California is home to two very different innovation worlds. For those subscribers of TechCrunch, there is the familiar delight of the startup world, with startups working on longevity and age extension, rockets to Mars, and cars that drive themselves.
Then, there’s the “innovation” world of California’s infrastructure. Let’s take the most notable example, which is the bullet train linking southern to northern California. The train, initially declared in a bond approved by voters in 2008, is anticipated to have its first passengers in 2025 — three years after the original goal of 2022.
Given that environmental inspections are not even supposed to come in till 2020, it appears hard to think that the route will maintain its present schedule.
The delays are only one part of this problem — the financing are another. This week, the Los Angeles Times noted that the high-speed rail project has increased in cost by $2.8 billionfor the Central Valley section of the road. The revised overall budget for this section has become $10.6 billion, up from $6 billion if the plan was originally conceived. The entire target budget for all segments is currently roughly $64 billion, a number that the government authorities last came up with almost two years ago.
That budget is more than 20 percent greater than all venture capital financings united in the USA to get 2016, which was $52.4 billion.
It’s not only high-speed rail though that’s expensive. The cost of infrastructure is eccentric across the state. A large water infrastructure project called California WaterFix could cost up to $26 billion to build tunnels to flow more water to the Central Valley and southern California.
The New York Times has gone in-depth in a series of articles noting the outrageous cost of expanding the Long Island Rail Road into Grand Central Terminal (at $3.5 billion each mile, the priciest in the world), as well as the crazy operational expenses and inefficiencies of the NYC subway.
We need better infrastructure, and we needed it yesterday. America’s infrastructure ranges continue to be abysmal. Even more harrowing, America is projected to raise its inhabitants to 400 million by 2051 according to the Census Bureau, an increase of 75 million in just another 3 decades. With decrepit infrastructure, how can the country accommodate its growth going forward?
The issue here is cost disease, the radically increasing costs of regions of the economy like building, education, health care, housing, and infrastructure. I spoke the challenges of price disease in the health care space past weekend, considering how a startup named Avant-garde is attempting to bring better price controls to hospitals.
If you believed improving the efficacy of health care was hard, then infrastructure is a whole other level of challenge. It is physical, run by government, owned by unions, and requires in some instances thousands of sign-offs for eminent domain. Then there is the complexity of problems like tunneling, where additional exploration could instantly double prices for a job.
In short, bridging California’s two systems of innovation isn’t an easy task.
That said, there are few areas where trillions of dollars will be invested or could be saved — together with greater technology. We’ve got all heard at this point about Elon Musk’s Boring Company, which will be trying to significantly improve the efficacy of existing boring technology to make digging tunnels exponentially cheaper.
However, other startups are beginning to get in the sport too. Require OneConcern for instance. It’s software is designed to help cities predict and respond to disasters with the support of machine learning. In its perfect form, the platform could allow city planners to stop disasters through scenario planning, along with the startup is initially concentrated on earthquake simulation. It recently raised $20 million because of its Series A.
Or take PipeGuard, which will be creating a robot that could correctly scan sewer lines for leaks, without having to shut down water service for clients. There’s an great chance for robots and drones to perform everything from sewer review to tree censuses to bridge upkeep.
Last, think about Kaarta, that generates a handheld device named Contour that allows users to scan territory into a precise 3D map. Such tech could be employed by state and city officials for all 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 dived into the infrastructure area within the past decade. Surely, the kinds of backgrounds required are usually quite technical: simulation, robotics, and 3D mapping just to name a couple. However, the possibilities to increase our own lives each and every day and also make profit to boot up should be deeply enticing.
We do not have trillions to invest for America’s infrastructure up-to-speed for the 21st century. Without significant tech invention, the price disease around infrastructure will permanently consign us to 1970s BART trains and decreasing water security. It’s time for California’s entrepreneurs to modify the future here, just as they’ve done in so many different businesses.