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🏒 πŸš™ πŸ€– Issue #34; autonomous ships, space petrol and cycling esports

🏒 πŸš™ πŸ€– Issue #34; autonomous ships, space petrol and cycling esports
Welcome to my newsletter, where I discuss thoughts and news on the intersection of the built world and technology #retail #mobility #realestate #tech
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One Quick Thought
Autonomous ships - Whilst I’ve covered autonomous vehicles fairly consistently, I’ve yet to pay much attention to other modes of autonomous transport, for which there are many. Last week Vice posted an interesting short documentary on autonomous marine craft being developed by Boston-based Sea Machines Robotics.
Whilst the global shipping industry, which is approximately $12tn in size, might seem like the likely adopter of automated unmanned sea craft. In the near-term, that’s unlikely to be the case:
>> Let’s think about ride hailing; the driver is likely to earn 1x to 4x times the cost of the vehicle annually. The driver is limited to driving 1 to 3 passengers at any one time and as such is unscalable. Taking up to 50% of Opex, the driver is by far the biggest cost on a per ride basis. Therefore, the incentive to replace the driver with an autonomous system is high - both in the short and long term.
>> The biggest cost levers in shipping beyond the ship itself is fuel costs. The crew also contribute to fuel costs through the use of electricity and space used for crew quarters which adds weight and air resistance. The reduction in these would only likely constitute a 5% to 7% savings on operational costs. This saving is fairly paltry in comparison to the high cost of a new autonomous asset, which even whilst retro-fitted might be 10%+ of the ships value / new ships would be significantly more. Currently, it only makes sense to think about autonomous ships as being fully unmanned or else the savings quickly trend to zero. Another considerable cost in shipping is insurance, many of these ships are carrying hundreds of million dollars of often corrosive cargo. Whilst 80% accidents are caused by human error - not having any humans aboard in order to mitigate certain incidents provides some headaches. Most importantly, it’s difficult for current insurers to accurately model and price insurance premia of autonomous ships. Currently the economics of large scale autonomous doesn’t add up.
It may be more interesting to look at replacing much of the fuel costs and drivetrains of these ships, with electric solutions. Currenlty, ships use Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) which is cheap, dirty and requires a lot of human intervention to run consistently. Whilst Donald Trump might not believe in them we should expect to see increasing quotas around the use of combustable fuels, especially as shipping is the single worst global polluter.
So what does this mean for autonomous ships?
Last week, Norway launched the first autonomous passenger and car ferry - check out the video. The ferry operates daily within a pre-defined route and timetable.
In the short term, we’re going to see more autonomous ships operate within waterways such as ferry routes, archipelagos, coastline patrols and inter-city riverways. These are comparatively low-risk, low-cost and high usage use cases.
Interesting Company
Orbit Fab is a space startup looking to put a gas station into space. Currently a satellites useable life is dictated by the amount of fuel it launches with, therefore refueling in-situ could extend the life of satellites and missons. Orbit Fab was aboard SpaceX’s December 4th launch and will test it’s fuel delivery method in space.
Vague Scientist
πŸ™ Real Estate
Mo’ Tokens Mo’ Problems - hot startup du jour, Harbor, has just tokenised it’s first (is that actually a verb?) a commercial real estate REIT, offering 955 tokens at $21k each. The property is a high-rise accommodation for students, which is now tradeable on the blockchain.
New commercial property usage - underutilised urban US real estate assets such as b-class offices, strip centres and car parking are being repurposed to serve ecommerce last-mile consignment
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Mobility
Waymo One - as mentioned last week, Alphabet launched the worlds first autonomous ride hailing service in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. The Verge gives an early view of what the experience is like from app, tech-stack and rider experience.
Universal Basic Mobility - may be becoming a reality quicker than expected. Luxembourg is the first country to offer free public transport to residents. (Worth noting that Luxembourg has a population of 590k - with 180k of its working population travelling from neighbouring countries)
Postmates’ autonomous delivery robot - the last-mile delivery company just launched Serve, an autonomous delivery robot. The robot was developed internally with third party hardware, you can clearly see the Velodyne LIDAR puck atop the robot. This will no doubt be heralded as a margin expander as the company reportedly explores a 2019 IPO next year
Grand opening, grand closing - the enduring words of Chris Rock. Last week, Lime, Wind and Voi scooters were ordered off the streets of Madrid. Interestingly, Spanish government has been forward thinking in terms of municipally led city planning and transport, though has been somewhat allergic to private transport operators
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Retail
Peloton outsprints Soul Cycle - reports suggest that Peloton now has more customers than cult Soul Cycle. Interestingly, British Cycling has just launched a virtual cycling esports championship, starting in February 2010
Autonomous Santa
Autonomous Santa
Thanks for reading! I’m likely signing off for 2019, though may look to get an article out in the break. Wishing you very happy holidays and see you in 2019!
Sam
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Sam Cash // Physical World Technologies Newsletter

The intersection of the physical world and technology; with a focus on future mobility,real estate, retail and cities.

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