Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Elon Musk—the extraordinary billionaire with visions for the future

Jugu Abraham | November 2, 2016 11:32 am Print
The amazing visions of this billionaire are not limited to electric cars, solar roofs, and batteries--all products of his Tesla Motor Company. This alumnus of Queen’s University (Canada), University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton School of Business, has grand visions to change the world
Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk


A 45-year-old Canadian-American billionaire and inventor, Elon Musk, a few days ago unveiled his latest product from the Tesla Motors Company that he owns. It was not an electric car. It was a solar roof for a house, a roof made up of solar tiles. Musk claimed that the roof looked better than normal roofs as the tiles are integrated and embedded within it, generating enough electricity for the occupants of the house that could be stored in a battery (called Powerwall 2) placed within or outside the house. Powerwall is yet another product of the company.

Apart from providing the electrical requirements of the house, this battery charged by the solar roof will have sufficient power to provide the required energy for the house occupants’ electric car.
If the integrated concept works and becomes popular globally, Musk was introducing the concept of a house that did not require electricity from a power grid and a car that could be charged at home—thus negating the entire cost of electricity and petrol/gasoline/diesel for the house’s occupants, assuming they use an electric car.
The amazing visions of this billionaire are not limited to electric cars, solar roofs, and batteries–all products of his Tesla Motor Company. This alumnus of Queen’s University (Canada), University of Pennsylvania, and the Wharton School of Business, has grand visions to change the world.
Musk is constantly working towards a world of sustainable energy production and consumption that reduces global warming. He is not content even with that—he is actively working towards setting up human colonies on Mars to ensure humankind does not become extinct. To this end, he has started a company called “SpaceX,’ which made rockets at a fraction of the prevailing market costs a decade ago. In 2012, “SpaceX” became the first commercial company to launch and berth a space vehicle to the International Space Station.

All this is not enough for the South-Africa-born Musk. He is working on the Musk electric jet aircraft with electric fan propulsion that can allow for vertical takeoff and landing. Another pet project of Musk is called the Hyperloop, a low-power, high-speed (970 kmph), eco-friendly travel option on the land, initially proposed between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The best part of the futuristic project is that it claims to be “open-sourced” with dozens of companies and interdisciplinary teams working on the concept.

Who is Musk and how did he become a millionaire?

Elon Musk and his brother, Kimbal, set up a software company called “Zip2” with their father’s money (some $28,000) in 1995. That company developed an internet city guide for two prominent US newspapers. “Zip2” was acquired by “Compaq” and Musk earned $22 million from the sale. From a chunk of that money, Musk then set up an online financial company called “X.Com,” which eventually got merged with “PayPal.” When “PayPal” was acquired by “eBay” in 2002, Musk is estimated to have received $165 million from the sale.

Now many would assume Musk was with Tesla Motors Company from its inception but that is not true. Two other entrepreneurs, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, launched that company in 2003. It is significant to note that 2 years before Tesla Motor Company was incorporated, an Indian entrepreneur Chetan Maini had launched and commercially produced an electric Reva car from the Reva Electric Vehicle Company, a joint venture of the Maini Group in Bengaluru and AEVT Inc of USA. Maini is an alumnus of Stanford University, which Musk had joined briefly for a Ph.D. program but left after 2 days. Reva remains a small affordable electric car, being sold worldwide.
Musk joined Tesla Motor Company in 2004, initially as the Chairman of its Board of Directors. He took an active interest in the company’s Roadster car’s design and development. The financial crisis of 2008 hit Tesla Motor Company and Musk had to infuse more funds into the entity. With this action in 2008, he became the company’s Chief Executive Officer and product architect. Today, Tesla’s cars are sleek products that are not just eco-friendly but also pleasing to the eye, quite in contrast to the modest Reva.

More interesting perhaps is Musk’s stand on artificial intelligence (AI). The far-sighted billionaire is supposed to have called it “the most serious threat to the human race.” This is an ironical statement coming from a man who has invested in two companies, one dealing with AI and another on machine intelligence. Musk claims that those investments were not for profit but more for keeping track of what is going on in those fields.

Musk is indeed one of the most gifted billionaires today whose visionary actions and outputs might have either direct or indirect significance for many of us in the future irrespective of where we live.

Jugu Abraham
Jugu Abraham
"The writer was a film critic with the Hindustan Times group publications in Delhi (1978-85). Subsequently, he worked with UN-sponsored organizations. Post-retirement, he writes an internationally reputed blog on world cinema"