Start-ups and Accessibility to Space at the World AI Summit

I was invited by Spacefluencers to join them in a round table at the World AI Summit Amsterdam 2021 to talk about my experience in getting a start-up off the ground and achieving results with minimal infrastructure. I spoke about rapid prototyping, agile and lean approach, and DIY microsatellite design, to inspire young entrepeneurs and engineers to follow their dreams.

The session was recorded and made available as a podcast episode, sharing the conversation wtih Maaike Smelter from Space Campus NL. Together we explored the challenges and opportunities facing individuals and groups when trying to enter the space sector and we shared some of their experiences and best practices. 

You can listen to the podcast here.

Design Thinking and Smallsat constellation business opportunities

“What is a Smallsat constellation, and what can we do with it?”

Combining my love for Space and my expertise in business transformation was an opportunity I could not pass, so when Spaceway approached me to answer this question for an audience of engineersresearchers and those working in the advanced technology industries in a webinar/workshop format, how could I refuse?

As part of a webinar series by Instituto Pedro Nunes (innovation and technology transfer) and INFANTE (the first Portuguese satellite of the Portuguese industry), the first webinar was given by Spaceway and covered Space Mission Fundamentals and what a Smallsat Constellation is (and what we can do with it).

My (follow-up) webinar was focused on “How Design Thinking and Lean methodologies can help identify business opportunities leveraging smallsat constellations”, where I covered the basic Design Thinking framework and how to combine with Lean Business methodologies to leverage technology and identify the ideal customer and Business value to deliver a portfolio of use cases that can then be tested and business cases built around them.

Rather than a lecture, I run the webinar the way I facilitate workshops: using virtual whiteboards, engaging with the domain experts and participants, and demonstrating what a workshop dynamic where collaboration, rapid decision-making, and time-boxing are applied.

The greatest feedback I received was how some participants really understood what it meant to shift their thinking from technology-driven to business-driven, getting very concrete very quickly. To shift an engineering mindset from solution-thinking to one of customer-centric took some guided effort, but was totally worth it.

These principles apply to start-up companies, are useful in hackathons to identify use cases with lightning speed, but are also applied in some of the largest organisations in the world who embark on a tech-leveraged innovation and transformation journey. It’s what I do daily – and it is exciting to help the Space industry getting on board.

If you face similar challenges, or are interested in Business Transformation in the Space Industry, please get in touch – I’m always happy to discuss!

The world is my oyster

I got a DNA test done just for kicks, and I got results back! Not totally surprising, once I got through them… but fascinating nonetheless. To make some sense of it, I made up a little story as to how I came about… (quite a romanticised story, no real historic accuracy here) – so here it goes:

“Our story starts with Amadou, a young man born in the Mali Empire, a region known for being the center of wealth and knowledge of West Africa… who had an itch to travel. One day he made the journey through that other rich hub of Africa at the time, Chad (land of wealth, lakes, vegeation and wildlife) towards Egypt, following treacherous lines of trade, bandits and kings.

Shortly after arriving in Egypt, he met Iskah, a young jewish girl from the jewish / hebrew tribes whose presence in Egypt dates from 1200 BCE as a federation of Habiru (Hebrew) tribes of the hill-country around the Jordan River. Egyptian sources describe the Habiru largely as bandits, mercenaries, and slaves, before they integrated into Egyptian society. In any case, Iskah and Amadou got on famously and their children lived in the Middle East all the way into 400 BCE, until the infamous ‘Alexandria expulsion’ around 414AD by the Christians, who persecuted and killed all hebrews / jews they could find.

The descendants of our Amadou and Iskah crossed the Middle East escaping the persecution and set their way to Europe, eventually settling down in Germanic Europe (Poland / German) region, where they settled as part of the European Jewish community – and where their daughter Kaja would grow up.

At this point, let’s move our eyes towards the North, towards Greenland and Norway…

Kåre the Viking had found nothing keeping him in the cold emptiness of Greenland, and so moved to Norway first, where he made a name for himself during dangerous raids of the coast of the British Isles. This life suited him – for a while, until he landed his eyes upon a Celtic beauty he saw on the coasts of Scotland. Earie, a lovely Celt daughter of clans descendant from Irish and Welsh ancestors, was a worthy reason for Kåre to trade the seas for the green lands of Ireland.

Kåre and Earie would have a large family in the British Isles, their surnames slowly morphing from Viking and Celt surnames to English surnames such as Pickering and Thompson. Perhaps the viking’s thirst for travel never died, and resurfaced generations later, pushing their descendants to eventually cross the English Channel to mainland Europe. One plucky descendant of the once-celtic vikings crossed Europe towards Poland, where he joined the Jewish-European community.

Eventually, Hitler’s WWII broke out and the descendants of Amadou and Iska from Africa and the Middle East on one side, and of Kåre and Earie from the British Isles, Norway and Greenland on the other, would take to the seas once again in search of better lands, to the confines of the known world, taking refuge in Chile where he would marry a French mademosielle living in Chile, and eventually give birth to my mother.

On the Southamerican side, we have a similar story to begin with; we could follow Camaxtli, an ambitious Aztec eager to see the world on his travel from ancient Mexico down to Peru where the Incas where he would have progeny, eventually making it as far down as Chile, settling down with the Mapuche in Patagonia.

Maybe there, during the wars with the Spanish and Portuguese who came to conquer the Mapuche – and failed, a young mapuche woman, Kuyen, would likely be taken prisoner to the mountains and settled with the Spanish near Valdivia, in the region of the Lakes.

Finally the indigenous lineage met with the descendants of the Hebrew diaspora and the Viking/Celtic lineage, and on a 20th of April in 1974, I was born.”

Is it any surprise then, that the blood cursing through my veins still carries me across the world?

Henk and the COVID Vaccine Tattoo Band-aids

I met Dutch tattoo artist celebrity Hank Schiffmacher (aka Hanky Panky) in 2012, when Joost van Praag Sigaar and I were freelancing as advertising creatives, and pitched him a few creative campaign ideas for the Tattoo Museum.

It was an exciting opportunity. Hank is considered an expert within the field of body decoration, having curated exhibitions, written books, and presented television shows on the subject. He has tattooed members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, as well as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Motörhead’s Lemmy. So when we had the opportunity to develop some concepts for a summer campaign for the Amsterdam Tattoo Museum, we went all out.

It’s been nearly ten years since that meeting, and it’s awesome to see he’s still doing great work, and being as relevant as ever, this time as designer of the coolest band-aid for those who got their Pfizer vaccine in Amsterdam! Funny how things from the past pop-up where you least expect them.

The pitch, down memory lane, here. Now I have four band-aids designed by the King of Tattoo!

Arduino: Processing, et tu?

I remember tinkering with Processing when it came out; and sometime around 2002-2007 I joined a workshop with world-renown Tomato Design Collective to create ‘reality scanners’, in which we turned webcams into ‘life scanners’, and eventually held an exhibition about it. (it was a while back, I can’t find pictures of it!)

Anyways, turns out Arduino uses Processing as its language, and it’s the language in which the electronics of the Cubesat is being programmed by team-mate Mikelis Putnieks. So perhaps, it’s the right time to pick it up again.

Arduino / Processing

3D Cubesat Structure designs

I have no patience, so when it was time to get my 2D designs into 3D, I was looking for something fast.

Many years ago I knew how to use Maya, and I had started learning Blender, Solidworks, CATIA and Fusion360… but today I just didn’t have the patience to start the learning curve for a fully-flung 3D software.

For now, TinkerCAD seemed the fastest way to upload my 2D SVG’s to create an approximate visual of the two structure designs I’m working on.

Check them out!

HAB Model (Plywood, stratospheric). On the right, with PCB and batteries.
ED Model (aluminium, space-grade). Shown with four rods and spacers.

Cosmos – Possible Worlds

I just watched the first two episodes of Cosmos season 2 (or 3, if you count the original Carl Sagan series). Here’s some of the questions it triggered:

  1. Do animals “art”?
    I’m looking for instances where ‘art’ exists for its own sake rather than for the sake of attracting a mate. 🙂 Humans can play music, draw or paint, use poetry or create sculpture for no other reason than aesthetic pleasure, or mindlessness, or idle pastime rather than necessity. Also, I”m not judging ‘art’ by human standards, but the equivalent by animal standards. It turns out animals *can* play and have fun (for reasons not directly attached to ‘learning to fight’ etc). So why can’t they exercise their artistic sensibilities?
    A first search turned this up: Animals and Art.
  2. Are we (still) a nomadic species?
    Or perhaps it’s the wrong question, and it’s less about being nomadic and more about being adaptable and expansive when needed.
  3. What if life is a spectrum rather than binary?
    By this, I meant that what if life is not a binary state (alive – not alive) but rather a whole spectrum in between. What if our definition of what qualifies as ‘alive’ needs revising, the more we learn about the world around us. “It must have a heart”. Do jellyfish have hearts? “It must have a brain” – but does the ‘blob’ have a brain? “It must reproduce” – but what about that ‘immortal’ jellyfish, that instead of reproducing it regenerates constantly? So I got curious to look up what the changing definition of ‘alive’ has been through the ages, where it’s at right now, and how it could change in the future. It’s also partly because I wonder – if there is other life in the universe… will we recognise it, if we’re only looking for carbon-based lifeforms? What if the combination of chemicals that sprouts ‘life’ in other planets is different to ours, so we don’t see it? Would we come across electric bacteria and not realize there’s life in them?

    Let’s consider viruses:
    “Viruses are not living things. Viruses are complicated assemblies of molecules, including proteins, nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates, but on their own they can do nothing until they enter a living cell. Without cells, viruses would not be able to multiply. Therefore, viruses are not living things.”

    Besides, our view of ‘life’ is quite carbon-centric. What does an ammonnia-based lifeform look like? Would we recognise ‘life’ if it came in a format as alien to us as vision or sound might be to a single cell organism?

    Here’s an interesting read.
  4. What are the consequences if conscience is a byproduct of electromagnetic activity? This leads to the question of ‘if conscience is a byproduct, then what other types of conscience exist, as byproduct of other processes’?
  5. What are examples (in the wild) of emotional attachment between different animal species? There is a great video of a coyote and a badger going to hunt together, it’s quite sweet.
  6. We humans are basically fish out of water. How far will we stray from it? How much will we evolve in our interplanetary quest? Can we even imagine, just like amoebas could never imagine it would become a human?
  7. What if we’re just like ants, with our expanding ant hills and complex societies? What if we’re like an invasive type of Fire ants or Alleghany Mound Ants, destined to aggressively expand and consume?

Happy to hear your thoughts on any of the above 🙂

Space Mining The High Frontier

Event by SpaceTech Analytics

Today I attended an event on Space Mining.

“Space Mining The High Frontier” is an upcoming conference taking place on July 28, 2021 (5 pm – 8:30 pm, BST) in which SpaceTech Analytics business development consultant Rand Simberg and speakers from the space-mining industry will discuss the opportunities presented by the rapidly emerging interest in in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) – as a key part of expanding human presence in space and in generating economic benefit both off planet and terrestrial, from space activities. Speakers will also address the need to conduct space-resource utilization in a sustainable manner to allow healthy growth of the off-world economy.

Most interesting? In-Space metal processing and debris recycling.