Hypeworthy Technology

Gartner Hype Cycle is misapplied because really nothing should get past the starting point if it does not have significant funding, a first product and then a first sale.

The hype cycle is misapplied and most successful technologies do not go through the hype cycle. An analysis of Gartner Hype Cycles since 2000 shows that few technologies actually travel through an identifiable hype cycle, and that in practice most of the important technologies adopted since 2000 were not identified early in their adoption cycles.

Gartner says a technology (or related service and discipline innovation) passes through several stages on its path to productivity:

Innovation Trigger: The Hype Cycle starts when a breakthrough, public demonstration, product launch or other event generates press and industry interest in technology innovation.

Needs to have first significant funding and reach first product and some sales before leaving this phase.

There was a list of space and energy technology placed onto a Gartner Hype cycle in 2012 by a published researcher. However, there are technologies that does not have the funding to get to a prototype and many that do not have funding to prove technical or economic feasibility.

The concept of a space elevator is reasonable and there were some ultra-tiny experiments. However, this is nowhere near something that could get a first commercial product.

This means that things like the Traveling Wave reactor have not reached the point of an innovation trigger. Terrapower has received about $120 million of DOE funding and as of October 2020, can get matching grants from $400 million to $4 billion. It has some support from Bill Gates but they do not have firm commitment of funding to build a full working prototype.

Peak of Inflated Expectations: A wave of “buzz” builds and the expectations for this innovation rise above the current reality of its capabilities. In some cases, an investment bubble forms, as happened with the web and social media.

Media hype and customers beyond early adopters.

Trough of Disillusionment: Inevitably, impatience for results begins to replace the original excitement about potential value. Problems with performance, slower-than-expected adoption or a failure to deliver financial returns in the time anticipated all lead to missed expectations, and disillusionment sets in.

Slope of Enlightenment: Some early adopters overcome the initial hurdles, begin to experience benefits and recommit efforts to move forward. Organizations draw on the experience of the early adopters. Their understanding grows about where and how the innovation can be used to good effect and, just as importantly, where it brings little or no value.

Plateau of Productivity: With the real-world benefits of the innovation demonstrated and accepted, growing numbers of organizations feel comfortable with the now greatly reduced levels of risk. A sharp rise in adoption begins (resembling a hockey stick when shown graphically), and penetration accelerates rapidly as a result of productive and useful value.

What has reached first product level? Quantum computers and quantum communication have reached first products where people will pay for them. However, they are not yet superior to other solutions. These are early adopters who want to explore this new area in anticipation of true benefits later.

Solar sails have been deployed in space. There is now a series of products being made and deployed. The US and Japan and other countries are creating and deploying systems.

I would not classify nuclear thermal rockets as something that has reached an innovation trigger. There have been multiple funded efforts. However, the funding is not enough to get to something that could actually be launched. Ten ground experiment systems of different size have been built but nothing has flown and no attempt has been made to make something that could actually fly.

Small-medium size and modular nuclear reactors have sufficient funding for first commercial products. There have been some first systems like the 200 MWe twin pebble bed reactor in China.

Fully and rapidly reusable rockets have sufficient funding and effort to reach a commercial product and there are over 100 flights (including the space shuttle) of partially reusable rockets and rocket systems.

There is now nearly $3 billion in funding for fully reusable large human-rated lunar lander. This is the recent NASA support for the SpaceX Starship lunar lander.

There is sufficient funding for full self-driving cars with multiple companies and countries. There are self-driving systems but no level 5 autonomy yet.

Each of the six levels of self-driving autonomy is defined below.

Level 0 – No automation. Pertains to your everyday, traditional car with no automated or active safety features and full driver involvement.
Level 1 – Driver assistance. Consists of radars and cameras for distancing, automatic braking, lane assistance, and adaptive cruise control.
Level 2 – Partial automation. The car has the ability to accelerate, brake, and even steer under certain circumstances. Still needs driver involvement for the majority of tasks.
Level 3 – Conditional automation. The car is able to drive itself but only under the right conditions and with certain limitations. Driver involvement is still ideal as automation can be halted at any time.
Level 4 – High automation. Vehicles can drive themselves without driver interaction, but can still stop under certain circumstances. Regulations and legal obstacles are heavily involved here.

Waymo has level 4 autonomy with some systems in Arizona.

Level 5 – Full automation. A true driverless car that can operate on any road and under any conditions with no driver involvement needed.

Hype worthy and Impactful Emerging Technology and Capability

SpaceX has been funded for orbital refueling as part of the Lunar Starship. This means that instead of tiny engines and vehicles for the third stage of rocket, there can be a fully refueled Starship or even a fully refueled Super Heavy Starship.

Refueling is space is a far more powerful and useful capability than most people realize. It is even possible to push it to reach 30 day one way human missions to Mars.

There was an analysis of fast Mars missions.

Refueling can enable fast transfer to Mars using non-Hohmann orbits. Getting to about 120 days one-way trips is relatively easy with a big fully refueled SpaceX Starship.

Timing (choosing the best close approach from Mars) and proper braking is needed to get to 80 days or less.

If there were fuel tanks placed in cycling orbits between Mars and Earth, then with multiple refuelings it is possible to achieve 30-38 day one-way missions to Mars. This is described at the Marspedia. These short manned trip times do not need new nuclear propulsion systems.

Using a combination of electric and chemical propulsion it is possible to send people in a rocket from Earth to Mars in 30 days. The electric portion of the system would accelerate nine refueling depots to prepositioning orbits. The chemical rocket with a human crew would rendezvous with each of the nine refueling depots, adding about 3056 m/sec in each of ten burns. The nine refueling depots would be in nine independent orbits. The first would pass Earth at 3,056 m/sec, the second at 6,112 m/sec, the third at 9,168 m/sec and so on.

A spaceship for a 30-day voyage could be smaller than one intended for a 180-day voyage because not as much air, food and water would need to be carried. Provision for refueling would add some mass and there would need to be a substantial heat shield for slowing down at Mars. The 30-day mission to Mars may be limited to a fly-by unless other refuelings are scheduled near Mars to cut down the velocity of the spacecraft some before it begins atmospheric braking at Mars. There is a limit to the peak deceleration loading that it is reasonable for humans to endure. The refuelings near Mars and the atmospheric braking in excess of human tolerance could both be done away with if one is willing to settle for a 38 day transfer when Earth and Mars are closest. This uses a modified transfer trajectory with only seven refuelings.

SOURCES -SpaceX, Wikipedia, NASA, MArspedia, ProjectRho
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com