Are We Entering the Next Revolution?

The Next Revolution - Is it starting?

I decided to write this article because I realized that we might be entering into the second information and telecommunications revolution. There are significant changes in technology and advances right now on how electric power is being acquired, stored and distributed. Autonomous automobiles are beginning to drive themselves, and rockets are going back and forth to space just like an airplane at an airport.  Today, most of the younger generation has never seen or operated a car with a stick shift. People in the future may never actually had the chance to drive a car themselves. Our leaders will say "that sounds so dangerous!".

History books tell us when a revolution starts and the next one begins (many historians however still argue actual dates and contexts).

Telsa GigaFactory

The Visionary

Recently there has been a lot of news surrounding Elan Musk.  For those of you who are not familiar with Musk, he is the founder of the Tesla Motors, Tesla Energy, and SpaceX Program. Musk is doing some incredible things right now, like creating cutting-edge self-driving electric cars and launching the reusable Falcon 9 Rocket that can deliver payloads to space at a fraction of the cost of traditional rockets.  

Over the past few years, I have been closely watching Musk’s successes and failures. However, it recently occurred to me that the next technology revolution may have already begun.  

Wikipedia describes a technical revolution as “a relatively short period in history when on technology (or better a set of technologies) is replaced by another technology.”

“A revolution is a relatively short period in history when on technology (or better a set of technologies) is replaced by another technology”

The Answers exist in the Past

With the feeling that we are on the verge of seeing a significant shift in technology, I decided to look at history to see how we got here.  What I found is that generally every fifty to one hundred years there is a seismic shift in technical advancement that brings swift changes to society. During the past 400 years, we have experienced five technical revolutions.  Here is a summary of each of the revolutions that brought about changes in manufacturing and technology:

  1. (1600–1740) Financial-agricultural revolution

    • New methods of crop rotation such as the Norfolk four-course rotation were developed.  Farmers found that growing different types crops each year created more fertile soils, which increased crop yields. With the increase in food supply, rapid growth in human population also occurred. Today, farmers still use these techniques to support the worlds surging population.

  2. (1780–1840) Industrial revolution

    • Before the industrial revolution, most manufacturing was often done in people’s homes or farms and was very labor intensive.  The industrial revolution changed that. With the introduction of the steam engine, specialized tools factories were built to mass produce textiles (e.g. cloth for cloths) and products.  It was during the industrial revolution that the concept of “replaceable parts” for machinery (such as a nut, bolt or part) began.  Previously, a blacksmith would need to create these items on a per use basis, however, engineered machines required replaceable components to simplify the repair process.

  3. (1870–1920) Technical revolution

    • Also known as the Second Industrial Revolution, this was a time of rapid growth for industrialization.  During this time, there were many advancements in manufacturing and production technology. For example, broad adoption of already existing technology such as telegraph, railroad, gas, water and sewage systems are evolving at a rapid pace.

  4. (1940–1970) Scientific-technical revolution

    • A period when many advances were made based on science and technology.  Inventions such as kitty litter, duct tape, electronic devices, microwave ovens and color tv were available to the public for the first time. Let’s not forget the invention of the transistor – this is the foundation of every modern-day computer and widget.

  5. (1985–present) Information and telecommunications revolution

    • This is the current time-period that we are in today.  The personal computer was introduced and widely adopted in the 1980s. By the mid-1990’s many Americans were beginning to access the internet is some form or another via their personal computers. Today the internet has changed the world so much; it handles communications ranging from financial institutions to online social experiences.  Custom software has changed the way that people and business operate. 

Now that we are all caught up on 400-years of innovation, let’s get back to the subject at hand ‘are we entering the next revolution?’.

“I believe that we are entering into a Second Information and Telecommunications Revolution”

Is Elan Musk starting a revolution?

As I stated at the beginning of this article, history shows us that there are pivotal moments in time when great things occur and how big changes follow it.  Currently, some very cool things are beginning to happen:

  • According to a recent NPR podcast called are we facing gridlock it states that for the first time solar and wind energy is cheaper per megawatt than the coal or natural gas power. 

  • Telsa Motors founded in 2003 has revolutionized the automobile industry.  Within just a few years, Tesla has designed some of the most technical, elegant, yet efficient electric automobiles on the market today.  Some of these cars are autonomous, meaning they drive themselves, requiring no input from passenger other than the destination. Tesla cars have software that is automatically updated, much like your home computer or smartphone.  The Tesla Roadster can beat a Ferrari and also travel 400 miles on a single charge.

  • Telsa is also focusing on solar energy and storage for both commercial and residential use.

  • Tesla recently constructed state of the art Gigafactory located in Nevada and will be in full production in 2018.  Here it will manufacture high-quality lithium-ion batteries for its automobiles and solar energy storage. These cells Telsa produces will cost 30 percent less to build due to production scalability.

  • Telsa is the first “ever” to design, deploy and return to earth a reusable space rocket.  Their Falcon 9 rocket was designed to be used to deliver satellites and the Dragon Spacecraft and people to orbiting destinations.  The Falcon 9 rocket can even land itself back on earth in the same direction that it was during takeoff - facing up!

You may have noticed something in common with each of the bullet points above.  They all have to do with Telsa (a.k.a Elan Musk).  You see Elan is a visionary; this one man is bringing about more change in a short period than our automotive, NASA or energy companies have accomplished in decades.  And he is doing it at a fraction of the cost.  

Is localize DC Power the future of Electricity?

In my opinion, the Gigafactory is the critical component for everything else that Elan Musk is trying to accomplish.  For example, lithium-ion batteries are required to power the Telsa cars, perform storage of electricity for solar power and wind turbines and spacecraft systems.  It is fascinating to think that 100 years ago Thomas Edison and Westinghouse had a war on currents between direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). It was 100 years ago that AC current won the battle because it could be stepped up to much higher voltage and transferred over long distances with minimal loss.  

Today, however, because computer and electronics devices all use DC current, we are at the pivotal point where it makes sense to consider direct current for "local transmission" of renewable power.

“In my opinion, the Tesla Gigafactory is the key component to

everything else that he has planned.”

Home – Energy

Solar or wind power for homes is practical so long as it is economical for the consumer. With many of the efficiencies of led lighting and more efficient home devices, it is reasonable to say that our homes could be powered by solar energy if the energy can be captured and stored in batteries. Currently, household appliance operates on AC current, and perhaps this will change at some point allowing a DC power source to be used instead. Until then a power inverter would be required; one that converts from AC to DC power. When any conversion occurs, some power is lost.

Data Center - Computing

Many of our computer hardware and internet appliances (e.g. internet modems, routers, switches) all run internally on Direct Current (DC) Voltage, not Alternating Current (AC) Voltage. Wind turbines and solar power cells all provide DC current which can be stored in batteries and used as needed. Today’s data centers need energy and lots of it! Using Tesla’s Commercial Solar, Wind and energy storage capabilities, data centers such as Google, Amazon and eBay could have their own local power plants to generate the needed electricity. This could be accomplished with a very small carbon footprint.

Transportation - Automobile

Telsa automobiles require electricity to operate and are much more environmentally friendly than gasoline or diesel. If the solar and wind movement continues and we have local DC power distribution to recharge batteries, these cars will virtually have a zero-carbon output.

Transportation – Aviation

General aviation also seems to be adopting electric power propulsion in small aircraft.  The adoption here is slow, but the marketplace is paying attention.

Transportation – Space

SpaceX clearly has some interesting ambitions. Last, I heard, NASA contracted SpaceX to be their carrier of choice to and from the space station. I would have to believe that dependable power is a very important factor on space missions. This puts Tesla in a very interesting vantage point, they provide the whole package, the rocket, the batteries and the delivery service.  It is also my understanding that Elan Musk's dream is to inhabit Mars and that is his ultimate goal.

OnTheClock – Time Sheet Software

I believe that someday OnTheClock will exist in an eco-friendly data center, powered by the wind or sun, sipping its juice from a battery Tesla storage cell. We are constantly reviewing options and keeping our eyes on technology. We strive to be an environmentally conscious by reducing and/or eliminating paper usage. It is our hope that someday all computers and data centers will have a zero carbon footprint. Until that day, we will continue developing our revolutionary product that simplifies tracking of employee hours, and save employers time and energy.

 

I hope you enjoyed this article,

Mark Mathews

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_revolution
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_Currents
https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/are-we-facing-electrical-gridlock/
https://www.tesla.com/models
https://www.tesla.com/energy
https://www.tesla.com/gigafactory
https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/news-by-topic/power-and-fuel/electric

 

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