly by 2024.

So I’m curious to see how the Meta Quest Pro is adopted. This is certainly an attractive product. It’s kind of a litmus test for the market. And it’s paving the way for full-blown augmented reality.

DeepMind’s breakthrough in computer science …

DeepMind is at it again.

As regular readers know, this is Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) division. And it’s been making incredible breakthroughs with AI seemingly every month now.

DeepMind’s last few developments have centered around the biotechnology and life sciences space. But DeepMind’s latest advancement will have major ramifications for computer science and mathematics going forward.

This one is a little wonky… but it’s a big deal.

For DeepMind’s latest act, it found a better way to do matrix multiplication. This, in turn, will speed up computer processing by as much as 20%.

Matrix multiplication is a commonly used mathematical process. It’s critical for AI and machine learning (ML) applications.

Matrix multiplication is also widely used in graphics processing. It also plays a pivotal role in solving optimization problems within any system. These are functions that routinely take place in large data centers.

An Example of Matrix Multiplication

Source: wpf.2000things.com

But here’s the thing: There had been no advancements in matrix multiplication techniques in 50 years. Five decades. Given how fast things are moving, that’s hard to believe.

That is, until DeepMind set its sights on the problem.

And get this – a team of two academic researchers took DeepMind’s work and improved on it exactly one week later. That’s how quickly they were able to iterate upon DeepMind’s breakthrough.

The end result is that we’ll be able to do complex simulations much faster, and with much less power consumption. That will ultimately reduce data center costs for large computational tasks.

And this means we can expect to see some major breakthroughs in computer science in the months to come. Anything involving AI, ML, graphics, and optimization will get a major boost. Matrix multiplication is core to all these processes.

So this is yet another incredible breakthrough from the team at DeepMind. And it leaves me wondering: What will the DeepMind team tackle next?

The Great Recalibration in EVs and batteries…

The number of exciting announcements about building new advanced manufacturing plants onshore is getting hard to keep up with. The trend toward reshoring production back to developed markets – close to end consumers – continues to accelerate.

Honda and LG Energy just announced plans to build a $4.4 billion electric vehicle (EV) battery plant in Columbus, Ohio. This will be a joint venture between the two companies.

I’m sure readers recognize Honda as the iconic Japanese carmaker. We may also recognize LG as a consumer electronics manufacturer. What we may not realize is that a division of LG is also one of the world’s largest EV battery producers.

So this deal makes perfect sense for both companies. Construction on the new battery plant beings early next year and will be complete by 2024. And mass production will begin in 2025.

The timing of this deal is no coincidence.

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which has nothing to do with inflation, has both incentives for domestically produced EVs and EV batteries, and disincentives for those same product categories if they’re imported from offshore. 

Honda and LG Energy are simply moving to ensure their competitiveness in one of the most important automotive markets in the world.

And the proposed plant’s location is no coincidence, either…

Honda already has major car manufacturing plants just outside of Columbus. This new plant will make the batteries for those cars just down the road. How’s that for a simple supply chain?

So the Great Recalibration is showing no sign of slowing down. The massive shift away from centralized manufacturing in Asia to decentralized production in the U.S. is well underway. 

It’s creating a renaissance for new construction and manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and other major western markets. And it will result in stronger economies and more resilient supply chains in these very uncertain times.

It’s about time.


Jeff Brown
Editor, The Bleeding Edge