Tag Archives: innovation

Hyperloop Alpha project concept

In 2012, Elon Musk and SpaceX published this project concept document for Hyperloop Alpha, a radical new method of intercity transportation.

The document is a 58-page proposed solution with rigorous calculations on all socio-techno-commercial aspects of the idea.

Hyperloop Alpha concept sketch (Source: original Hyperloop Alpha concept document)

How does it work?

Hyperloop Alpha is a public transport system that sends people in pods at high speeds through a tube kept at low pressure to reduce air resistance.

By using an electric fan at the front, you can mitigate the Kantrowitz Limit (think of the maximum speed limit of a liquid pushing through a tube such as a syringe). It also has the unique benefit of creating a low-pressure air cushion for the pod to ride on – known as an air bearing.

The design envisages using linear accelerators on the bottom of each pod to achieve a target speed of 760mph (1,2220 kph or Mach 0.99 at 20°C), albeit lower at points where there is a curve in the journey so that the g-forces experienced by passengers are lower.

On the topic of renewable energy, Elon mentions that the installation could be self-powered using solar panels installed on top of the tube. He also mentions that LightSail could provide energy storage, but this shows the age of the document as in late 2017 they all but went bankrupt. Perhaps Elon could consider Highview Power’s Liquid Air Energy Storage technology now!

Future of Hyperloop

SpaceX hosted a 1-mile long test track to help incubate Hyperloop technologies around the world. Now there are several organisations developing Hyperloop solutions, including Virgin’s Hyperloop One and a team from MIT.

Inspiration for me

The Hyperloop Alpha project concept was actually one of the main inspirations for me to create and write this blog, along with a previous thought of mine about Leonardo Da Vinci.

By publishing open source project concepts like this one, Elon found a neat solution to one thing that has always bothered me about Da Vinci’s notebooks.

The ever-creative Da Vinci noted down his abundance of ideas in personal sketchbooks that were way ahead of his time. However, as he didn’t always have the time or resources to follow them up and connect them with the right people that needed them, many of them represent lost opportunities for technology to advance.

Publishing an idea in an open source format, allowing access for others that are better placed to work on it, ensures that technology moves forward in a way that benefits humanity (even though the ideator as an individual may not benefit directly).

I am not assuming that anything I put on this modest site will be anywhere near the same league as those guys, but given that good ideas can come from anywhere it is a possibility that something I put up in my Ideas section may be useful to somebody, somewhere.

The Hyperloop Alpha concept document is more detailed than any of mine, but Elon Musk does have a big team of world-class engineers to draw from as needed!

The UK’s most important 21st century infrastructure project? Cybersecurity

I believe that the most important 21st century infrastructure project for the UK will be the development of world-class cyber-security.

So much of our national infrastructure is being digitalised that it is easy to lose track.

My sector, the energy industry, is in a massive state of change. The emerging “smart grid” scenario comprises connected renewable generation, storage, metering, and demand response. This deep level of decentralised control will yield enormous benefits for cost and sustainability. However, these will come at the price of potential vulnerability to cyber-criminals and attack from state/non-state actors. A hijack of our energy infrastructure would have catastrophic consequences for our economy, security, and general way of life.

This is not just a problem for the energy sector. Digitisation is sweeping through our industries at breakneck pace. The automation of vehicles, the proliferation of digitally connected appliances in the home and industry (the “Internet of Things”), digitisation of medical records, and even the cultivation of food in “vertical farms” means every aspect of life will be affected.

Improving the resilience of these assets must be of paramount importance. However, the rise of high-profile hacks of data and growing incidences of “ransomware” attacks show this is not translating into action.

Increasing cybersecurity literacy for all ages must be a priority for the government. Many people still use easily-hackable passwords and can be fooled by a simple phishing attack. Education must start at school and continue in the workplace, even at board level.

The 2017 ransomware attack on the NHS shows how crippling cybercrime can be for our institutions. The attack exploited a vulnerability which would not have been an issue if the IT infrastructure had been the latest available. Budget cuts at the NHS Trusts meant that they had de-prioritised IT upgrades and exposed themselves to cyber-risk.

The UK Government must make it clear to leadership at all critical organisations that IT security has to be priority #1 for all spending, with ring-fenced budgets. HM Government should set up a unit of “white hat” hackers that is responsible for penetration testing the Police, NHS, and other assets of national importance on a constant basis.

Our economic advantage as a nation arguably rests on our ability to innovate. Therefore it is also critical to help the private sector to protect itself against industrial espionage, which is often sponsored by nations with low respect for Intellectual Property rights.

The physical communications network underpinning the internet also needs to be protected. The vulnerability of our undersea cable connections to other countries to attack by hostile actors needs to be addressed, and the UK needs to have a strong presence in the Space sector to remain at the leading edge of innovations.

Developing the world’s best cybersecurity infrastructure will put the UK in pole position to capitalise on the opportunities of digitalisation while protecting itself against future threats. All other infrastructure will need to build on this platform, which is why I regard it as the most important.

Tom Hulme’s Business Model Canvas

I’ve stumbled upon an intriguing version of the Business Model Canvas, courtesy of Tom Hulme (link here).

Below is a 15-minute video as he explains it visually:

HackFwd: Visualize Your Business Model in 15 Minutes Flat from IDEO on Vimeo.

You can download a clean version here:

Tom Hulme’s Business Model Framework (clean)

Oh! I must be a #linkybrain

#Linkybrain #Linkybrains

#linkybrains — it all started with this post by Doug Scott, then this enlightening piece by Chris Tottman, and this by Alex Dunsdon.

The virality of this conversation across LinkedIn and Medium shows how deeply the concept has resonated with people.

And I can understand why.

Most of Chris Tottman’s points struck close to home for me.

I’ll briefly pull out a couple before hitting my own confession.

# 1. Extended or Semi-permanent Adolescence

My curiosity and dislike of the well-trodden path mean that I am averse to the idea of a job for life and all the trappings of it.

#3. High Creative Output

I am brimming with new ideas and always have some form of personal project on the go. However, I’ve got to get better at completing and monetising them!

#4. Own Boss

I have a deep-seated need for control of my work and life in general. Autonomy and freedom are key tenets of my life.

#7. Restless – prone to multiple careers, verticals and j curves

I am always looking at the next thing. Honing this instinct and forcing myself to finish tasks before the next one has been a key project of recent years.

#10. Outsider

Yes. My distrust of the herd mentality folly runs deep.

#15. Obsessive Nature

When I find a problem that captivates me. I can’t let it go. I’ve got solutions to problems that have been bubbling away on the stove for a decade.


So, it’s time for my very own #linkybrain confession:

  1. My curiosity is like a black hole, slowly pulling everything in the universe towards it.
  2. I AM ALWAYS DAYDREAMING.
  3. I see problems, and therefore opportunities, e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e.
  4. I am unsatisfied with my achievements to date, even though people advise me otherwise.
  5. A stable job doing the same thing for life is my own version of hell.
  6. If I am not working on something risky, new, and potentially world-changing, I lose interest almost immediately.
  7. I am a voracious reader.
  8. Many people have told me that I am the hardest person on myself that they have ever met.
  9. I cannot stop having new ideas. The flow is relentless.
  10. I work best in an empty room in silence. Libraries are my heaven.
  11. I am both an introvert and extrovert.
  12. My desire to empathise with other people means that I can see and hold multiple viewpoints at once. This can often make it confusing to choose a side of the argument or make a decision.
  13. Inefficiencies and illogical legacy issues enfuriate me.
  14. Deep down I feel I can do anything (except give birth, obvs).
  15. All conversations with me will drift towards the deep and meaningful if left unchecked.
  16. People who are not altruistic scare me.
  17. I will never understand how people cannot be curious.
  18. Historically I left many projects unfinished.
  19. I frequently wonder whether I’m working on the wrong project or if I will ever finish anything.
  20. I instinctively distrust something that is trending. (Yes, even this #linkybrains fiasco!).
  21. My mind is a battleground in the war against perfectionism.
  22. I believe there is no such thing as a bored person, only a boring one.

From time to time I publish new business and product ideas on my blog, davidjohnkaye.com. Here is a little list of the ones so far.

New business idea: SecondChance – reducing retailer waste

The inspiration: Dumpster diving

I recently read this excellent WIRED article on a professional “dumpster diver” in the US.

Matt Malone makes $65,000 dollars a year as a part-time scavenger from dumpsters behind retail stores in Austin, Texas.

Diving has yielded many interesting and lucrative finds for Morgan, such as printers, laptops, and gifts,  with office supplies being (somewhat counter-intuitively) one of the most profitable sources.

It’s a great way to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, but this is a niche hobby so the impact on landfill volumes will be minimal. This got me thinking.

What if there was a way to monetise this? Instead of having dumpster divers, could there not be a profitable business or social enterprise that would systematically give retailers the ability to reduce the amount of potentially-valuable waste from going to landfill?

Existing enterprise: FoodCloud

There is an existing version of this in the food retail industry: FoodCloud.

FoodCloud connects supermarkets and food retailers to local charities that can make good use of the food before it becomes unfit for human consumption.

This a win for the charity beneficiaries, environment and retailers alike.

If this could be done with other resource-intensive goods such as computers and printers, it would be like having an army of Matt Malone-style dumpster divers all over the country!

SecondChance: reducing retailer waste

The idea of SecondChance would be a for-profit version of FoodCloud for non-food products.

It would need better branding as that’s just a shorthand, but here’s how it could work:

  1. Retailers would upload any unsold goods that would otherwise be thrown away to the site.
  2. SecondChance would collect the goods for free and warehouse them.
  3. Local organisations or maybe even individuals could browse the site to look for bargains.
  4. They would buy them from SecondChance’s site.
  5. SecondChance would facilitate delivery to the end user after taking payment.

Risks and challenges

  1. It would probably be too tricky for individuals to be allowed to use the site, as it would be too expensive to have proper consumer rights for the goods sold.
  2. SecondChance would presumably have to have some smart buyers (or a very smart algorithm) to weed out the unprofitable goods as each collection would have a cost associated.
  3. The business model would be highly dependent on having no procurement costs at stage 1. As SecondChance takes off though, would the retailers want to charge for this?
  4. The business model is highly linked to the fees charged to retailers for discarding high-value items. If there are no fees or other penalties mandated by government in the area of the retailer, then the business case for participation in the SecondChance ecosystem would be diminished.

Potential entrants

1. Amazon

This is essentially a version of the Amazon business model but plugged into the back end of the retailer business process rather than manufacturers. Could it be something that Amazon would be interested in pursuing?

Without modeling the business directly, I suspect the margins would be too low to justify it for Amazon unless the cost of all goods were to remain at (or very near) to zero.

However, it is a good fit for their existing business model, with warehouses, delivery, and online retailing being the key infrastructure. It also marries well with their mission to bring goods to consumers as cheaply as possible.

2. eBay

Could an eBay business model work better? Would it make more sense to have the retailers simply auction all goods to consumers directly?

I personally think this would be too much of a challenge, as it would require a totally new shop area to handle the turnaround for the unwanted goods.

Arguably, why would the retailers even bother with listing the items online and then handling the traffic, when they could just resort to the low-cost alternative of having a very-steeply discounted bargain bin?

N.B. The name for this idea was changed from TrashNet to SecondChance on 11/02/2018 as I thought it better reflects the mission. Nobody wants to buy trash, so it shouldn’t be reflected in the company name!

Tackling Homelessness with Social Impact Bonds

One of the methodologies to achieve positive social change that really interests me is the concept of Outcome-Based Payments.

I recently saw a great example launched by The Big Issue, one of my favourite charitable organisations.

Homelessness in the UK: the challenge

Shelter estimates that there are about 300,000 people classified as homeless in the UK, with the National Audit Office estimating that there are about 4,450 people sleeping rough on any given night.

These are shamefully high numbers in such a rich and developed society as the UK.

How do Outcome-Based Payments and Social Impact Bonds work?

Social enterprises and charitable organisations target the social improvements that they want to achieve.

They find the relevant local authorities that would benefit from having these challenges dealt with and then enter into contracts with them. These contracts guarantee that the organisation will receive a certain payment once a measurable improvement has been made, known as an “Outcome-Based Payment“.

The organisation then provides the service in question and measures progress via the agreed methodology. Once this agreed target has been met, the local authority releases the agreed payment.

Of course, there is a delay between the provision of the service and the payment, meaning there is a need for startup capital. This capital can be issued in the form of a bond that is linked to the future income stream of the Outcome-Based Payments. Therefore, these bonds are often referred to as “Social Impact Bonds“.

Why are Outcome-Based Payments important?

This is a great model for local authorities because it means that the payments are made only after successful outcomes are achieved.

This means less taxpayer money is wasted on schemes that don’t work and it also means that funds can be diverted to the most effective strategies, obtaining maximum impact for the local authorities.

Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue Group, launched the £10m Outcomes Investment Fund to target just these sorts of opportunties.

How could this work for homelessness?

Big Issue Investm via its Outcomes Investment Fund, has backed Changing Lives in its target to get 150 rough sleepers in Newcastle and Gateshead into long-term accommodation.

Source: The Big Issue, November 20-26 2017

I think this is a fantastic model that has potential to stimulate improvements for many other social challenges, such as mental illness.

What other organisations invest in Social Impact Bonds?

A non-exhaustive list of organisations that would make these sorts of investments are listed here.

Farewill: a great business idea!

I recently came across this amazing idea for a business: Farewill.

What is Farewill?

Farewill is an online service that helps you to make a last will and testament for £50.

Farewill claims that the wills are legally binding, takes 15 minutes, and will be reviewed by experts. For an additional £10 a year, you can also get coverage for updates to the law and unlimited revisions.

This is a really important idea as dying without a will (“intestate”) can cause major problems for your family and can cause major confusion over who inherits your estate. I know this from first-hand experience, as my father passed away suddenly without a will when I was 16.

Why write a will?

Leaving your loved ones with the burden of complicated legal procedures at a time when they are least able to carry them out causes a lot of anguish. Anything that gets more people to write a will gets my approval.

Providing this service makes fantastic business sense for Farewill, as around 60% of British adults do not have a will written up. That is an extremely attractive market size.

WillAid – cheap wills from a solicitor

Previously I had referred people to WillAid, a partnership between the legal profession and 9 UK charities. The participating solicitors draft your will for free in exchange for a donation to the targetted charities. £95 is the suggested donation but it is voluntary. It’s a great way to get a will at a cheaper rate than normal from a solicitor (usually around £200) and it runs every November.

However, this Farewill service has got my attention.

It’s one of those rare occasions where I see a new business and I am genuinely annoyed I didn’t think of it!

Elon Musk: Making Life Multiplanetary 2017

Below is the keynote speech at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) from none other than Elon Musk of SpaceX.

Elon outlines his plan to build the “BFR” rocket which can be used to launch over 150 tonnes of payload into orbit at the lowest marginal cost per launch of any rocket in history. Key to that is the vertical propulsive landing approach, which is becoming so precise that the future versions of their rockets won’t even have legs to stabilise the landing. It is a beast of a rocket at 160m tall and 9m in diameter.

The BFR project has already commenced, with the tooling ordered and construction of the facilities underway.

Elon’s targets are:

  • Landing so precise that risk tends to zero and compares to commercial airlines
  • Establishing a Moon base (no propellant plant needed as they can be refuelled in upper Earth orbit and have enough to launch and land on Earth)
  • BFR able to dock with the International Space Station (ISS)
  • BFR able to refuel in space by docking with another BFR upper module and “sloshing” the fuel over using control thrusters to apply milli-g acceleration
  • 2022 for the first cargo mission to Mars (to scout for resources like H²0)
  • 2024 for the first cargo and crew mission to Mars (to build the propellant plant among other things)
  • BFR upper module able to fly from surface of Mars back to Earth as Martian gravity is weak enough to allow for a booster-free launch
  • Use of BFR between cities on Planet Earth could massively reduce journey times (e.g. 25 mins from LA to NYC)

Oh and here is my favourite little nugget of wisdom from Elon’s talk:

“On Mars, sunrise and sunset are blue and the day is red. It’s the opposite of Earth.”

My ICS Project with Raleigh International in Nicaragua: Coffee

5 years ago, I led a team of international volunteers on a climate change project in Nicaragua.

It was run by the British NGO, Raleigh International, under the UK government’s International Citizen Service (ICS) program.

Our project focused on improving the relationship between the communities of El Pajarito and El Tular (near Achuapa) and their environment.

Here is a short 5 minute video of me description our team’s project along with my host family!

Nesta Inventor Prize

Nesta, a UK-based innovation foundation, has just launched the Inventor Prize.

It’s a new challenge prize aiming to support and inspire inventors to come up with physical and digital solutions to 4 major challenges in UK society:

  1. Financial Inclusion
  2. Mental Health
  3. Ageing
  4. Air Quality

The finalists get a £5,000 grant and mentoring support to help develop and test their invention. At the end of the competition, the top prize is £50,000.

The inventor must have a working model of their idea and it must have a clear market to improve lives in the UK. The final version will be developed through the prize with extensive user testing.

The deadline for submission of ideas is 11 pm on 22nd October 2017.

If their previous Dynamic Demand Challenge is anything to go by, this new Inventor’s Prize will be a great little initiative to support upcoming inventors.