Imagining five retro technologies as startup pitches

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Imagining five retro technologies as startup pitches

Silicon Valley is a bubble. Go into any SoMa coffee shop and you’ll hear founders and investors alike singing the praises of Hyperloop and flying cars — sci-fi tropes reincarnated by billionaires with a god complex. This isn’t to say these technologies shouldn’t be pursued, but sometimes it’s healthy to remember that we are effectively pulling a Facebook Stories on H. G. Wells and Jules Verne.

We here at TechCrunch are no strangers to big ideas that are inspiring on paper but don’t quite work in the real world. Take Google Glass — the headline “Project Glass Is The Future Of Google” once graced our home page. It happened then and it will happen again because moonshots are way more fun than subscription box and infrastructure monitoring startups — they also make it easy to claim superiority in a world that gives bonus points to the person willing to address the biggest problem.

Points in the game of moonshots shouldn’t go to the one with the idea. Rather, they should go to the one who can work out the details. Where do autonomous delivery drones land? How do you build underground tunnels without disrupting existing infrastructure? Or if you’re a 1930s VC penning a thought piece for TechCrunch about how Zeppelins are the future of travel — addressing safety and practicality.

But gosh is it fun to suspend disbelief. Billionaires shouldn’t be the only ones with that right. Here’s five satirical examples of retro technologies reimagined as moonshot startup pitches and the stories of how some people are still trying to make them work today.

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Zeppelins — Zuber

Who doesn’t hate traffic. Americans cumulatively spent eight billion hours stuck in traffic last year. Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft have made commuting more cost effective than ever before, but riders still suffer from the growing volume of traffic on the roads of our cities. Enter Zuber. Zuber is a zeppelin sharing service that takes the pain out of your commute.

We created a fixed route optimization solution for our zeppelin fleets. Hovering 1,500 feet off the ground, Zuber leverages advanced computer vision technology to study traffic patterns to generate hourly optimized routes for Zuber Pilots. We market directly to municipalities and corporations, letting each pitch in to buy “required stops,” that become mandatory stops for all riders. Our technical team of former Hyperloop One engineers has developed a proprietary last-mile pod solution for getting riders in and out of crafts.

Some of our competitors are exploring tunnels as a solution to long commutes, but we believe our approach is less capital intensive and can hit scale more rapidly. We already have a number of committed investors in our seed round and are looking to close by the end of the month to begin production on our first MVP Zuber Zeppelin. If you want to move faster, come find me at the Zuber booth.

But actually: 

Google’s Sergey Brin is said to be working on a zeppelin-like airship.

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Pneumatic Tubes — Pneumerous

Though we wouldn’t admit it, deep down we all have a little Veruca Salt in us. When we want things, we want them now, and that’s perfectly ok. This is why the same-day delivery market is expected to grow to an astonishing $1 billion by 2019. But the problem with same day delivery is that it’s prohibitively expensive. Today, we make products come to people. But what if we made people go to products? This is the question that we’re answering with Pneumerous.

Pneumerious is a restaurant concept that puts the diner in the driver’s seat. Customers can order anything — yes, anything — and have it delivered via pneumatic tube to their table. Co-location with Amazon fulfillment centers allows for instant delivery directly to the dinner table at lower cost than traditional logistics providers.

The great thing about Pneumerous is that eating is already a part of our regular daily routine. We’re just capitalizing on something you already enjoy doing and making it even better. Your wants are Pneumerous – do something about it.

But actually:

Let’s face it, this is basically Hyperloop.

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Long-Range Wireless Energy Transfer — Niko

Power is the single biggest limitation of today’s technology. Electric cars, mobile devices, laptops –- they’ve all become more capable in recent years and yet none of them can make it through even a week of use without being tethered to a power outlet. Imagine a world where batteries could be kept charged in real-time. Our cars could drive further, our mobile devices and laptops could be made to do more things for longer. Niko is that future.

Today’s wireless charging solutions are nothing more than modified cables that require contact to charge. Instead, our team is using highly directional Wi-Fi to wirelessly charge batteries over long distances. Right now we are limited to a few feet, but we believe this is something we will ultimately be able to make ubiquitous.

Our initial go to market is a special-purpose router that will be able to charge all of your devices in a single room. Eventually, we hope to move beyond consumer use and begin selling industrial strength versions to serve as commercial infrastructure. Let’s cut the cables, drop me an email if you’d like to learn more about our work.

But actually:

Some researchers put out a paper back in 2015 explaining that Wi-Fi actually can be used for wireless charging, it’s just not very efficient.

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DC Current — Dirrect.io

In the 1890s we collectively decided to make Alternating Current our electric power transmission system of choice. Since then, both the way we produce and consume power has changed dramatically. Yet we continue to use a 130 year old technology to drive our 21st century economy. Take data centers for example that require huge amounts of DC power — does it make sense to waste millions of dollars converting existing AC power into DC? Of course it doesn’t. Direct.io is imagining a future where our world can take advantage of the benefits offered by Direct Current.

We’re doing this by creating a hardware retrofit that easily enables buildings to operate their own DC nanogrid. We’re targeting existing data centers as our market entry point because of their large and growing energy consumption.

We don’t charge businesses for the instillation of our retrofits, and we only take 10 percent of the cost savings that benefit our customers. If you’re as excited about changing up our 130 year old power grid as I am, come say hi after the presentation.

But actually:

We’ve seen a number of acquisitions in the DC power space due to the rise in consumption of DC power by thirsty data centers. 

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Amphibious Vehicles — FreeRoam

The world is at an inflection point. Climate scientists predict that major U.S. cities including Miami and New York City will face the increasing threat of flooding over the next century. We could sit back and wait for our leaders to do something, but we need to take action now so that we are prepared, regardless of the actions of others. The mission of FreeRoam is to create a backup plan for transportation as water levels continue to rise. Today that means developing inexpensive and reliable amphibious crafts that can be used by emergency rescue teams. Tomorrow it may mean mass-market vehicles that can move us from place to place regardless of the weather.

The Roamer, our first prototype vehicle, is set to go into limited production next month and we’ve already lined up early customers from coastal municipalities across the country. We’ve actually had so much demand that we’ve had to artificially cap supply.

Fresh capital will help us get ahead of demand and build out our service based offerings that augment the vehicles with additional safety. If you want to help us build real products for real problems, come find me after the presentation.

But actually:

Natilus is a startup building amphibious vehicles for the sea and air that can carry cargo autonomously. 

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