NASA: The Beating Heart of America's Innovation Industry

As its CEO, Bill Nye lays out the missions The Planetary Society would like to see NASA focus on over the next 20 years. NASA by nature goes where the future is, and Nye can't help but think of another industry that should follow suit.

Bill Nye: Well, talking some more about me, I'm the CEO of The Planetary Society so what I have encouraged the staff to do is focus on our mission. Our mission is exploring the planets, to know the cosmos and our place within it, empowering citizens of the world to be space explorers. So by focusing on your core mission I think it will enable us to work together to make the world better. Now when it comes to NASA, we are very hopeful is that we will acknowledge that NASA is a fantastic envoy— or it's a fantastic brand for the United States. People everywhere no matter how they feel about the United States respect what NASA is able to accomplish. First of all when it comes to exploring Mars, which is what we all want to do everybody talks about all the time, let's not have a reset, let's not cancel existing programs for the sake of some imagined or proposed new program, let's finish the Space Launch System, let's finish Orion, let's enable the Falcon heavy to be built and fly this rocket from SpaceX. If United Launch Alliance wants to build the Vulcan let's enable that. Let's do everything all at once in the human spaceflight and stay focused on getting to Mars by setting a date.

One of my favorite blues songs is “Set A Date,” and he's talking about I believe getting married, but if we set a date for when we would be on Mars we would be much more likely to achieve it than to continually suggest decades from now. And as you may know the Planetary Society did an analysis that shows we could be in orbit around Mars, which would be analogous to the Apollo 8 orbit of the moon in 2033 without changing anything about the NASA budget just adjusting it for inflation. But if people got excited and wanted to go a couple orbits early in 2028 that would be fantastic. That's for one thing. The other thing that we at the Planetary Society very much want NASA to stay focused on are these extraordinary planetary missions. We have Juno in orbit around Jupiter, we have Curiosity and Opportunity still roving on Mars. We have many spacecraft in orbit around Mars. We have New Horizons data is still coming back from I guess it just finished bringing data back from Pluto and now it's onto the next destination in deep the space in 2019.

Keep those missions going because that's where new things happen, where these innovations happen in technology. A very strong argument can be made that we would not have this conversation electronically on the Internet without the U.S. space program, which led to the development of the Internet and so on. So acknowledge that NASA is a great international brand as well as a source of national pride and technological achievement.
And I will say to the fossil fuel industries if you're out there, think about making your mission energy production rather than fossil fuel extraction and burning. I mentioned this to executives at Exxon before it was Exxon Mobile many times back in the 1990s when I was working with you all that if you were an energy company rather than a fossil fuel extraction company you could be part of the future instead of part of the past.

Everybody understand no matter what you may think about the energy needs of the United States right now, the future is not going to be coal and oil, it's just is not going to be. Look at it this way, other countries are not going to buy products made with fossil fuels in the future, they're going to put essentially a tax on it, a tariff and the longer we stay the fossil fuel course the more likely we are to run aground. There's a little nautical metaphor for you. But there's just no future in it. I love you all but there's no future in it.

So appreciate the space program's place in the world, both for technological achievement and for statesmanship. And working together we can provide renewable clean electricity for everyone on earth if we just get to work. Let's go.

Why is NASA so important? Let us count the ways – for its intellectual and physical daring, its spinoff technology that has advanced civilization generally (we wouldn’t have the internet without NASA) – but perhaps chief among them is that no matter who you are in the world or how you feel about the United States, NASA earns global respect for its technological achievement and drive towards progress and efficiency. An industry that could learn from that ethos, rather than digging its heels in to delay the future, is fossil fuels. If everyone pulled together in the same direction, it would mean clean, renewable energy for everyone on Earth, much sooner. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

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Robot pizza delivery coming later this year from Domino's

The pizza giant Domino's partners with a Silicon Valley startup to start delivering pizza by robots.

Technology & Innovation
  • Domino's partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Nuro to have robot cars deliver pizza.
  • The trial run will begin in Houston later this year.
  • The robots will be half a regular car and will need to be unlocked by a PIN code.

Would you have to tip robots? You might be answering that question sooner than you think as Domino's is about to start using robots for delivering pizza. Later this year a fleet of self-driving robotic vehicles will be spreading the joy of pizza throughout the Houston area for the famous pizza manufacturer, using delivery cars made by the Silicon Valley startup Nuro.

The startup, founded by Google veterans, raised $940 million in February and has already been delivering groceries for Kroger around Houston. Partnering with the pizza juggernaut Domino's, which delivers close to 3 million pizzas a day, is another logical step for the expanding drone car business.

Kevin Vasconi of Domino's explained in a press release that they see these specially-designed robots as "a valuable partner in our autonomous vehicle journey," adding "The opportunity to bring our customers the choice of an unmanned delivery experience, and our operators an additional delivery solution during a busy store rush, is an important part of our autonomous vehicle testing."

How will they work exactly? Nuro explained in its own press release that this "opportunity to use Nuro's autonomous delivery" will be available for some of the customers who order online. Once they opt in, they'll be able to track the car via an app. When the vehicle gets to them, the customers will use a special PIN code to unlock the pizza compartment.

Nuro and its competitors Udelv and Robomart have been focusing specifically on developing such "last-mile product delivery" machines, reports Arstechnica. Their specially-made R1 vehicle is about half the size of a regular passenger car and doesn't offer any room for a driver. This makes it safer and lighter too, with less potential to cause harm in case of an accident. It also sticks to a fairly low speed of under 25 miles an hour and slams on the breaks at the first sign of trouble.

What also helps such robot cars is "geofencing" technology which confines them to a limited area surrounding the store.

For now, the cars are still tracked around the neighborhoods by human-driven vehicles, with monitors to make sure nothing goes haywire. But these "chase cars" should be phased out eventually, an important milestone in the evolution of your robot pizza drivers.

Check out how Nuro's vehicles work: