Memia 2021.23: Quantum Musk⚛️// construction physics🏗️// workforces everywhere🌎🌍🌏// unboiling an egg🥚// ahoy Alpha Centauri⭐// pool on my yacht🎱

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Kia ora,

Welcome to another weekly Memia newsletter - my regular scan across the latest emerging tech and thinking about the future. Onya for being here!


🏗️Construction physics

Last week the US-based, vertically integrated, technology-driven off-site construction company Katerra, backed by the high profile Softbank Vision Fund and other investors to the tune of US$1.2Bn, declared that it was shuttering it’s 7500-employee US operations. This was a huge bet on transforming the construction sector to function more like a precision electronics manufacturing supply chain than the traditionally inefficient and low-scalability building industry.

Former Katerra employee Brian Potter chronicles what went wrong (and also what went right) in Another Day in Katerradise: basically out of control growth and an overly diversified group of products and business units which never really gelled together cohesively.

Going deeper into Brian’s excellent Construction Physics blog, a wealth of ideas and data about construction innovation, I came across this post: Construction costs around the world.

  • Lots of interesting analysis in here - but in particular Aotearoa’s positioning in house price-to-income ratios: 3rd in the world behind (off the charts) Hong Kong and Russia. (And also a pointer to why Katerra didn’t work so well in the US - housing costs are way more affordable there than almost any other advanced economy in the world).

This goes to the heart of a thought I’ve been gestating: Aotearoa’s housing crisis could potentially be the genesis of the biggest export-sector opportunity since dairy:

  • Funnel a few NZ$billions of investment into automated building systems , standards and integrated supply chains

  • Coordinate an optimised regulatory regime as well…

  • Solve the domestic housing shortage first off and break even doing it

  • Over time, the industry here becomes among the most advanced in the world at manufacturing and assembling high-quality, low cost, rapid-construction homes

  • …and then there’s a scalable export sector in off-site, automated construction systems ready to go.


A few other construction developments to catch up on:

  • What’s with the obsession with permanent buildings? High quality modular buildings can be assembled, extended and disassembled in days:

"Bamboo is an excellent building material because it is highly renewable and it has remarkable mechanical properties, it's light-weight, flexible and strong"

  • Mateo Gutierrez, University of Queensland

Check out this beautiful bamboo residence in Bali:

🌎🌍🌏Workforces everywhere

And given all of the ongoing noise about Aotearoa’s tech sector talent shortages…once again it’s obvious isn’t it?

[Weak] signals

A bit of a scientific flavour to this week’s signals from the future:

  • Ahoy Alpha Centauri

    • Breakthrough Initiatives are thinking big (and nanoscopically small), planning a Mission To Alpha Centauri within a human lifetime:

      “…using light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed involving a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts – miniature space probes attached to lightsails – to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch”

      The energy required to power such a craft is estimated at 100GW (about 20% of US electricity consumption):

      “It only needs to operate for 10 minutes at full power…So we imagine a battery or super capacitors that can store energy built up over several days and release it suddenly. The power would be delivered from 100 million lasers distributed over an area of a square kilometre”


Mind expanding


Around Aotearoa this week:

  • Futurist Roger Dennis, Wendy McGuinness and David Skilling draw attention to a little-known clause in the new Public Service Act 2020 in this Newsroom article:

(There’s a vibrant debate on what this actually means for the government and the country continuing on LinkedIn here).

Hidden gems

  • 🎱Pool on my yacht

    • Who knew there was a market for a self-balancing pool table to install on your yacht to match with your Bugatti? Just thinking about the customer segmentation model here blows my mind.

  • Who else can relate to this?

Thanks as ever for getting in touch with thoughts, links and feedback - always appreciated!

Reminder: if you enjoy Memia, please take the time to share with a friend in Aotearoa or around the 🌎🌍🌏.

Ngā mihi / Cheers