Recommended by Paul Bunje of the X Prize Foundation, I had only read of Planet Labs – but after visiting, am stunned I didn’t know more. Their motto: ‘Using Space to Help Life on Earth.’ We met one of the founders, Robbie Schlinger – and I came away totally sold on what they are doing.
Reminded me of the project I did for WRI on space and information technologies ways back in the 1980s, which resulted in a report called The Shrinking Planet.
Robbie had spent 9 years at NASA, where he helped build the Small Spacecraft Office at NASA Ames and was Capture Manager for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). He later served as NASA’s Open Government Representative to the White House and as Chief of Staff for the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA.
Love the spirit of their approach: “We care deeply about creating positive change and commercial value. At Planet, ethics are at the foundation of everything we do. We have fun, love space and are committed to transparency for the planet, for our company, and for our customers and partners. Our philosophy is to move fast: design, build, learn, repeat.”
Their Dove satellites fly in the face of conventional space industry wisdom. “They’re not works of arts, Ferraris,” is the way Robbie explained it. Instead, they’re tiny, are sent up in considerable numbers, or “flocks,” and can be programmed to operate like compound eyes in space.
Then on to RBS, or the Royal Bank of Scotland, to see their man in the Valley, John Stewart. They’re scouting, too, but they’ve put down strong roots. Their aim: :”To help customers solve problems they don’t yet even know they have.” 99.9% of Californians in the business are “nuts,” he suggested, but the result can be astonishing breakthroughs. One of his interests: quantum computing.
His aim is to make all of this relevant to someone on a dark, rainy morning in Bradford, without a cup of coffee in their hand or a small dog at their heel.
Then the Breakthrough scouting team split up for the first time, with Ingvild (Sörensen) and Sam (Lakha) making off to Facebook, while I went to see Emma Stewart at Autodesk, where she is Head of Sustainability Solutions. She is also involved in a new initiative designed to operationalise the triple bottom line, Impact Infrastructure.
The background: Impact Infrastructure, Inc. was founded in March 2012 and has offices in Manhattan and in Toronto’s Annex at the Centre for Social Innovation. The company’s primary goal is to create a standardized suite of business case analysis tools to promote the development of more sustainable and resilient communities. They talk in terms of “Sustainable Return on Investment” analysis (or SROI).
Then across to the Caltrain station to catch a train to Menlo Park, for a serendipitous dinner at a Turkish restaurant with the reconvened scouts, and Janine Benyus, Beth Rattner and Courtney Morehouse of Biomimicry 3.8 and Biomimicry Institute (where I’m on the Board, as is Stefan Heck, mentioned in an earlier post in this series). They had just been to see Google X, or X as I think they now call themselves.
We were also joined by Richard Northcote and his colleague Alice from Covestro, who are working on the next leg of the Solar Impulse‘s flight – this time from Hawaii to San Francisco. We are working with Richard and Covestro on the con kept of carbon productivity. The evening fairly flew, particularly when I switched us to the Turkish wine.
Wonderful people – and a sense of being part of a true paradigm shift.