Radical exhaustion = radical solutions?
Radical exhaustion = radical solutions?
“You can declare it a disaster or you can see it as a problem you haven’t solved yet.”
Optimistic words from an Xer who had to figure out how to get his plant-sensing technology into farmers’ fields when the pandemic had other plans. Earlier this year, that sort of perspective shifting was energizing, but now even the most cheerful among us are running on empty. Yet 2021 is going to demand all the creativity and willpower we can muster. Yikes.
What if I told you radical exhaustion could lead to radical creativity?
That’s not entirely nuts. Think about your first instinct when you’re wiped out: finding shortcuts. That’s a form of creativity. It can lead to counterintuitive and surprisingly elegant solutions, as a team at X recently discovered; you’ll meet them below. And there’s plenty of research showing that the wandering mind is more creative -- even more so when it’s taken outdoors for a hike.
Over the holidays, get some rest and chase after nothing -- you might be surprised by what you find. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy these tales of our latest moonshot adventures, and please let me know at x-newsletter-feedback@x.team what you’d like to see more of in this newsletter in 2021.
Courtney Hohne
Editor & Storyteller for Moonshots
SCT. 01-A Factory Stories 1: “Mother Nature waits for no one”
SCT. 01-B Factory Stories 2: A Puppet and a Robot Walk into a Moonshot Factory
SCT. 02 The What If? Files: Project Amber
SCT. 03 News from X
SCT. 04 Careers
“Mother Nature waits for no one”
For the last few years, Project Mineral has been developing breakthrough tools to help farmers, breeders, agronomists, and scientists understand the complexity of the plant world. But when the pandemic hit, their plant buggies were stuck in the lab — and all the while, plants in our partners' test fields continued to grow and the clock was ticking to gather valuable data. Here’s how they adapted.
Read the story
A Puppet and a Robot Walk into a Moonshot Factory
Xer Benje Holson has an unusual background: he grew up as a traveling puppeteer, starting with a part as the sun in the Eensy-Weensy Spider show at age 2. Now a roboticist working on the Everyday Robots Project, he shares what puppetry has taught him about building robots.
Watch the video
Read the story
Project Amber
The reality of the innovation process is that most of X’s explorations don’t work out. Our archives are littered with ideas that lasted anywhere from a few hours to a few years. We want to share things we’ve learned in case they inspire someone else to come up with something even better.
Active during
2018 - 2020
The moonshot
What if we could make brain waves easier to measure and interpret? What if they could be a biomarker (a biological indicator) for depression and anxiety?
Huge problem
Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s also notoriously difficult to assess mental health, both for people with lived experience, and for clinicians. This is because mental health manifests so differently in different people and most of the commonly used tools, like surveys or questionnaires, are subjective.
Radical solution
Making brainwaves so easy to measure and interpret that they can be used as an objective mental health assessment tool in a primary care doctor’s office, counseling center or psychiatric clinic.
Breakthrough technology
We created a low-cost, portable, research-grade EEG system that was designed to be used by anyone with minimal training. We also developed machine learning methods to interpret the EEG data.
Why we closed the project
We didn’t succeed in our original goal of finding a single biomarker for depression and anxiety. It is unlikely that one exists, given the complexity of mental health. There are many pitfalls on the path to making tech-enabled mental health measurement work in real world clinical settings, and more research needs to be done. Yet there’s no question that there is a huge opportunity for technology to enable better measurement of mental health, so we are open-sourcing Amber’s technology, and making our research and insights available to all.
Read more about Amber here
From the soil to the stars
X's computational agriculture project has been working on some new tech updates, and it has a new name and project page too: Mineral, a nod to the invisible links in our food chain that connect people, plants, and soil. Project Taara — which began as an offshoot of Loon and uses beams of light to bring fast, affordable connectivity to underserved areas — is working with Econet Group to roll out wireless optical communication links across their network, starting in Kenya.
What do flying pigs, laser-weed-whacking, and “cultural infrastructure” have in common?
MIT Tech Review’s EmTech events explore emerging tech to solve the world’s biggest problems; tune in to hear Astro Teller's conversation with Editor-in-Chief Gideon Lichfield about top lessons from a decade of radical creativity at X. Check out the X blog for more.
Roadtripping for career advice
In PBS series Roadtrip Nation, 4 students travel the US looking for advice on pursuing careers in STEM. Watch here as Xer Emily Ma, who works on tech to solve food waste and food insecurity, gives them her best advice.
Language doesn't just describe innovation — it enables it
Has your boss ever told you to take a tiger beetle moment or deliver version 0.crap of a project? Here’s what we’ve learned about using language to unlock creativity and help Xers feel comfortable tackling audacious, high-risk adventures.
Calling all moonshot-takers!
We’re looking for inventors, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who want to find radical solutions to the world’s most stubborn problems.
Internal Communications Associate
Senior Mechanical Engineer for the Everyday Robot Project
Electrical Engineer for Mineral, a moonshot in sustainable agriculture
Explore careers at X
X is a moonshot factory. We’re an eclectic group of inventors and entrepreneurs who build and launch breakthrough technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people and create large, sustainable businesses along the way. Our goal: 10x impact on the world’s most intractable problems, not just 10% improvement. X is a division of Google parent company Alphabet. Visit us at x.company.
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