Ours will be a future of pollution-sucking machines, life-saving emergency drones, hyper-intelligent cars, and space travel for all. How do we know? Because these 12 innovators, entrepreneurs and companies are firmly on the case. From fields spanning automation, mobility, and the environment, they're this year's most promising visionaries. Get inspired: there's space for you in there, too.
1. Jianxiong Xiao (AutoX)
Making autonomous driving for all.
Why should self-driving cars be a luxury that only a few get to enjoy? That’s the question that motivates Jianxiong Xiao. This former Princeton University academic founded AutoX, a startup that replaces expensive, exclusive tech on self-driving cars with a sensor system made from $50 webcams equipped with advanced AI. This economical set-up gathers visual data and feeds it into AutoX’s proprietary self-driving software. Xiao’s ultimate vision: making autonomous driving accessible to all by building the most affordable system possible.
2. Christoph Gebald (Climeworks)
Using machines to reverse pollution.
On a remote Icelandic hilltop, a machine tirelessly sucks carbon dioxide out of the air. This prototype belongs to Christoph Gebald, co-founder of Climeworks, a company that’s inventing technologies to capture carbon dioxide directly from the air, to slow global warming. Gebald’s goal is ambitious--but many experts think it’s what we need to reverse humanity’s enormous environmental impact. The best part? Captured CO2 will be recycled to feed greenhouse-grown vegetables.
3. Greg Brockman (OpenAI)
Turning AI into a force for good.
Artificial intelligence has the power to change humanity - but also great potential for harm. That’s why Greg Brockman co-founded OpenAI, a nonprofit that produces cutting-edge research and applications to ensure that the transition to AI is safe, and that its benefits are widely shared. Ultimately, he wants to ensure that AI serves the purpose it was originally intended for: benefitting humanity, not harming it.
4. Jason Chua (Transpose)
Designing planes with people in mind.
Plane travel needs a makeover, and Jason Chua is the one to do it. This designer heads up Transpose, a project to build a range of modular cabins that can be loaded onto and off aircrafts at the start of each flight, tailoring the plane to suit journey length, destination, and passenger needs. Chua’s designs would transform air travel into something that’s actually enjoyable--a revolution in itself.
5. Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola (Space Nation)
A bid to democratize space travel.
Want to be an astronaut? There’s an app for that. Physicist Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola is the force behind Space Nation, the world’s first free app training program for aspiring space travelers. It’s no gimmick: from the pool of trainees Vähä-Jaakkola will select and fund those who show special promise, and they’ll go through real astronaut training. With this invention, he plans to bring the dream of space travel within anybody’s reach.
6. Argus Cybersecurity
Worrying about cybersecurity, so you don’t have to.
This company is prepared to tackle the growing cybersecurity threat that accompanies vehicle automation. Argus pairs up with car manufacturers to build tailored security features into their vehicles--vital safeguards that can stop a hacker taking control of the brakes, or the steering wheel on a car. With more and more vehicles transitioning to AI-driven automation, Argus’s safeguards could protect millions.
7. Keller Rinaudo (Zipline)
Enabling drones to go where cars can’t.
What if you needed medicine, but poor roads made it impossible to get to you? Enter Zipline, the world’s largest drone delivery service, launched in Tanzania. Company founder Keller Rinaudo wants to put all citizens in underserved countries within 30 minutes of medical supplies--like blood for transfusions, or vaccines--delivered by drone. His vision: a world where bad roads are no longer an obstacle to someone’s survival.
8. Austin Russell (Luminar)
Building cars with superpowers.
Building sensory systems for self-driving cars is no longer a new idea. But Austin Russell brings something new to the plate: he’s giving cars hypersense. His company, Luminar Technologies, builds LiDAR systems that can see 10 times further than others, and at 70 times the resolution. Why? Consider that vehicle accidents are a leading cause of death globally: Russell’s super-sensing system could make vehicles much safer, ushering in a future free of road fatalities.
9. Anirudh Sharma (Kaalink)
Transforming pollution into ink.
For Anirudh Sharma, the black smoke that billows out of car exhausts is art. His invention, Kaalink, works by retrofitting exhaust pipes with capsules that trap 95% of the pollution that vehicles pump into the air, and then transforms it into high-quality artists’ ink. If it were widely adopted in densely polluted cities like Bangalore, Kaalink could extract several thousand tons of pollution from the air annually--making cities cleaner and healthier for all.
Building interfaces between machine and brain.
This Swiss startup fuses neuroscience, virtual reality, and computer graphics to develop brain-machine interfaces. Already, they’ve seen major healthcare applications for recovering stroke patients. Now, with multi-million-dollar investments from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Mindmaze is expanding into other realms--like mobility. Currently, they’re developing unique technologies to analyse and map human motion in unprecedented detail, bringing it into the realm of virtual reality.
11. Anca Dragan
Helping robots talk to us.
In any co-working environment, communication is key. Our future co-workers will be artificially intelligent machines--so UC Berkeley computer scientist Anca Dragan builds algorithms to make it easier for those machines to understand us. Her work has applications in manufacturing, assistive robots, and self-driving cars--where precise communication between humans and machines could literally be the difference between life and death.
Inspiring the movement of tomorrow.
Who’s to say the next big thinker won’t be you? With these great visionaries to fuel your creativity, be bold, and think big in 2018 and beyond.