California is home to two very different innovation worlds. For those readers of TechCrunch, there is the familiar excitement of the startup world, together with startups working on strength and age extension, rockets into Mars, and cars that drive themselves.
Then, there’s the “invention” world of California’s infrastructure. Let us choose the most prominent example, which is the bullet train connecting southern to northern California. The train, first approved in a bond authorized by voters in 2008, is anticipated to possess its first passengers in 2025 — three years after the original target of 2022.
That is approximately 17 years start to finish, or older than the ages of Facebook (14 years) and the iPhone (10 years) are at this time. Given that environmental reviews are not even slated to come in until 2020, it seems difficult to think that the path will maintain its current schedule.
The delays are only 1 part of this problem — the financing are another. This week, the Los Angeles Times reported that the high-speed rail job has increased in price by $2.8 billionto the Central Valley portion of this road. The revised total budget for this particular section is now $10.6 billion, up from $6 billion when the plan was originally conceived. The entire goal budget for all sections is now roughly $64 billion, a few that the government authorities last came up with almost two years ago.
That budget is more than 20% higher than all venture capital financings combined in the United States to get 2016, that was $52.4 billion.
It is not just high-speed rail though that is expensive. The cost of infrastructure is eccentric across the state. A massive water infrastructure project called California WaterFix could cost as much as $26 billion to construct tunnels to flow water to the Central Valley and southern California.
The New York Times has gone in-depth in a series of posts noting the outrageous price of expanding the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal (at $3.5 billion each mile, the most expensive on earth), as well as the mad operational costs and inefficiencies of the NYC subway.
America’s infrastructure ranges continue to be abysmal. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) provides the nation a D+ rating for infrastructure. Even more harrowing, America is estimated to increase its population to 400 million by 2051 in accordance with the Census Bureau, an increase of 75 million in another three decades. With decrepit infrastructure, how can the country accommodate its growth going forward?
The issue here is cost disorder, the dramatically increasing prices of areas of the economy like construction, education, healthcare, housing, and infrastructure. I spoke the challenges of price disease in the healthcare space last weekend, considering how a startup named Avant-garde is attempting to bring better price controls to hospitals.
If you believed improving the efficiency of health care was challenging, then infrastructure is a whole other level of struggle. It is physical, run by authorities, possessed by unions, and needs in some cases thousands of sign-offs for eminent domain. Then there’s the complexity of problems such as tunneling, where further exploration might instantly double costs for a project.
Simply speaking, bridging California’s two systems of innovation isn’t an easy task.
That said, there are just a few areas where trillions of dollars will be invested or can be saved — with better technology. We’ve got all discovered at this stage about Elon Musk’s Boring Company, which is attempting to significantly enhance the efficacy of present boring technology to make digging tunnels exponentially less costly.
But other startups are starting to get in the sport as well. Take OneConcern for example. It’s applications is designed to help cities forecast and react to disasters with the support of machine learning. In its ideal form, the platform may allow city planners to prevent disasters through scenario planning, and the startup is initially focused on earthquake simulation. It recently raised $20 million because of its Series A.
Or simply take PipeGuard, which is developing a robot that could correctly scan sewer lines for leaks, without having to shut down water service for customers. The startup, founded by a trio of MIT students, won Boston’s HubWeek demonstration day pitch competition late last year. There is an great opportunity for robots and drones to do everything from sewage review to shrub censuses to bridge upkeep.
Finally, think about Kaarta, that generates a handheld device called Contour that permits users to scan land into a precise 3D map. Such technology might be used by state and city officials for everything from scanning the insides of buildings to mapping the streetscape in a intricate urban environment.
Most of these organizations are relatively young, and for good reason: few founders have really dived to the infrastructure area within the past decade. Surely, the sorts of backgrounds required are usually quite technical: simulation, robotics, and 3D mapping simply to mention a few. But the chances to increase our lives every day and make profit to boot should be profoundly enticing.
Without significant tech invention, the cost disease around infrastructure will forever consign us to 1970s BART trains and decreasing water safety. It is time for California’s entrepreneurs to change the future here, just as they have done in so many different industries.