The 21st century has probably been the century when the biggest number of engineering and technology innovations was made. Some of the most important ones for the contemporary world are the Internet, the aerospace industry, and the industries that seek to develop environmentally friendly products. In the later part of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, few engineers have been as influential as Elon Musk. He was the founder of one of the first companies that helped newspapers put their content online, he founded one of the earliest online banking companies, and a few years later followed it up with the online money transfer service. The Internet refers to a network of interconnected commuters that use the internet protocol suit to link billions of computers all over the world for the purposes of information sharing. PayPal refers to the American Internet-based money transfer company. SpaceX is an aerospace rocket manufacturer based in the Hawthorn, Californian. The Hyperloop is a transport system concept created by Elon Musk and it is still in its infancy stages. Kantrowitz limit refers to a theory in fluid mechanics of choke points in fluids ant supersonic speeds in inlet velocities developed by Arthur Kantrowitz.
Early Endeavors: Development of Zip2, Zip.com, and PayPal
Making a compelling argument about someone who has such diverse interests and success can be a daunting task. One of Elon Musk's first companies was Zip2. As the Internet started playing a bigger part in the daily life of the average person, newspapers needed better ways to reach the average newspaper reader. In response to this need, Musk devised the method that provided the software to enable newspapers, news sites, and other publishers to publish their content online (Hull, 2014). Musk's company also provided maps and business directories to newspapers. The company was such a resounding success that three years later, it was bought by Compaq for $307 million (Hull, 2014). The company was clearly an original idea, as before then, digital copies of newspapers did not exist.
The internet proliferation has also made it more urgent to have a convenient and safe way to pay for goods and services online. In response to this need, Elon Musk founded an internet banking company, X.com. In 2000, to expand the business further, the company merged with a company that had been developing ways to transfer money online known as Confinity. This led to the development of the pioneering money transfer business in the world and one of the biggest to date - PayPal (Hull, 2014). Elon Musk and his PayPal played a big part in the development of what has been termed as the "American Express of the twenty-first century" (Wattenberg, n.d.). PayPal was acquired by eBay in 2002 for a staggering $1.5 billion; it is worth much more now (Bellis, 2014). The technology acceptance model can be used as a theoretical basis in explaining his success in development of the internet based technologies like PayPal. Using this theory, one can see that the gamble Musk has taken - that in the coming years people would prefer accessing their newspapers online and shift from a paperless way of paying for goods would pay off. Both companies went on to be immensely successful as people had found the technologies they presented to be more convenient than the previous ones.
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In a complete change from his earlier endeavors, Musk founded, funded, and became the chief engineer of SpaceX (Bellis, 2014). SpaceX became the "first commercial company to deliver supplies to the International Space Station" (Gregersen, 2014). By using superior design techniques, SpaceX is able to build and launch rockets at a fraction of the cost of its competitors and it can deliver larger payloads at a fraction of the competitor's rockets. Before, the state of technology only allowed the large aerospace companies to construct and launch rockets. For instance, SpaceX's largest rocket can carry 53 metric tons (117,000 pounds) to space, almost twice as large the competitor's largest rocket, while reducing the cost by a third (Gregersen, 2014). Gregersen (2014) affirms that not only has SpaceX reduced the cost of building and launching rockets but it has also brought forward the dream of making the humans a "multi-planet species." Like in his internet ventures, Musk relied on the technology acceptance model in this case to help get clients who had been imbedded in the large aerospace technologies for a long time. The gamble was that with time, they would find SpaceX's lower cost rockets more cost effective.
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Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and the Global Warming
Furthermore, Elon Musk wanted to combine business and environmental conservation. According to Glanville (n.d.), Musk is an "innovator taking risks and achieving great things." In this, he was involved in the formation of Tesla Motors where he sought to deliver electric cars that would appeal to the wider public as he felt the previous versions of electric cars had less appeal mainly because of their poor designs and poor aesthetics. The company's first car, the Tesla Roadstar, had a range of 254 miles on a single charge and it could accelerate to 60 miles an hour in less than an hour and 4 seconds, a no small feat for an electric car. For the general market, Tesla Motors introduced Model S sedan that received automotive critics' acclaim for its "performance and design" (Gregersen, 2014). While the cars are expensive now for the general populace, Musk hopes that his revolutionizing electric cars will become more affordable as more the company and others produce more. Furthermore, to incentivize the buying of electric cars further, Tesla Motors has formed a partnership with one of Musk's companies, SolarCity, to provide free charging of electric cars along the US Route 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. In doing this, Musk responded to the need for more environmentally conscious cars. Moreover, since petroleum is a finite resource, in the coming decades, the price of gasoline will rise to levels that are unaffordable to the ordinary person. In this case, electric cars will become the only viable means of owning a personal car. Thus, this is a business that will continue growing in the future.
Following the success of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk helped start SolarCity, becoming one of its chief financiers and its chairperson (He, Neske, & Wu, 2015). The company seeks to revolutionize the energy sector by more affordable providing power than that provided by electricity utility companies. This field has existed for a long time since the creation and installation of solar panels are not original ideas. However, Musk has insisted that the main reason he had funded and got deeply involved in both Tesla Motors and the SolarCity was to help combat "the use of fossil fuels" and environmentally damaging ways of electricity generation and help "combat global warming" in such a way (Gregersen, 2014). While this is not an original idea, this is an admirable feat by itself. The company has been a resounding financial success, becoming one of the top two solar power providers in the USA with clients such as the US military, Intel, and Microsoft.
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The Hyperloop Concept
In another endeavor that showed his futuristic aims, Musk, together with some of the engineers at SpaceX and Tesla Motors, envisioned and designed the Hyperloop. This was in response to the need for a cheaper mode of transport between cities. According to Musk (2013), the Hyperloop he proposed is the "right solution for cities that are between 900 to 1500 miles apart." Musk (2013) further proposed a way to overcome the theory of Kantrowitz Limit by using a fan that compresses air and transfers the high pressure from the nose of the pod to its rear. This will generate subsonic speeds of around 350 miles an hour, which is enough to connect twin cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco (Musk, 2013). The concept, still in the development stages, will use a new method that will have passengers in pods inside low-pressure tubes that have partial vacuums to reduce aerodynamic drag, which will substantially reduce the fuel, travel time, and the overall cost of building high-speed systems significantly. In this way, the concept will contribute to reducing global warming and accelerate public transport. It is the manifest of a truly original idea.
To conclude, the 20th – 21st centuries have been marked by immense engineering inventions by gifted individuals. This is the period when the intersection between great innovations and entrepreneurship has become most apparent. One can see this through the examples of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford and a few others. However, what is apparent is that most of those individuals concentrated in only single aspects of their feats, Musk has had multiple success as both an engineering innovator and an entrepreneur. He has worked in software engineering with great success in the founding of Zip2, Zip.com, and PayPal. He has also had immense success in mechanical and automotive engineering with Tesla Motors, in which he has served as one of the principal founders, the Chief Executive Officer, and the Chief Technical Officer. Furthermore, through his founding, funding, and his position as the Chief Design Engineer of SpaceX, Musk has further shown his flexibility and his talents in aerospace engineering, a feat that, for a long time, had been the preserve of large companies like Boeing. Furthermore, his conceptualization of the Hyperloop that is supposed to revolutionize transportation in Los Angeles and the rest of the world puts him in the league of theoretical futurist engineers. Looked at Elon Musk from an objective point of view, one can say that he is one of the most gifted engineers and entrepreneurs of his generation despite having never being awarded an academic degree in any field of engineering by any university. Elon Musk's contribution to humanity is immense, especially in the field of environmentally conscious products.
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