Selling Robot Pickaxes & Shovels

Yosemite Sam is due for an update, maybe the next version of this beloved cartoon character will be a robot. According to some of the brightest business minds, we are on the cusp of entering a new gold rush, just this time it will be in the stars.

Chris Lewicki is asking you to look up, as his new company,  Planetary Resources, is planning of launching a new mining platinum adventure in the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars.  Lewicki plans to begin prospecting in the next decade using “unmanned robotic mining mission(s)”.   While the idea of robotic mining has been n Sci-fi for almost a century, Planetary Resources has gained attention by putting together an all-star advisory/investment team including, James Cameron (Avatar Film Maker),  and Larry Page & Eric E. Schmidt (of Google).  Lewicki’s business model is not exactly mineral digging but selling the journey and equipment.

According to a recent New York Times article, Planetary Resources is “creating a company that could one day launch ships into the unknown darkness of space, and, rather like the shipping magnates of sailing and whaling days past, wait years for a booty-laden return means selling space technology along the way — much of which will have to be invented — to help finance the dream…The company is developing its own orbital telescope, for example, geared to survey remote asteroids to figure out what they are made of, with a planned launching within two years. But it also plans to produce the devices commercially, with a price in the single-digit millions, for corporations, governments or individuals. The idea, company officials said, is to finance finding and mining asteroids by selling, in a sense, the shovels and picks.”

Scientists have been very skeptical, including Professor Erik Asphaug of my alma mater, Arizona State University.  Asphaug, claims that while the technology for robotic space travel is in reach the idea of docking on an unstable rock that is the size of Manhattan island could take more than a decade to figure out. Prof. Asphaug would prefer to spend such resources on trying to avert an asteroid collision with Earth.  I guess Asphaug is suggesting that this could be a good plan B business plan for Planetary Resources if the Avatar experiment fails – just reprogram the robots!

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