Trucks, Toilets and Innovation
Pondering how the technology we write about is being used, the ways in which innovation is applied, and how we prioritize our coverage of it.
August 24, 2021
A couple of recent headlines caught my eye, and although they are not directly connected, I think they are related in many ways. Together, they got me thinking a lot about how the technology we write about is being used, the ways in which innovation is applied, and how we prioritize our coverage of it. The first story comes from my home state of Ohio, where Lordstown Motors has warned that it may be teetering on the verge of collapse. The Lordstown facility was originally a GM plant, and a much vaunted one at that. When the automaker announced in 2019 that it would close the plant (in operation since 1966), it threatened the local economy and drew the attention of then-President Trump, who lambasted GM for the decision.
The plant was purchased by electric vehicle startup Lordstown Motors (with some help from GM). The company has since been accused of overstating its order book, and its share prices have plummeted.
The company’s initial vehicle is set to be the Endurance, an all-electric, full-size pickup truck with a base price of around $52,000.
The second item was a story about the need for better sanitation solutions around the world. The story mentioned the Gates Foundation’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, a decade-long project to spur creation of innovative ways to dispose of waste that do not rely on elaborate infrastructure. Author Chelsea Wald wrote a book on the topic, “Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet,” which is now on my summer reading list.
Why have these two stories been blended together in my admittedly addled brain? Because while both involve engineering innovations, the latter is targeted at creating solutions that could make an enormous difference in global health outcomes, the former involves millions in investment to create a pricey electric truck that may never actually exist. And our engineering coverage tends to lean more toward the pricey electric trucks rather than the practical (but unpleasant).
That is not to say there is no value in covering flashier projects. The importance of the Mars Rover goes beyond just the immediate thrill of landing the thing and marveling at the photos it takes. Over-priced electric vehicles will lay the groundwork for more affordable ones down the line.
My mid-year resolution, though, is that I want to make a better effort to highlight the work our readers are doing to solve important problems that pay big societal dividends. If you are working on such a project, or know of one, please feel free to send it our way via email or social media.
Have a great summer.