Facing a future filled with human-caused climate catastrophes, Universal Hydrogen has set its sights on the sky.
Frustrated that the aviation industry was not moving fast enough to cut down on emissions, former Airbus Chief Technology Officer Paul Eremenko teamed up last year with former Georgia Tech engineering professor John Paul Clarke and Jon Gordon, a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer, to launch Universal Hydrogen.
The Hawthorne-based company produces a kit that eliminates carbon emissions from regional aircrafts. It's one of several startups working to reduce commercial travel's emissions. But it has even larger ambitions, seeking to develop a hydrogen fuel distribution network that it hopes will be used in airports around the world.
Universal Hydrogen said it is on track for their first flight test using their hydrogen fuel cell powertrain on a 40-person passenger regional airliner in 2022 at Moses Lake, Washington.
"We want to be in the business of supplying hydrogen to the user, in this case the airlines," said Chief Commercial Officer Rod Williams. "We'll be able to take an aircraft and convert it from the configuration today which uses a turboprop engine powered by Jet A-1 fossil fuel to a configuration which uses a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain and produces no carbon dioxide."
Universal Hydrogen hopes to sell hydrogen fuel capsules and module technology to serve as both the fuel tank within the aircraft and the method of transporting hydrogen from where it's produced to the aircraft. Their hydrogen fuel capsules offer 2X weight savings over conventional tech. "That's important because there's no infrastructure that exists today to transport hydrogen," Williams said.
Hydrogen is generally regarded as a cleaner fuel, since it produces only water when consumed by a fuel cell. There are a variety of ways that hydrogen can be produced, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass and renewable power like solar and wind.
There's a lot of money being invested in hydrogen, including a $52 million fund announced by the Energy Department in July. But not everyone is convinced of hydrogen's benefits; some research suggests it's still too energy-intensive to produce.
That's because much of the hydrogen now produced comes from natural gas facilities, but converting that production to wind and solar could open the gates to a greener aviation industry.
Mark Jacobson, the director of the Atmosphere and Energy program at Stanford University, and one of the authors of a study published in that found that so called "blue hydrogen," a product the natural gas industry has been promoting, produces a larger greenhouse gas footprint than burning natural gas or coal for heat.
To really make hydrogen green, he said the industry will need to convert to wind and solar.
"If the hydrogen is green hydrogen and it's used in a fuel cell in an aircraft, that's actually the best option for long distance [commercial air travel]," Jacobson said.
For smaller and short haul flights, he said electric planes are promising.
Universal Hydrogen announced last week that they secured $62 million to accelerate the first test flight of a hydrogen-powered aircraft that's expected to take off in 2022.
Investors in the round include Mitsubishi HC Capital, Tencent, Stratos, GE Aviation, Waltzing Matilda Aviation, Fourth Realm, Hawktail, Marc Benioff's TIME Ventures, Jeff Wilke and Spencer Rascoff's 75 and Sunny Ventures. (Full disclosure: Rascoff is the founder and executive chairman of dot.LA.)
The circumstances couldn't be more urgent. Air traffic dumped 915 million tons of greenhouse gas-causing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2019. In 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated approximately 612,000 barrels of pollution-belching jet fuel was consumed each day by U.S. commercial passenger flights. And, given the uncertainty surrounding climate change legislation on Capitol Hill, it's unlikely the aviation industry will face much pressure to change how it operates. That's where Universal Hydrogen comes in.
Clean-burning hydrogen has long been an attractive alternative to petroleum in cars. Yet, due to the cost of implementation, it has yet to really catch on in that sector (though there are a few promising instances of adoption: hydrogen fuel cells have been used in cars built by Hyundai and Toyota). Adoption has been slow in aviation as well.
But that may be changing. Airlines and operators including Icelandair, Air Nostrum, Ravn Alaska, and ASL Aviation Holdings (cargo aircraft) have committed to purchasing Universal Hydrogen's conversion kits.
Though the company did not disclose the price of their kits, they expect the cost of their hydrogen will be far less than the jet fuel used today.
"Our goal is to not increase the cost of travel and we expect that by the time we get to 2025, we'll be able to achieve the same cost that an airline has today," Williams said.
How A UH2 Airplane Works www.youtube.com
Artificial intelligence isn't only used to develop robots that flip hamburgers or lift boxes in a warehouse; it has permeated our daily lives. Netflix's algorithms predict what movies or TV shows we want to watch. Instagram serves up ads based on AI.
A new Brookings Institution report shows just how much it's become part of the fabric for Angelenos.
The Institution studied hundreds of metropolitan cities to evaluate their AI strength when it comes to research and how local businesses have adopted AI technology. Los Angeles landed among the top cities in the nation.
While the Bay Area dominates and is considered a "superstar," Mark Muro, senior fellow for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, said L.A.'s status when it comes to AI was a surprising finding of his research.
"L.A. looks pretty formidable in that early adopter tier," Muro said. "It's not the Bay Area, but it looks very competitive with especially strong representation in commercial industry work in terms of company representation, job postings. It looks very, very strong."
A quarter to a third of all AI activity in the U.S. is concentrated in San Francisco and San Jose, Muro said. Seattle, San Diego, Boston, New York City and Washington, D.C. rank above Los Angeles with major universities conducting a substantial amount of research and tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Austin, Texas and Boulder, Colorado also rank above L.A.
L.A. companies outside of the traditional tech sector like Deloitte, Disney and Anthem ranked at the top when it comes to their adoption of AI, in addition to tech companies like Oracle, IBM and CrowdStrike.
"It may be that the biggest impacts in employment come from AI used by big companies or small companies in big industries," Muro said. "I think that's part of the special mix in L.A."
The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the use of AI to replace some service sector jobs.
Joseph Fuller, an AI consultant and professor of management practice at Harvard Business School said that the pandemic has fueled AI's growth.
"It was already happening and it's accelerating. Suddenly [companies] had to do it, it was the only way to serve customers," Fuller said. "With more remote work, we had to be able to spread data and decisions and communicate more effectively."
The research found that AI is increasingly viewed as the next great "general purpose technologies" that has the power to transform many sectors of the economy and can spur economic growth through increased productivity and reduced costs.
While AI job postings have quadrupled in the past decade, Muro found, just 3% of all U.S. firms have adopted AI applications in 2018.
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates AI's possible $3.7 trillion contribution to GDP in North America by 2030, the report noted.
Muro said Brookings undertook this research because it received a lot of inquiries from regional business leaders and economic development and tech people about the importance of AI.
He evaluated 384 metro areas and ranked them as early adopters, (the tier that holds L.A.), federal research and contracting centers, and potential adoption centers. There were 261 "others." The San Francisco Bay Area was its own category.
The goal of the report is not to spur cities that aren't as advanced into action, but to help them to first assess their positioning and then consider acting.
The report also discusses whether AI is going to be a "winner-take-most" industry or more spread out. Are these metro areas where there is a large concentration of AI research and commercialization going to dominate or do cities like L.A. and others stand a competitive chance?
Muro thinks it's early in the nascent industry and there's opportunities for L.A. to insert itself among the top echelon.
But, he warned, companies must be careful. Even as more and more industries are adopting the technology of the future to speed up processes or add efficiencies, there is a dark side. Biased algorithms used by mortgage companies reportedly denies applications from people of color in larger numbers. Facial recognition technology used by police can more frequently misidentifies people of color. And a recent incident involving Facebook's algorithms labeled people as primates.
Part of the problem is the tech companies in the Bay area have largely employed white programmers and coders that impose their worldview on the software. That's where L.A. has an advantage.
"A diverse, broadly distributed industry will likely develop fairer, more ethical products if it's developed in more places, and not just in the homogeneous Bay Area environment," Muro said. "The homogeneity of the Bay Area AI development community is a problem. Having more research and adoption conducted in more places, and in cities with greater diversity, will be important. "
"L.A. has got to make sure that more of its Black and Brown workers are at the forefront of technology."
Muro pointed to an article from the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence that found if it's not, AI will lead to "greater concentrations of wealth and power for the elite few who usher in the new age—and poverty and powerlessness...for the global majority,"
In other words, AI has a risk of allowing the powerful to become more powerful and the rich to get richer.
"These technologies do seem to spawn economic divides within places because they're very well paid," Muro said.
Reporter Samson Amore contributed to this report.
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Snap Inc. shares plunged in after hours trading as much as 27% on Thursday after missing Wall Street revenue expectations. CEO Evan Spiegel blamed the miss on Apple's new privacy policies that disrupted the company's targeted digital advertising.
Snap recorded $1.07 billion in sales, missing analyst expectations of $1.2 billion.
Spiegel said Apple's iOS new ad tracking feature made it difficult for Snap advertisers to measure and manage ad campaigns. Spiegel also said Snap is working to build its own "flexible first-party tooling" to measure its customers' ad campaigns.
Earlier this year though, Spiegel told CNBC he felt the company was "well prepared" for upcoming changes to Apple's privacy policies and said he thought it could be "a good thing overall for consumers."
The ongoing global pandemic also threw a curveball to Snap's ad business. As advertisers across industries faced labor shortages and grappled with a weakened supply chain, they cut back on advertising costs. This in turn meant less ad dollars for Snapchat to stack.
"This (disruption) in turn reduces their short-term appetite to generate additional customer demand through advertising at a time when their businesses are already supply-constrained," Spiegel said. "The ongoing magnitude and duration of these global supply and labor disruptions are inherently unpredictable, and in the meantime we are focused on supporting our partners in this uncertain environment."
Following its earnings report Snap Inc. shares were down as much as 26%.
Snap reported daily active users of its Snapchat app totaled 306 million in Q3, up 23% from this time last year. This continues Snap's trend of growing its user base each quarter; the company reported it has recorded at least 20% growth in its user base in each of its last four consecutive quarterly reports.
Still, revenue this quarter was up 57% annually to roughly $1.1 billion. Snap cut down its net losses to $72 million, compared to roughly $200 million this time last year.
As of this quarter, Snapchat is 10 years old, aging out of startup status.
The company went public in 2017 with a $24 billion valuation. Spiegel said during Snap's Oct. 21 earnings call that the Snapchat app now reaches more than 500 million people worldwide.
Crucially the company did have more cash on hand this quarter. Snap's operating cash flow was out of the red this quarter, totaling $72 million compared to a negative $55 million in Q3 of last year.
Still, as it recognizes a decade of work growing its user base and revenue Snap still can't yet turn a profit and continues to compete for users with other social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Users spent less time making content on Snap's stories feature this year compared to Q3 2020 –Instagram operates a very similar feature that Snap competes with.
Spiegel keeps encouraging the company to push the limits of augmented reality software, betting investment in this emerging form of digital expression will bring a windfall of users and cash. This quarter nearly all of the company milestones Snap boasted about this quarter were focused on AR including the fact that five of its AR lenses accounted for 11 billion impressions in Q3.
"Augmented reality is one of our most exciting long-term opportunities because it is simultaneously very early in its technological development and already used by hundreds of millions of people," Spiegel noted. He said that over 200 million people engage with Snapchat's augmented reality features every day.
Update: This story has been updated to clarify Snap saw $72 million in net losses this year, not debt.
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