SU – aka Sleepless University

Monday 21 July 2014

Remember the following Star Wars scene: Luke showing Obi Wan Kenobi, a hologram of Princess Leia asking for help? This afternoon I had a true glimpse into the future and the hologram became. Together with a several fellow students I made my way into the hills of the SF bay to visit META (– a startup that focuses on AR – Augmented Reality. In difference to Virtual Reality (devices like Oculus Rift goggles), where the viewer immerses into a total new universe, augmented reality focuses on enhancing our current field of vision: show information, visualization and effects in addition to our true surroundings – the potential applications are mind-boggling. Just think about taking your office, all your files to any place, everywhere – whether you work on your desk in an office or in an airplane. You can access all your files in the virtual drawers, you access your computer using a virtual keyboard and you can watch your content on one holographic displays etc. I was actually able to use Meta’s v1 goggle developer kit – an amazing experience when you suddenly see a virtual keyboard in front of you that you can just use by pointing with your finger- Science Fiction come real! But AR is not the only field that currently tests my intellectual as well as physical limits. Whether its discussions on bioengineering, quantum computing or the opportunities of stem cells. Let me just highlight two topics:

  • Energy Storage: As we increase the production of renewable energy in particular wind and solar storage of electricity is becoming a hot topic due to the timing mismatch of production and demand. Currently energy is stored by pumping water into higher level depots which are released on demand. But that’s not always possible – which prompted the development of a lot of new methods. I had the fortune to visit two cutting edge companies that work on storing energy in salts and through steam pressure…. still early stage but very promising developments.
  • Self-Driving Cars: Drive along Highway 101 and you are quite likely to meet one of Google’s Self Driving Cars – using artificial intelligence and highly sophisticated sensors these vehicles are already active in several US states, with astonishing success. As more than 90% of all traffic accidents are caused through human error, the potential is enormous – just think of the hours one can spend productively working or sleeping in the car rather than being behind the wheel!

Ethics and the potential downsides of exponential technological trends were the main discussions of last week: Is it ethical to engineer babies with certain features? Who has ultimately responsibility if an artificial intelligence goes rogue? How do we protect ourselves from criminals using the internet to their favor (and who reads all the Terms & Conditions we sign every day)? All of these are crucial questions to ask going forward and not always easy to answer. An abundance of information combined with endless brainstorming and team ideas are dragging every night into the early hours… last night we brainstormed on how to build satellites on the moon to shoot them into the earths atmosphere, on the use of cancer as an electricity generator and finally ended up with the idea of using AR goggles to be able to play Super Mario (remember the game?) while jogging…. fascinating 🙂 A lot of mind blowing thoughts going around – mainly at the cost of sleep, which has led us to rebranding SU into Sleepless University – there is even a chatroom with the best “sleep” pictures of participants passing out during the day 🙂 So what about the fun part? Our group are surprisingly good good self organizers, so we managed to go for a weekend to Yosemite (where I climbed the legendary Half Dome) and also to beautiful pristine Lake Tahoe…back at SU there was fun with building robots, drones and yes flying a 747! With a bit of luck I qualified for a flight in NASA’s hydraulic simulator. Last Wednesday was the big day – my co-pilot was Dan, a Space Shuttle pilot and previously chief pilot at United airlines – with very calm motions he guided me through take off and landing (see video here:…..and miraculously almost all went well (ignoring the fact that I ripped the planes tail by taking off at a way too aggressive angle – thank god I was on the simulator after all!) Now its time for team projects – more about the thrilling team formation process, Argentinean Asides and secret NASA prisons soon….

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