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Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse will require computing tech no one knows how to build – Protocol

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To achieve anything close to what metaverse boosters promise, experts believe nearly every kind of chip will have to be an order of magnitude more powerful than it is today.
A disconnect has formed between the way corporate America is talking about the metaverse and its plausibility.
The technology necessary to power the metaverse doesn’t exist.
It will not exist next year. It will not exist in 2026. The technology might not exist in 2032, though it’s likely we will have a few ideas as to how we might eventually design and manufacture chips that could turn Mark Zuckerberg’s fever dreams into reality by then.
Over the past six months, a disconnect has formed between the way corporate America is talking about the dawning concept of the metaverse and its plausibility, based on the nature of the computing power that will be necessary to achieve it. To get there will require immense innovation, similar to the multi-decade effort to shrink personal computers to the size of an iPhone.
Microsoft hyped its $68.7 billion bid for Activision Blizzard last month as a metaverse play. In October, Facebook transformed its entire corporate identity to revolve around the metaverse. Last year, Disney even promised to build its own version of the metaverse to “allow storytelling without boundaries.”

These ideas hinge on our ability to build the chips, data centers and networking equipment needed to deliver the computing horsepower required. And at the moment, we can’t. No one knows how, or where to start, or even whether the devices will still be semiconductors. There aren’t enough chips right now to build all the things people want today, let alone what’s promised by metaverse preachers.
“The biggest things that we are looking at in supercomputers today still need to be improved in order to be able to deliver [a metaverse] type of experience,” Jerry Heinz, the former head of Nvidia’s Enterprise Cloud unit, told Protocol.
What we now describe as the metaverse is at least as old as early 20th century speculative fiction.
E.M. Forster’s 1909 story “The Machine Stops,” for example, renders a pre-chip, pre-digital version of the metaverse. Fast forward 70 years, and science-fiction writer William Gibson called this concept “cyberspace” in the 1984 book “Neuromancer”; Neal Stephenson popularized the word “metaverse” in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash”; Ernest Cline called it OASIS (an acronym for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) in “Ready Player One.” Few of those stories describe a utopian community.
It’s possible that what we now call the metaverse will forever remain the domain of science fiction. But like it or not, Mark Zuckerberg has vaulted the idea into the mainstream.
Zuckerberg’s explanation of what the metaverse will ultimately look like is vague, but includes some of the tropes its boosters roughly agree on: He called it “[an] embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at” that would offer everything you can already do online and “some things that don’t make sense on the internet today, like dancing.”
If the metaverse sounds vague, that’s because it is. That description could mutate over time to apply to lots of things that might eventually happen in technology. And arguably, something like the metaverse might eventually already exist in an early form produced by video game companies.

Roblox and Epic Games’ Fortnite play host to millions — albeit in virtually separated groups of a few hundred people — viewing live concerts online. Microsoft Flight Simulator has created a 2.5 petabyte virtual replica of the world that is updated in real time with flight and weather data.
But even today’s most complex metaverse-like video games require a tiny fraction of the processing and networking performance we would need to achieve the vision of a persistent world accessed by billions of people, all at once, across multiple devices, screen formats and in virtual or augmented reality.
“For something that is a true mass market, spend-many-hours-a-day doing [kind of activity, we’re looking] at generations of compute to leap forward to do that,” Creative Strategies CEO Ben Bajarin told Protocol. “What you’re going to see over the next few years is an evolution to what you see today, with maybe a bit more emphasis on AR than VR. But it’s not going to be this rich, simulated 3D environment.”
In the beginning, chips powered mainframes. Mainframes begat servers, home computers and smartphones: smaller, faster and cheaper versions of more or less the same technology that came before.
If the metaverse is next, nobody can describe the system requirements specifically because it will be a distinct departure from prior shifts in computing. But it has become clear that to achieve anything close to the optimistic version, chips of nearly every kind will have to be an order of magnitude more powerful than they are today.
Intel’s Raja Koduri took a stab at the question in a recent editorial, writing: “Truly persistent and immersive computing, at scale and accessible by billions of humans in real time, will require even more: a 1,000-times increase in computational efficiency from today’s state of the art.”
It’s difficult to understate how challenging it will be to reach the goal of a thousandfold increase in computing efficiency. Koduri’s estimate might be convservative, and the demands could easily exceed 10 times that amount.
Even assuming those onerous hardware requirements can be met, better communication between all layers of the software stack — from chips at the bottom to end-user applications at the top — will also be required, University of Washington computer science professor Pedro Domingos told Protocol.

“We can get away with [inefficiency] now, but we’re not going to get away with it in the metaverse,” he said. “The whole [software] stack is going to be more tightly integrated, and this is already happening in areas such as AI and, of course, graphics.”
The generational leap toward the metaverse probably won’t be quantum computing, or at least how we think of it today: a largely theoretical platform decades from practical use that requires calculations to be performed at outer-space vacuum temperatures in room-sized computers. But the performance breakthrough promised by something like quantum computing will be necessary.
Google is exploring using algorithms to design more powerful chips, which could help move the needle. Special-purpose processors for AI models exist today, but by creating even more specialized chips, it’s possible to eke out more performance, Domingos said. Those designs can circumvent roadblocks to increasing the raw performance of existing silicon, such as making an application-specific integrated circuit that performs physics calculations.
“These companies — the chip-makers, or the providers of the metaverse, or who knows — will make more and more advanced chips for this purpose,” Domingos said. “For every level of the stack, from the physics to the software, there are things you can do.”
Domingos noted that, in the 1990s, ray tracing in real time would have been considered impossible, yet decades later it’s now done in real time with chips that power the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Google’s AI chips, known as tensor processing units, are another example of a specialized type of chip that will only become more abundant in the future, and is necessary for the metaverse.
But generational shifts in computing also require equivalent shifts in manufacturing technology. Companies such as TSMC and Intel are already pushing the boundaries of physics with extreme ultraviolet lithography machines to print the most advanced chips.

The latest EUV machines are dedicated to squeezing larger numbers of ever-smaller transistors and features onto each chip, continuing down the path that has been established for decades. But at some point in the future, the chip-making machines will become too costly, or it will be impossible to shrink features any further.

“If you look at where the architecture stands, if you look at where the performance per watt stands, I don’t want to say we need a breakthrough, but we’re pretty close to needing a breakthrough,” Bajarin said. “Sub-one nanometer is roughly four or five years away, and that’s not going to solve this problem.”
Without a generational leap in computing, a lower-fidelity version of the Zuckerverse is attainable. Assuming users will settle for graphics somewhat better than Second Life was able to achieve a decade ago, it should be possible in the longer run to make something that achieves some of the goals, such as a persistent, internet-connected virtual world. Building that version of the metaverse will require better networking tech, the specialized chips Domingos described and possibly something like artificial intelligence computing in order to handle some of the more complex but mundane workloads.
“There’s a lot of scaling up to do, which means that today’s data centers are going to look miniscule compared with the ones of tomorrow,” Domingos said.
But it’s going to take a long time to get there. Zuckerberg’s vision of the metaverse could be decades away, and after losing $20 billion on the effort so far, it’s not clear Meta will have the cash to turn that vision into reality.
Max A. Cherney is a senior reporter at Protocol covering the semiconductor industry. He has worked for Barron’s magazine as a Technology Reporter, and its sister site MarketWatch. He is based in San Francisco.
Hiring RAI leaders with philosophy and legal backgrounds might not be good enough for incorporating ethics in today’s fast-evolving AI.
RAI requires a leader with the right mix of knowledge, skills, abilities and experience.
Abishek Gupta is the founder and principal researcher at the Montreal AI Ethics Institute and senior Responsible AI leader and expert at Boston Consulting Group; Steven Mills is the Global GAMMA Chief AI Ethics Officer at Boston Consulting Group.

The Responsible AI (RAI) domain is at an inflection point: We are moving decidedly from principles to practice. As organizations mature their understanding, they are feeling the pressure to act from customer demands and impending regulatory requirements.
RAI means developing and operating artificial intelligence systems that align with organizational values and widely accepted standards of right and wrong while achieving transformative business impact.
But successfully operationalizing RAI requires a leader with the right mix of knowledge, skills, abilities and experience, and RAI remains a nascent field. The pool of experienced RAI leaders is extremely limited. As a result, many organizations have relied on legal and public policy experts.
This is invaluable expertise, particularly when faced with the emerging AI regulatory environment. But there is also an acute need for up-to-date technical understanding of AI systems, including their capabilities and limitations, to avoid leaving vulnerabilities and risks unaddressed.

For example, a new class of image-generation techniques called diffusion models are leaping along at an incredible pace: We’ve gone from being shocked by capabilities of DALL-E 2 last April to even newer systems providing richer and more varied outputs like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion only a few months later. While this technology is truly astounding, there are an important set of emerging ethical issues that RAI leaders will need to navigate.
Abishek Gupta Abishek GuptaPhoto: BCG
The novel ethical issues arising in these cases can certainly be navigated with expertise in law, public policy and philosophy. In fact, this expertise will be critical. However, addressing issues with modern AI systems, especially commercially viable production-grade systems, requires an up-to-date technical understanding. This spans the mechanics of system development and operations as well as the surrounding technical infrastructure.
And this goes beyond simply having technical expertise and experience — having recent experience with cutting-edge tech is equally important. For those whose latest technical experiences date back 10 years or more, this can present a challenge.
Let’s start with the fact that the recent wave of technical progress in deep learning really only started in 2012; techniques as ground-breaking as the Transformer architecture only date back to 2017. The pace of research and development is unrelenting, and when the time comes to incorporate technical controls and measures to address and mitigate ethical issues, this can become an issue. Recency in the technical experience of an RAI leader makes it more likely that their comprehension of the likely arcs of R&D in the field (for example, progression of capabilities of large language models) will be more scientifically grounded and probably more accurate. This can then help them craft strategic and tactical investments that are “future-proof,” i.e., they will be robust to major technological advancements.
None of this is to say that a purely technical approach is the solution. It is well documented that AI systems are sociotechnical in nature and hence require sociotechnical solutions, but computing plays a role in building the foundation to meet these challenges head on.

When you have an RAI leader who has experience with the challenges outlined above, they can bring a degree of nuance to solutions that can’t be obtained through consultations with a technical team. This happens because of a translation loss when a technical team has to distill its insights and experience for someone who doesn’t have that background, and the embodiment of that knowledge and experience within the RAI leader themselves means that they can more easily integrate that into the broader strategic directions they have in mind, which they in turn might not be able to perfectly (or sometimes even at all) share with the technical team.
If you are building out your RAI program and looking to hire an RAI leader to kickstart that journey, keeping in mind the recency of their technical experience or how you will help them build that expertise will be a critical factor in whether you’re able to achieve sustained success. As AI systems continue to evolve in what they can do, both in their breadth and depth, having an RAI leader who can effectively navigate that through a technical lens will be the differentiator between good and great program implementation.
Even if they don’t yet have this in their repertoire, planning and investment in equipping them with that knowledge and experience will help you yield significantly more of your overall investments into designing, developing and deploying AI systems more responsibly.
If you thought the rise of remote work, independent contractors and contingent workers rose sharply during the pandemic, just wait until the next few months when you see a higher uptick in the on-demand talent economy.
Rising workload and pace, the stress of commuting and a taste of the flexible work-from-anywhere lifestyle have all contributed to what many are calling the Great Resignation, which is only just the beginning of the headwinds organizations are facing, says Tim Sanders, vice president of client strategy at Upwork, a marketplace that connects businesses with independent professionals and agencies around the globe.
“It began with front-line workers, but it’s not going to end there,” Sanders notes, “Recent data suggests that the biggest industries for quits are now software and professional services and on top of that, I predict that we’ll see more leaders and managers continuing to quit their jobs.”
As the economy leans toward a recession, and layoffs across dozens of tech firms make headlines, Sanders predicts companies will increasingly turn to on-demand talent. “These highly skilled independent contractors and professionals offer the speed, flexibility and agility companies are seeking right now. Leaders are becoming more empowered to fully embrace a hybrid workforce and shift away from rigid models.”

Leaning into headwinds: Driving growth amid uncertainty
A recent report from Upwork, The Adaptive Enterprise, underscores the importance of flexible on-demand talent during uncertain times. Sanders notes: “A growing number of organizations, including Upwork and customers like Microsoft, Airbnb and Nasdaq understand that on-demand talent enables companies to reduce risk, drive cost savings, and at the same time, protect their people from burnout. Flexible workforce models also allow businesses to respond to and recover faster from crises than more traditional models.”
Some crises come in the form of economic slowdowns, while others can take the shape of geopolitical conflicts that disrupt life and work as we know it. Mitigating risk — such as a pandemic wave striking a certain region housing the majority of a company’s staff — is one reason businesses turn to on-demand talent, but it’s certainly not the only one.
CEOs surveyed by Deloitte in 2022 see talent shortages as the biggest threat to their growth plans. The survey goes on to report that CEOs believe that talent is the top disruptor to their supply chain and there is more to be gained within their workforce by providing greater flexibility (83% in agreement) as opposed to merely offering more financial-related incentives. What is top of mind for many business leaders is needing to fill talent and skills gaps, so they can deliver new products and enhanced services. In other words, companies are struggling to find the specific skill sets needed to advance their business objectives and innovation agendas.
The biggest benefit of leveraging on-demand talent is often tapping into the talent and skills that businesses can’t find elsewhere. Upwork’s recent report highlights that 53% of on-demand talent provide skills that are in short supply for many companies, including IT, marketing, computer programming and business consulting.

By harnessing a global talent pool from digital marketplaces like Upwork, businesses have wider access to skilled talent who can accelerate what those companies offer to customers at a fraction of the cost. “Skillsourcing” on-demand talent helps companies maintain a more compact population of full-time employees to concentrate on work that only they can do as well as maximize their strengths while bringing in independent professionals to handle the rest.
Behind the growth: Speed, flexibility and agility
Speed, flexibility and agility are three critical benefits offered by on-demand talent to businesses seeking competitive advantages in their sector. While on-demand talent solutions give companies speed-to-market advantages, Sanders sees that they also give organizations a strategic form of flexibility.
“An agile organization is able to make bold and quick moves without breaking everything,” Sanders says, “and look at a number of our Fortune 100 customers that have a workforce made up of almost half on-demand talent, and how they can pivot on a dime. It’s a case of structure enabling strategy.”
As for speed and efficiency doing the actual work, Sanders says clients report that when hiring managers have been given access to on-demand talent, they engage the needed talent within days instead of months, and when they bring them onto projects, the work is completed up to 50% faster than through traditional avenues.
Sanders says, “Businesses have realized that remote work experiences are best led and judged by outcomes, not just time in the office, and more leaders are comfortable and confident opting for a hybrid workforce that can deliver based on those outcomes.”
Upwork’s Labor Market Trends and Insights page shows that organizations are indeed ramping up their hybrid workforces: 60% of businesses surveyed said they plan to use more on-demand talent in the next two years.
“The old way of acquiring talent isn’t efficient,” Sanders says. “Staffing firms aren’t the silver-bullet solution they once were, and more businesses need to rethink and redesign their workforce with on-demand talent as the economy and work rapidly evolve. The conversation is no longer about the future of work, but the future of winning.”

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.
Our recommendations for your weekend.
Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety’s first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.
This week we’ve got a fun show for the kids that may inspire some adventuring; a history lesson from the sky and an update to a beloved space sim that will keep you entertained all weekend long.
If you’ve got kids, you’ll surely know Annie Barrows’ “Ivy + Bean” book series about two girls who overcome their differences and become best friends as they discover the adventurous parts of their neighborhood. (And if you have kids and don’t know the series, change that stat!) Netflix’s adaptation of the book series is pretty adorable and shows kids and grown-ups alike how much fun you can have once you leave your comfort zone.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II marks the end of an era, and depending on whether they grew up in the U.K., in one of its former colonies or somewhere else altogether, people understandably have very different feelings about this moment. I firmly fall into the third bracket and fully expect to learn more about the queen than I ever have while I’m inundated by the wall-to-wall coverage over the next couple of days. If you, like me, could use a bit of a refresher on the British monarchy, I recommend this documentary, which delivers a very different perspective: Consisting entirely of aerial shots, the film takes a look at the many castles that had once been part of the British empire and explains their role in the country’s history.
Chris McKillop was one of the main people behind Fuchsia, Google’s new operating system for smart displays and other consumer electronics devices. 9to5Google’s interview with him is pretty geeky but also pretty fascinating, as it charts the path from the much-maligned Nexus Q (the cannonball-shaped home audio device that Google ended up killing before its official launch) to modern smart displays and beyond. McKillop talks about what it takes to build an operating system, why that is very different from actually shipping it to millions of consumers and why other companies may fork Fuchsia for their own devices in the future (something that Meta was planning to do for its AR efforts before deciding to stick with Android).
When it first launched in 2017 for PC VR, Interkosmos was hailed as an equally clever and terrifying simulator of 1970s space travel. In that same spirit, Interkosmos 2000 lets you try your luck as an astronaut in a Y2K-era spaceship. Interkosmos 2000 is a bit like Job Simulator, but instead of flipping burgers, you’re charged with saving humanity from within a tiny spaceship that runs on floppy disks. What could possibly go wrong? Apparently a lot, judging from the fact that the training session already asks you to hit random instruments with a wrench in order to “fix” them.
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Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety’s first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.
Gen Z VC founder Meagan Loyst talks about retaining and recruiting younger employees and her work with the international collective.
Meagan Loyst runs Gen Z VCs, a global collective of young investors and founders.
Sarah (Sarahroach_) writes for Source Code at Protocol. She’s based in Boston and can be reached at [email protected]
Meagan Loyst wants you to know that Gen Z does not hate remote work.
“It is truly the norm for us,” said Loyst, who runs the global collective Gen Z VCs outside of her work at VC fund Lerer Hippeau. “One to two days in the office isn’t a bad thing. But you just have to understand that from the perspective of a Gen Z employee, we did not grow up in a world where you had to be in an office five days a week.”
In addition to questions about where Gen Z wants to work, Loyst gets asked about balancing face time and mentorship with flexibility, what certain TikTok trends mean and what remote work actually looks like for Gen Z employees.
Loyst said the answers to these questions, like Gen Z workers themselves, are complicated.
Distilling an entire generation into a few common trends is often misguided and fruitless. Gen Z — just as millennials, Gen X and boomers before them — is generally misunderstood. (Disclaimer: I am Gen Z.) I’ve been told we’re screen addicts, TikTok fanatics and “Schizoposters.” But for all the time we spend scrolling through social media, the data backs up the fact that this generation values in-person interactions.

Understanding how to manage and retain Gen Z will be key in the coming years, as we’ll make up about 30% of the workforce by 2030.
Companies are aware of this. Mattermost CEO Ian Tien told Protocol that the company has learned to mentor Gen Z employees such that they can more effectively draw a line between work and life in a remote environment. Gusto head of remote experiences Liberty Planck told Protocol that the company’s learned that giving younger employees as much information as possible in the onboarding process, like Gusto’s organization chart, helps them get acquainted with the company more quickly.
But it’s clear that founders are still breaking the ice with Gen Z workers. Loyst plans meetups and Clubhouse talks, organizes initiatives like a mentorship program and advises CEOs, CMOs and other business leaders on ways to reach and support the “quirky mystery” that she calls Gen Z. She’s referred to as the “queen of Gen Z VCs,” complete with a tiara and banner gifted to her to complement the title. The organization mainly keeps in touch via Slack, and has grown to over 17,000 members since its launch in late 2020.
“Gen Z is core to who I am,” she said. “I love helping companies think about workplace culture, retaining employees, hiring Gen Z employees — that all falls under this realm.”
This interview has been edited for length and brevity.
What do company leaders wonder the most about Gen Z workers?
One of the big questions is balancing face time and mentorship with flexibility. And what is remote work? I think one of the biggest things to remember about Gen Z employees is that pretty much every Gen Z employee started their work in COVID. The norm for us is not five days in the office. Because we did remote learning, we’ve done remote internships, we’ve done remote work, that is our norm, which is very different from every previous generation. And so I think it’s a pretty big leap to expect a five-day workweek, for example.

Gen Z does not hate remote work; it is truly the norm for us. I think the future is hybrid, and more people believe that one to two days in the office is not a bad thing. But you just have to understand that perspective of a Gen Z employee. We did not grow up in a world where you had to be in an office five days a week.
How do founders take that advice?
The Gen Z ethos is all about disrupting the status quo, being entrepreneurial, being creative, and some of those things do not gel with the traditional ethos of the workforce. And so it’s very much a push and pull where you don’t want to come across as bratty. So for founders and employers, you need to pick and choose your battles on what is absolutely crucial for this person getting their work done, [to] be able to succeed and feel supported, while not crushing their creativity or their entrepreneurial spirit because it doesn’t fit the mold.
What are best practices for recruiting and retaining Gen Z talent?
It’s providing a realistic expectation of the actual day-to-day work and the extent to which you can minimize the expectation and reality upfront. I also think recognizing that you need to give Gen Zers a little bit of rope to be independent and to be creative in their job. So many Gen Zers want to be creators in some way, shape or form. Maybe that’s writing content, maybe that’s filming videos on TikTok. That might not fall under their specific job description, but it might be really important for their personal development. It’s good to think about ways to support Gen Z employees in those creative endeavors, especially if those skills are helping the company at large.
Gen Z also fundamentally rejects the notion of the corporate ladder. There’s plenty of examples of this. Estée Lauder has a reverse mentorship program where their Gen Z employees and their interns are reverse mentoring the CEOs of the different divisions. Those types of initiatives are a great recruiting tactic, because when they join the organization, they don’t feel like a cog in the wheel. They have an actual place and a voice where they can influence company decisions.

Gen Zers may also have a side hustle of some sort. It may be related to their specific line of business, it may not be. Gen Z VCs is my side hustle. It is a very important part of my identity and my happiness. Having the support to pursue those things is important. And this is the case for a lot of Gen Z people who are maybe selling clothes on Depop or have an ecommerce shop or write a newsletter.
What are the main reasons that you’ve heard from Gen Z workers who are leaving their jobs?
The biggest one is a lack of feeling seen and heard. They want to be seen as a valued employee, but because they’re in some rigid structure or whatever, they don’t feel that way … I think the other thing too, depending on your industry, is they’re always going to be underestimated. I think the more that you can stray away from sizing people up simply because of their age and experience, the better off you’ll be.
How do you view burnout and manage it from a Gen Z perspective?
I’m really big on self reflection and really taking the time to evaluate my goals in life, the things that are important to me, how I’m spending my day. I recognize that I work all the time. But the way that I rationalize that for myself is that I’m 25 years old, I have no real responsibilities. I just have to pay my rent and make sure I don’t kill all my plants. This is the time to be pouring myself into these professional pursuits, which create opportunities for me and bring me happiness and fulfillment. And so I will continue doing that.

That might not be the case for everyone. For managers, I think it’s about having candid conversations about what’s missing from your Gen Z employee’s life right now. Gen Z is notoriously the loneliest generation; we really struggle with mental health. I think it’s important to have a really honest back and forth where managers can allow for young employees to open up without repercussions.
Is there anything you’re particularly excited about related to your work with Gen Z VCs?
I’m really focusing more on in-person gatherings. I’m going to be in London in a couple of weeks. I do a lot of Gen Z speaking engagements. And so next week I’m flying to Switzerland to do Gen Z work. So I’m really focused on those regional connections for people who are just looking for an excuse to get together. We had an event a couple of weeks ago in New York that was our first big New York happy hour. We had about 1,200 RSVPs. And I only had space for about 300 people. It was crazy. There was a line out the door.
It just goes to show that there’s a massive need for young people to collaborate. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about places and ways that we can make that magic happen all over the world. We did something in New York this summer, London in September and some other fun ones coming up too, which I can’t share too much on yet.
Sarah (Sarahroach_) writes for Source Code at Protocol. She’s based in Boston and can be reached at [email protected]
Beta Technologies’ charging network offers a way to power up both electric planes and vehicles, and a new app will help improve access.
Beta’s ALIA-250 electric plane uses “electric vertical takeoff and landing” technology and has a range of up to nearly 290 miles.
Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email ([email protected]).
Electric aerospace company Beta Technologies is working to build a network of chargers that could power its forthcoming small electric planes as well as ground-based electric vehicles.
The network is still in early stages, with just 10 on the ground and an additional few dozen in the permitting or construction stage.
Beta is also launching an app in an effort to get pilots and drivers to its chargers, the company shared with Protocol. The current version of the app is quite simple, providing just enough information for users to find a charger and start a session. But Chip Palombini, who heads product for the company, said the goal is to eventually build it out in response to customer need; while Beta’s planes are not yet in the hands of customers, a growing number of chargers are ready and waiting for both cars and eventually planes as well.
The Burlington, Vermont-headquartered company has two prototype planes that are still in the testing stage, and it plans to seek Federal Aviation Administration certification by 2024. The planes use “electric vertical takeoff and landing,” or eVTOL, technology, which removes the need for seeking out a landing strip, and have a range of up to nearly 290 miles. The company says its planes will be able to carry 1,400 pounds of cargo or six passengers depending on the configuration. UPS, the Air Force and United Therapeutics all have purchased agreements or established partnerships with Beta.

The process of actually getting electric planes to customers is an uncharted one, though, given that no electric aviation company has received FAA certification for commercial use. Heavy batteries take up valuable payload and limit the range of electric planes as well. A recent report from the International Council on Clean Transportation found that improvements in battery storage technology are still needed to make using electric planes “feasible,” especially given the requirement that commercial planes have reserve fuel.
in addition to building out its charging network beta is launching an app in an effort to get pilots and drivers to the chargers In addition to building out its charging network, Beta is launching an app in an effort to get pilots and drivers to the chargers. Image: Beta
Nathan Ward, who leads Beta’s work on its charging network, said the company hopes its chargers will spread out so that they can allow electric planes to go anywhere they need. In the short term, however, the focus is on building out a network along the East Coast in locations where organizations that have made purchase agreements operate.
For most of those customers, the aircraft is a small part of their process of getting cargo or people from point A to point B. Beta’s ALIA-250 prototype is designed to replace the short-haul trucks that run on fossil fuels and currently dominate the cargo landscape. The company is based in Burlington, Vermont, and sees connecting it and smaller cities like it as a way to ease supply chain issues. Its charging network could be a key piece of making that vision a reality.
The ALIA-250, which was unveiled two years ago, has primarily taken short flights, though the company recently completed a 1,403-mile journey from its testing site in Plattsburgh, New York, to Bentonville, Arkansas, and back, relying primarily on its own 10-charger network. While the trip dealt with weather-related delays, it took 704 minutes of flying time to complete, over the course of a week.

In its all-electric-delivery vision of the future, Beta is betting that its plane-EV combo charger will appeal to customers who will have on-the-ground transportation waiting on the tarmac when planes arrive; as delivery vehicles are increasingly electric as well, the company assumes customers will want to simplify the charging process as much as possible. When UPS announced its purchase agreement for 10 of Beta’s planes last year, the logistics company added a reservation for charging stations as well.
Beta raised $375 million in series B funding earlier this year, adding to the $368 million series A round it announced last year. The funds come from heavy hitters, including Amazon. While there are still numerous hurdles for electric aviation to go mainstream, major shipping companies are clearly betting on a future where the technology plays at least some role in transporting goods.
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated the Air Force has a purchase agreement with Beta rather than a partnership. This story was updated to reflect this difference on Sept. 8, 2022.

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email ([email protected]).
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