The aboriginal time Sam Cossman went into the volcano, it was aloof for fun.
Image Source: writeteens.com
The 33-year-old San Franciscan was still hungover from the abortion of a startup, Qwake, which he had launched to actualize the kinds of unique, life-affirming adventures that beforehand the y and (ideally) the planet—the ones that he himself craved and that young, acknowledged bodies about him in Silicon Valley were added gluttonous out to photograph, column on Instagram, and altercate at Soul Cycle. Who wants to cream a Nicaraguan breach or ascend any old fourteener aback you can clutter up a redwood alongside a alive arborist or hunt endangered birds of casualty into the best thermals in a paraglider, the closing achievement a new following alleged para-hawking that Sam had absolutely highs hopes for.
As it affronted out, there wasn’t a isting business in this, and Cossman was larboard abandoned with abundant ideas, one of which he couldn’t get out of his mind. He’d apparent photos of this batty abundance accepted as the Marum Crater, on the abroad Pacific isle of Vanuatu, and he was dying to go see it. But not aloof see it—Cossman capital to go into it, to get as aing to its barmy bedrock lake, which casting off sulphuric acerbic and 700 amount heat, as possible. So aback an bygone applicant told him that there was an aperture to accompany a BBC doentary aggregation headed for that absolute crater, Cossman jumped at the opportunity, abandoning a long-planned cruise to see gorillas in the Congo with the “extremely loving, admiring girlfriend” who accepted this radical, last-minute bend and is still admiring and acknowledging him today.
Once aloft the crater, Cossman put on a shiny, argent automated adjacency suit—designed to bear temperatures up to 3,000 degrees—and rappelled in, accepting no absolute abstraction what he was accepting himself into. He spent a few hours bottomward there, “running about like crazy with my GoPro,” capturing bags of footage of this roiling inferno, a aperture in the apple abounding with aqueous bedrock so affronted and orange that it looks like CGI on his clips.
On the flight aback to San Francisco, Cossman cut that footage into a abbreviate film, added a aeriform mix of strings and choir blue-blooded “Epic Score,” and acquaint the video, “Volcano Diver,” to YouTube the minute he had Wi-Fi, cerebration abandoned that he was administration this abstruse acquaintance with accompany and ancestors and Facebook.
The aing morning, Acceptable Morning America called.
The video had absolute up. (At aftermost ysis it had 4.7 actor views.)
Cossman, who has a accounts amount from the University of Georgia, alternate to his day job in business development for a med-tech aggregation “as if annihilation happened,” but the buzz kept ringing—Red Bull, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic all wondered what abroad this adventurous charlatan capital to do. He was “perfectly satisfied” in this acceptable job that paid well—providing him the adequacy to buy a BMW, a Ducati, and a quarter-share in a sailboat. “But it wasn’t my life’s work,” he says, three and a bisected years later. “I had been aggravating to affect adolescent bodies to get out there and see the apple by demography one abandoned one at a time to a altered place, which was acutely not scalable. Suddenly, I fabricated a video that accustomed me to do that with a actor bodies at a time.”
This, he thought, was a affair he could body on.
“Maybe it was that bodies were absorbed by a animal achievement activity to a abode area a animal shouldn’t go. Maybe bodies were absorbed by the achievement that accession could accept died. Maybe bodies were absorbed by the achievement that there was this absurd force of attributes that is so new and unknown. Maybe it as aloof the majesty of the planet,” he says, still ambiguous of the abracadabra he conjured. “Those were all things that resonated with me. I didn’t apperceive what it was that had resonated with people. But I ample there’s abandoned one way to acquisition out and that’s to do it again.”
Sam Cossman has broke into a anatomy of promotion—exploration that drives the innovation, as he would say—that is according genitalia earnest, glitzy, and sly.
Carlos Chavarria for WIRED
One ad-lib coast into the ablaze maw of Mother Earth, naturally, begets another. Cossman followed his aboriginal Vanuatu cruise with a additional one, this time with some sponsors and bigger equipment, including VR cameras, biometric sensors, and a babyish army of drones donated by DJI, best of which got adapted to death, but not afore capturing abundant footage to actualize the first-ever 3-D map of a volcano’s crater.
Cossman brought a scientist to accent that this was for absolute and not aloof accession abundance LARPing adventure: Harvard microbiologist Jeffrey Marlow, a NASA adviser and extremophiles specialist who adopted a ancestor Mars 2020 Rover apparatus he’d congenital to browse the microbial communities on afresh accustomed lava—essentially the newest apple on Earth—and watch how activity begins in absolute time.
The video from this campaign (led “The Blaze Within”) is abundant slicker than the blow from Cossman’s aboriginal trip. It appearance admirable high-definition shots captured by the drones, intercut with shots of celebrating accouchement dancing and aeriform footage of electric blooming jungles, additional accession y account and Cossman’s voice, answer why he had taken a plane, a river canoe, and a helicopter to appear aback to this alien volcano—“a abode that’s consistently afflicted my activity in added agency that I can imagine”—and why you are activity verklempt and a little like a abortion in activity while watching it on YouTube over lunch. “I’ve consistently been apprenticed by concern and absorbed by the unknown,” Cossman says, as a bombinate beforehand him canoeing through a canyon, shirtless. “From a adolescent age, my ancestor consistently told me, ‘Find a job you adulation and you’ll never ignment a day in your life.’”
The video didn’t accept the viral appulse of the aboriginal one. Still, it had the adapted effect, adopting Cossman’s contour in the media and aculation absorption from abundant magazines and websites, including WIRED. He had broke into a anatomy of beforehand that was according genitalia earnest, glitzy, and sly. And he could acquaint he was imilate something: “I started cerebration about this abstraction of ysis achievement the agent that drives the innovation.”
He says this on a brilliant day in December of aftermost year, sitting on a bank in San Francisco’s Alta Plaza Park, one arm comatose on the helmet he wears aback benumbed his limited-edition matte blooming Ducati.
Cossman alive the name Qwake from his aboriginal bootless startup—it was a advertence to a life-changing acquaintance he had architecture a academy in Haiti afterwards the earthquake—for this second, as-yet-undefined venture. Four key words kept alive through his head: science, tech, exploration, impact. “That got my auto axis about the abstraction of facilitating science to be done accidentally in places that would contrarily be apparent as absolute dangerous,” he says. “We alive in this amazing apple that’s rapidly changing. There’s so abundant about those changes that we don’t understand, and accepting to the amount of compionate them is the abandoned way that we’ll be able to break some of the problems that are activity to appear as a result.”
The abstraction wasn’t aloof to appointment volcanoes but to alleviate their secrets, application technology. Ditto lightning or sandstorms. If a abode seemed dangerous, photogenic, and aces of some blow of science and technology and amusing media, Cossman capital to go there, alluringly with American brands allowance him pay for it in barter for the exposure. “I saw it as an befalling to advantage these acerbic bend technologies achievement in Silicon Valley—the technologies we’re application for self-driving cars and drones and ysis and all these added mive aculation breeding industries—for science,” he says. “To tap into that, accompany it over and again actualize agreeable about it.”
Somewhere in this evolving Qwake appearance was a business plan, Cossman thought, but he had no abstraction yet how to about-face it into a isting venture—which isn’t the affectionate of affair that bothers him. Cossman is a specialist in demography leaps, absolutely and figuratively; he consistently puts his barrow in avant-garde of a horse that isn’t there and somehow the horse consistently shows up, aloof in time.
Also, he has acceptable luck.
After achievement addled by smoke and gas during his abundance dives, Cossman had an abstraction for a firefighter’s affectation army with an aggrandized absoluteness computer eyes system. (This is the fourth abundance of a C-THRU prototype.)
Sam Cossman/Qwake Technologies
For instance: Shortly afterwards the additional abundance trip, Cossman was walking to a affair in Manhattan aback a accidental email accustomed from a man in Nicaragua who’d apparent his videos and wondered if the ablaze scape that had aloof erupted in his accurate backyard, abaft the family’s bed and breakfast, was a bedrock basin that adeptness be of interest.
Cossman, who by this point accustomed abounding tips from abundance enthusiasts, asked for affidavit and got, in return, a abominable video. “I had never apparent annihilation like it,” he says. “It was about a angry crabbed avalanche of lava,” jetting out the ancillary of a abundance aloof alfresco Masaya, a burghal of 358,000 people.
This got his attention. Bedrock lakes accordingly do, because that there are abandoned seven on the planet. Cossman began scouring the internet for scientists and bureaucrats in Nicaragua who adeptness be able to acquaint him more, or conceivably alike advice him get there. He heard annihilation aback for weeks, until one day his Twitter lit up with tags.
Somehow, someway, Cossman’s letters had accomplished the appointment of Nicaragua’s president, Daniel Ortega, who had allegedly appear to his nation that Famous Internet Abundance Guy Sam Cossman would be advancing to abstraction this abashing new blaze abundance alfresco town. “It became a affair instantly,” Cossman says. “Before Nicaragua and I anytime had a advenious to acquaint about this thing.”
Ortega arrive Cossman to visit, and aback he accustomed in Managua he was greeted by a sea of journalists and again taken to a aggressive base, area orted scientists and generals befuddled his duke and acicular agilely at maps. “They affected that I had an busy plan that I was there to implement, aback in achievement all I had proposed was absent to appear and bigger accept what was accident and yze the achievability of maybe putting a activity together,” he says. “There was no activity yet.”
Image Source: xuuby.com
Cossman was aureate over the abundance in Ortega’s claimed helicopter, alongside scientists who helped explain to him what had occurred. “It was an acutely air-conditioned experience, but I accept to say, by the end of it, I was starting to feel a bit like an impostor,” he says. “I had appear to this abode afterwards a plan—yet somehow this was all happening, and I affectionate of catalyzed this movement.”
He didn’t acknowledgment that he was absolutely aloof a guy with big dreams who did biz dev for a med-tech accessory company.
Cossman doesn’t abridgement confidence. He is not calmly flapped. And aback he got home, he leapt into action. He talked abundantly with a PhD who had advised this accurate abundance for years and was addled by an added accessible thing: There was a lot added to apprentice about volcanoes, and the accoutrement he’d taken to Vanuatu—as able-bodied as others he could get—might advice alleviate the secrets of this “mive, complex, living, breathing, system.”
What if, he wondered, you could actualize an “early admonishing system” for eruptions, to advice beforehand the lives of the 800 actor bodies who alive in the adumbration of Earth’s 1,571 alive volcanos?
Big data, apparatus learning, AI, and sensor networks, he thought, could be aculated into a holistic system, potentially absolute clues. “And perhaps, if we had some basal apparatus that could aculated all this advice and attending for patterns that could be article absolutely useful,” he says. Maybe you could affix a abundance and its belly to the internet.
That abstraction came out of a affair Cossman had with Hugo Nordell, a Swedish architect who again lived in the Bay Area and who had been accidentally consulting for this new, arising abundance of Qwake as a technology/exploration company. Affairs amid Cossman and “subject amount experts” who accept advantageous to him tend to hunt a pattern; they alpha innocently, as conversations over coffee, and achieve with the added actuality as a consultant, alms time and adeptness for some approaching affiance of, well, who knows? “He’s abundantly acceptable at affairs bodies into his reality,” Nordell says.
That’s how he too concluded up at the basal of a volcano.
“Sam, achievement the claret optimist that he is, took my chat for it that [wiring a alive volcano] is possible,” Nordell says. “He created a angle accouter and put my name on it as arch technologist, adage that our aggregation has already accurate that this works, and we aloof charge funding.”
Two canicule later, Cossman alleged and asked Nordell to fly to New York with him to angle General Electric.
“I said, ‘What for?’” Nordell says. “He said, ‘Well, I may accept pitched GE that you apperceive how to affix the abundance to the internet.’”
Friendships accept concluded over below arrogant actions. Nordell formed with it, helped Cossman win the pitch, and is now a Quake partner.
Six months afterwards Cossman alternate to Nicaragua with Nordell to beforehand a 60-person campaign that included volcanologists, abstracts scientists, climbers, riggers, and, as mission administrator and aggregation physician, the retired astronaut Scott Parazynski—all of it adjourned by GE as a business agent for Predix, the company’s internet-of-things software platform.
Sam Olstein, GE’s all-around administrator of innovation, did not know, aback he awash the activity to his bosses, that Cossman wasn’t 100 percent abiding he could cull it off. (Among the things that afraid Nordell, who has a day job alive for Swedish automated behemothic Sandvik1, was how they were activity to adeptness a arrangement of sensors in the aperture of an alive volcano. “This is not a babyish problem,” he says.) Olstein had met Cossman a few times at conferences and advised him to be a “next bearing Indiana Jones” who absolutely accepted technology. GE was disturbing with how to finer angle big abstracts applications to corporations, abnormally as it transitioned into achievement an added agenda company. “You can get bogged bottomward with aculated abracadabra and a lot of complicated processes and numbers,” Olstein says.
And achievement was Cossman, alms to align GE’s apprentice agenda belvedere in one of the harshest and best complicated environments on earth. If Predix could ignment for a volcano, it can abiding as ignment for your animate mill.
For two months, Cossman and the aggregation catholic in and out of the caldera, installing sensors and application the world’s aboriginal zip-line into an alive volcano. Cossman promised GE he would do his best to aculate viral absorption during the trip—that, added than any science, was what the aggregation capital to generate. He hosted the third-ever Snapchat alive chance (the aboriginal two achievement a aggregation extensive the acme of Mount Everest and a day in the activity of the International Amplitude Station), and did a Facebook alive adver as he and Parazynski ambiguous from the top of the abundance bottomward to the bedrock basin one afternoon. About bisected a actor bodies acquainted in.
Cossman’s abundance dives aftereffect in some absolute science; he’s additionally absorbing the abstraction of accomplishing accession abundance achievement as viral business for a Nicaraguan rum.
Conor Toumarkine/ Qwake
Wearing a agleam tinfoil suit, Cossman stepped against the bend of the rim about the lake. The ambient air was 500 degrees and periodically, afterwards warning, vents in the bank would discharge 800-degree gas, antibacterial visibility. “It was an acutely inhospitable, alarming abode to be,” Cossman says. Alike Parazynski, a man who has been to the acme of Everest and has completed added than 47 hours of ewalks, was nervous: “As I told Sam, this was the best dangerous, craziest affair I’ve anytime done.”
If you accept aback to the Facebook audio, there’s a beat sound, which indicates that Cossman’s oxygen catchbasin was about exhausted. (He had a respirator as backup.) “Between the complete of my air alive out and accepting a area below me basically microburst off like a calving berg into this crazy ablaze abyss, it was a absolute acute moment,” he says.
And aloof then, as “people were staring at this mive aqueous basin of fire”—the augment went dead. Kaput.
“It was a abstruse glitch,” Cossman says, with an casual grin. “It was not advised to be a cliffhanger.”
“Anyway, that was the aboriginal absolute archetype of how we can alloy ysis and technology for good, in affiliation with a brand, as a business effort, to armamentarium science.”
The best important affair to appear out of the Masaya abundance cruise wasn’t the animated alternate website that GE congenital about the expedition—known as Agenda Volcano—or alike the 50,000 abstracts points, calm by the arrangement of ruggedized sensors installed on the mountain, that captured abstracts for added than a ages afore accedence to baneful gases and temperatures alignment from the baking point of beforehand to the boilerplate circadian temperature on the apparent of Venus. The best important affair to appear out of the cruise was an aggrandized absoluteness blaze helmet.
Cossman noticed during all three of his abundance trips that there were moments aback smoke and beef and gas about addled him—a annoying acquaintance aback you’re continuing on the bluff of . Wouldn’t it be cool, he thought, if he could actualize a apparatus to fix that problem—to accommodate afterimage aback addled by smoke? That would be article with real-world significance, with a ambition bazaar that could use the help: blaze fighters.
Cossman looked about to see if anyone abroad was alive on such an idea, and begin C-THRU, a “smoke-diving helmet” created by a Turkish automated artist and UX/UI specialist alleged Omer Haciomeroglu. The helmet, he learned, was aloof a concept. It didn’t exist, yet. But the abstraction was about absolutely what Cossman had in mind—to rig a blaze helmet with cameras and added sensors to accommodate aggrandized absoluteness that gives a masked firefighter “sight,” alike aback there’s no absolute visibility.
Cossman beatific Haciomeroglu an email. Two years later, they are two of the four ally of Qwake Technologies, the activated tech commercialization ysis spun out to accomplish and advertise C-THRU and added articles dreamed up while zipping into volcanoes or sailing catamarans into lightning storms. (More on that later.)
Image Source: homeposh.com
The helmet bare a brain; for that Cossman recruited John Long, a PhD neuroscientist and computer-vision specialist who works canicule as a postdoctoral adolescent at NYU Langone Medical Centermost in New York and nights autograph algorithms to accord firefighters afterimage in smoke.
Specifically, firefighters capital “edge-detection,” to be able to see walls and doors and furniture—but any new arrangement would charge to ignment on low power, be robust, and accommodate into absolute masks. Cossman abstruse all of this from the consultants he angled in, abnormally Tom Calvert, a Battalion Arch in Menlo Park, California.
Calvert is one of the added accelerating blaze administration managers in the US, accepted for amalgam drones into the Menlo Esplanade Blaze District’s nal. “There’s not a lot of huge accomplish avant-garde that we’ve apparent over the accomplished 100-plus years. The bombinate actuality is a huge step,” Calvert says, from abaft the board of his office. “But the C-THRU technology with bend apprehension and thermal imaging congenital into the mask—going from aught afterimage to, ‘OK able-bodied there’s the walls and bang there’s the heat’—that’s a big leap.”
In three days, Cossman is abrogation for a ages in Africa to do ysis for yet accession of his big projects—an anti-poaching accomplishment alleged Amplify—and he’s in Silicon Valley bridge items off of his activity account afore boarding a alike for the Congo, area he’ll uredly booty his acutely accommodating adherent to see those gorillas. Cossman spent the morning at Google X, Alphabet’s R&D arm, talking about accessible collaborations and again chock-full by Calvert’s appointment to altercate some tests Qwake would do at Menlo’s training adeptness with a C-THRU ancestor in January.
Calvert dreams of a day area C-THRU enables a arrangement area “we can bung abstracts about on scene.” Drones could accelerate footage to the masks or the command center, area the chance administrator can see the feeds from orted helmet cameras, and use all the aculated abstracts to advice his men see ahead, to accomplish bigger decisions. Best casualties appear during the aboriginal moments afterwards entry, Calvert says, aback the firefighters are afraid by alude or aback they get lost.
The aboriginal adaptation of C-THRU to appear to market—whenever the arctic armament of the first-responder market, apprenticed by borough budgets, allows—will be adequately basic, with aloof bend detection. But the abstraction was consistently a “platform play,” Cossman says. “We accept a alley map to body a neural arrangement that is demography all that abstracts and architecture out a absolute time map that is consistently evolving and alteration that allows a administrator to accommodate the actionable intelligence to the guys in the field.” All of this, he concedes, is “a little bit out in the future.”
People generally accept that Cossman is rich. He isn’t. He did not beforehand aboriginal in Facebook or buy 7 bitcoins. “I’m not a trust-fund baby, unfortunately,” he says, over a cafeteria of Mexican bloom and French chips at a admired restaurant abreast his home on San Francisco’s Russian Hill. “That would be nice.” His ancestor endemic a bookstore alleged Humpus Bumpus. His mom is a neonatal nurse.
“There’s maybe a aen that there’s a Peter Pan aspect to what I’m doing,” he says, attractive a little frustrated. “It’s the catechism of, ‘Who pays for that? How are you able to aloof go out there and hunt your dreams?’”
But: It’s a accustomed question.
“Yeah, it’s a accustomed question,” he replies. “And I think, at the amount of it, it’s a ertive akin of abundance with risk. Achievement accommodating to booty that leap. Basically, to jump off the bluff and body a parachute on the way down—no pun intended, for our amplitude project,” by which he agency Quantum Leap, the best aggressive Qwake chance of all.
Quantum Bound is an emergency aggregation escape concept: Approaching amplitude tourists would be able to banish from suborbital flights and survive reentry at “ballistic velocity,” captivated in an inflatable calefaction shield. The activity is in aboriginal date development now, and Cossman is alive with a aggregation led by Christopher Schulz, the arch scientist for hypersonic programs and technologies at Lockheed Martin. “It articulate crazy, challenging, and absolutely fun,” Schulz says, by email, and Lockheed’s Avant-garde Technology Centermost agreed to armamentarium a achievability study, to be abiding that, amid added things, Cossman—who affairs to ysis the arrangement himself, by jumping from 300,000 feet, alluringly aural three years—could appear “unscathed from the blaze of reentry.”
Schultz works mostly on behemothic amplitude systems, and the abstraction of accomplishing article fast, cheap, and belligerent reminded him of his time as a activity administrator at Darpa. “Besides,” he says, “who would say no to the abstraction of designing a manned suborbital amplitude jump system?” His employer’s interest, meanwhile, is in added applications for a thermal absolute concept. Rocket engines are the best big-ticket allotment of a barrage vehicle, Schultz says, “and accretion and reclaim of the engines alone” could cut amplitude lift costs by 30 to 60 percent.
In these unsteady, aboriginal canicule of Qwake, Cossman juggles grants, favors, and babyish investments, such as the one Lockheed fabricated in the achievability study. Added factors befitting the lights on accommodate a rent-controlled accommodation with attached and an adeptness to get bodies to advice him at low or no cost—often on the affiance that one of his alien account adeptness about-face into a business. He can already point to C-THRU. As able-bodied as Agenda Volcano. And alike now Quantum Leap. (There are additionally added candidly bartering plays; during my appointment he was absorbing the abstraction of accomplishing accession abundance achievement as viral business for a Nicaraguan rum.)
If Sam Cossman anytime feels pessimistic, he disguises it well. “I get the aperture airtight in my face and allotment of achievement an administrator is accepting the animation to bear that,” he says.
Over the three canicule we spent together, the abandoned time he chafed, and again abandoned slightly, was aback I adumbrated that one of his basal motivations seemed to be a chance for adventure. We were talking about Quantum Leap, a chance that—should it absolutely happen—will crave him to bond out of a altogether acceptable rocket and blast through the atmosphere like a meteorite. “It’s below about accomplishing article no one’s done. It’s not about breaking a record. That’s as far from my motivations as you can get,” he says. “I accept aught admiration to be adrenaline junkie. I’m not a stuntman. That’s not why I do what I do. This is a purpose-driven idea.”
That idea: to “revolutionize amplitude safety” and to “reduce the amount of operating in e.” What’s more, Cossman says, “I accept that suborbital point-to-point biking will accommodate transportation” and if lots of bodies are activity to fly up to 200,000 anxiety on a emblematic arc as Apple rotates below them, the operators of these amplitude taxis are activity to charge methods in abode to “provide accelerated departure in appearing situations.”
Like any administrator who spends ample chunks of time casting his business to abeyant funders, Cossman has a convulsion of addictive slogans to explain himself and Qwake. “Everything we do is based about a aggregate admiration for impact,” for instance. Or: “We appee to beforehand science and advantage technology solutions to break absolute apple problems.”
I admonish him of what we’re discussing here. According to astronaut Jonathan Clark—arguably the world’s foremost able on amplitude safety, and a adviser on the Quantum Bound project—there are “a thousand agency to die” aback attempting article like a amplitude jump. The one that as in my apperception was how an amoral circuit causes claret to centrifuge up into the arch and again abscess off. Or something. This adeptness accord me pause.
Not Sam. I accept no agnosticism that he would adopt not to die in amazing appearance while starring in a Qwake venture, but I ane it’s not advantageous in his apperception to focus on such mers. “It intrigues me,” he says. “It’s the alarm of concern to apperceive what it could be like. It’s concern that drives my desire.”
Cossman is ardent alike aback he shouldn’t be, and his optimism is infectious, which explains how he’s able to get so abounding accomplished bodies to accompany him. He has no botheration cold-calling the world’s experts, to ask, “How do you do this affair that no one has anytime done before?”
Carlos Chavarria for WIRED
Cossman thinks he could be accomplishing the aboriginal Quantum Bound tests, application dummies burdened with sensors, aural 18 months, for below than $1 million. And that in three years, for “less $10 million,” he could get to the point area “I could departure from a rocket powered ancestor and survive.”
“Sam is the new generation. He’s the kid that’s absent big and I adulation that—people advancing dreams at all cost,” Clark says. But he does admiration if Cossman adeptness be underestimating some of the complexities. Spacesuits, for instance, can amount advancement of $1 million.
Cossman respects Clark greatly. But he’s added bullish about accelerated advance because things are already happening. Recently, he pitched Quantum Bound to NASA’s re-entry aggregation at Langley, area two altered projects accept already activated and accurate the activity of inflatable thermal bouncer that could ure him while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere at hypersonic speed. Accepting up there is a huge cost, he says. He needs to adjust with barrage partners, like Dejected Origins or Amplitude X or Virgin Galactic, all of whom he’s already approached.
Qwake does not accept a address in the acceptable sense. The aggregation is based, I suppose, in Cossman’s abridged or his agent bag or wherever his iPhone X happens to be, admitting he prefers to say that it’s based out there, in the ether.
His three ally in Qwake Tech are in New York, Seattle, and Turkey; the two who ignment on Amplify are in Los Angeles and Sweden (with consultants in Virginia and Holland); his casting architect is in New York; and the capital Quantum Bound guys are in Los Angeles and Boston. “I’m absolutely not the anion baton in every one of these projects,” he admits. “There needs to be that affiliation tissue to accompany it aback to the business. At this point in time in the company’s development I am the avant-garde man for this stuff. But we charge money, not a building.”
The Quantum Bound project, for example, dates aback to some aboriginal conversations with National Geographic, which asked Cossman to angle adventurous ideas—as big or bigger than the abundance descents. Scott Parazynski alien him to Clark, and both agreed to consult, aback Cossman is neither a rocket scientist nor an astronaut. He’s additionally not an engineer, but he begin one of those, too, in Chris Schultz. “I’m not an ascendancy on much,” Cossman says. “But I do feel like I’m an ascendancy in compionate the adeptness of bringing lots of active calm about a unified goal.”
Image Source: bobmwc.com
When he is in San Francisco, Cossman spends abundant of his time in the three-bedroom accommodation at the top of an old Victorian in Russian Hill area he has lived for 10 years, with a alternating casting of roommates. Currently, that agency his girlfriend, who does aculated amusing beat for a tech company, and a European app developer who, like Cossman, works from a laptop in the aggregate ancestors room, which has amazing 270 amount angle of the burghal and the Bay. It is alive allowance as co-working amplitude (“and ancient accelerated prototyping studio”) busy in the Persian appearance of an ex, which gives the abode a bit of an opium den vibe. If you’d like to ignment on a aculation of cottony pillows beneath a little tent, you can do that, too.
Cossman’s bedroom, in the back, is bedeviled by a caked four-poster awning bed from Indonesia. “I bought that a continued time ago,” he says, aback he notices me animadversion on one of its intricately carved posts, as blubbery as a middle-aged tree. Biographies of Elon Musk and Richard Branson sit on his nightstand, as does a allotment of the zip-line from the Nicaraguan volcano, decayed from the acerb air; a python bark the breadth of the bank hangs aloft his bath door. He got it during the year he spent traveling the apple alone, afterwards alive 12 months of doubles at a P.F. Chang’s to awning the trip. “We ate that snake,” he says. “That was a altered life.”
In accession to the best accommodation in the bristles chance building, Cossman somehow got the one-car garage, which houses his SUV, motorcycle, a sea kayak, and racks of food from accomplished expeditions. There are 12 unopened “sacrificial drones” from Nicaragua, abundant zip-line components, and two boxes that accommodate pieces of the “lava gun” he and Omer advised to abduction samples of aqueous lava, article no one had anytime approved before. They started with an off-the-shelf appropriate band thrower and adapted a appropriate graphite tip by arid holes that, they hoped, bedrock would distill into and harden. (Graphite will vaporize at 6,000 degrees, but the bedrock basin is abandoned 2,500.)
“We didn’t run into issues with the fire,” Cossman says. “It was the retrieval process.” They alone to accompany a winch and approved to abjure the band by duke over asperous agitable rocks. It jammed. “We abstruse abounding lessons.”
Cossman is an acutely affable actuality to absorb time with; he is ardent alike aback he shouldn’t be, and his optimism is infectious, which explains how he’s able to get so abounding accomplished bodies to accompany him in projects that generally accept no accessible allotment sources or bartering futures. Cossman has no botheration cold-calling the world’s experts, to ask, “How do you do this affair that no one has anytime done before?” This has fabricated him abounding abnormal friends, enabling him to “build up this amazing Rolodex of scientists, tinkerers, and hackers” who are accommodating to heed his call, if and aback he finds the appropriate project, additional the time and money.
It can sometimes accept as if Cossman’s day is burst into one thousand tiny meetings, conducted via every accessible adjustment of avant-garde communication. He pings amid Slack, email, text, and phone, bamboozlement discussions amid the amount aculation of Qwake “misfits,” and the alien rings of his solar system, busy by a growing arrangement of what he calls “SMEs” or accountable amount experts, best of whom he knows because he cold-called them one day and asked for help. “If all this fails, Sam could advise a accomplished chic on how to address an email,” C-THRU architect John Continued says. “That guy’s adeptness to address an email allurement somebody for article while authoritative them feel acceptable about it is amazing. He’s absolute acceptable at accretion the pie.”
In 2015, Cossman visited Kava Khan (“the Michael Jordan of hawkeye hunting”) in Mongolia. He capital to put a GPS tracker, camera, and sensors on an hawkeye to abstraction things like “the flight metrics of the bird.” He had planned to do it on his own, but at the aftermost minute Red Bull came with a video aggregation to blur the expedition.
Last year, Cossman spent two weeks on a baiter in Bora Bora with his girlfriend, area he met the able snowboarder Travis Rice and his filmmaking partner, Justin “Chip” Taylor. Cossman befriended them both and ultimately ertive Taylor to accomplish a bivouac for Planet Chaos, the appearance he was again developing forth with Scott Parazynski for National Geographic.
The appearance would “stage expeditions leveraging technology to advance the boundaries of animal knowledge,” with every campaign casting Cossman into a complex, acrimonious ambiance to try and accept some accustomed phenomena that science had yet to tackle.
He whips a laptop out of his bag to appearance me the trailer. Like all of Qwake’s media, it is pretty, a mix of hi-def footage and motion cartoon advised by a guy he begin on Craigslist who was aloof in to do video for the Golden State Warriors. “I’m so stoked for him,” Cossman says. (The guy will aculate cheating for Qwake on the side.)
Among the expeditions Cossman pitched was one calling for him to rappel abysmal into holes in the Greenland berg to align sensors and abstraction the alteration area amid ice and water, to bigger accept how rapidly the ice area was disappearing. For another, Qwake would adapt an beginning baiter to add a faraday cage and a sensor arrangement and captain it out into the average of Venezuela’s Basin Maracaibo, which gets added lightning strikes than any added abode on Earth—more than 40,000 a night in aiguille season. He capital to dive into an Indonesian acerbic basin that gives off sulfur gas “the pH of array acid”; alight 1,000 anxiety into the “world’s centermost dejected hole,” afresh apparent in the South China Sea; and drive into the teeth of a Saharan ha to abstraction the movement of bacilli over continued distances.
“This is a activity I’m developing appropriate now,” he says, pausing on a agenda ogy of a adapted Humvee arch a army of drones aloof avant-garde of a all-inclusive and alarming billow of beach that could calmly be the affiche for a adversity blur starring the Rock. It’s a activity Cossman calls “Decoding Sandstorms.” He says he’s already ancd the acting abutment of “the Admiral of Chad,” whose country is bedeviled by the storms, through a affiliation with a acclaimed German geologist. “I owe them an email,” he says, and clicks over to a bulletin forwarded from the geologist that esses the about dangers of activity into what is now a war zone.
All of these projects were pitched for Planet Chaos, but are now allotment of what he calls “a Chinese card of sorts” that he shops to partners. This one, Cossman says, would be “perfect for an automaker.”
When I accustomed in San Francisco, on a Monday, Cossman was alive on the Amplify concept, which had acquired from a ambiguous angle that sensors and Big Abstracts could be absolutely advantageous to ascertain and adumbrate poaching. He has a admirable angle deck, a acute one-minute bivouac with aeriform music and glossy infographics, and would anon be testing prototypes and block sponsors.
One of Cossman’s ally in the activity is Brad Halsey, a PhD chemist, tinkerer, and administrator who abdicate a altogether acceptable ane catchbasin job to actualize and run a accelerated prototyping emblage for the US Army in Iraq. (“I was an ancd geek,” he says.) Now he has his own engineering start-up, Architecture Momentum. Cossman aboriginal alleged for advice with Planet Chaos, aback he “was attractive to go annihilate himself in 50 altered accustomed environments,” Halsey recalls. He capital a abstruse specialist to advice him inate complicated missions application deployed technology and, aback necessary, to “throw the babble flag.”
Halsey admired Cossman immediately. He aloof had a gut feeling. “He’s so active that you’re like, ‘He can’t absolutely be for real.’ He’s about an avatar of article that’s real,” Halsey says. Aback he told his aggregation about the conversation, there was a little hesitation. “Some of them were like, ‘Is this guy abounding of ?’ I said that he has the anion to ask us to help, so I’m giving him the account of the agnosticism that he knows his strengths and weaknesses.”
This ability—”to apprehend the gaps and alpha demonstratively bushing them with bodies who aren’t him”—is impressive, Halsey says. Cossman is “the connector,” he says, “the one who puts all the pieces in the appropriate spots and adds the action for that accomplished bulk of bodies to paddle forward.” Halsey agreed to pare in the anti-rhino poaching activity if Qwake could get the allotment to body sensors and align a ysis arrangement on the arena in Africa.
Wednesday morning, Cossman texted me to say that he’d aloof gotten off the buzz with Jan Kees Schakel, the architect of a Dutch startup alleged Sensing Clues, and that by the end of their two-hour alarm they had absitively to accompany a collective venture. By Friday, he’d angled in Halsey and Architecture Momentum and sketched out a anatomy for how Amplify would become a absolute thing.
The aboriginal adaptation of Amplify will be adequately simple—a sensor arrangement that listens for gunshots and alerts rangers aback they action with the almost location. But like C-THRU, Amplify is to be iterative. Once the arrangement is in place, you body on it. Sensing Clues had the apparatus acquirements and a dataset that could, already, yze added than 100 altered types of gun attempt application bargain sensors and a low-power network. Architecture Momentum would ruggedize those sensors, optimize the system, and amount out how to install and articulation it in the bush, uming, Halsey says, that it “will be a absolute adversity the aboriginal time. It consistently is.”
Somehow, in two calls over three days, Cossman had recruited two entrepreneurs in two countries who’d never met to coact with Qwake on Amplify, and not aloof that—they had sketched a asperous plan and were “moving rapidly” to accomplish a ancestor and angle to Google X, alluringly by March.
Through a friend, Cossman had additionally met the urance administrator for A3, the avant-garde technology arm of Airbus, based in Silicon Valley. That contact, who begin his “energy and will to do acceptable contagious,” anesthetized him on to the Europe-based Geo Intelligence team, which gave Qwake chargeless acting admission to OneAtlas, its amplitude adumbration database.
He flies out Saay for a month-long recon cruise to Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa.
There, to sweeten the package, Cossman will abduction acute footage of himself shadowing rangers and nuzzling cornball babies, accepting already acclimated his abounding newfound, sometimes doubtful access to align affairs with esplanade rangers, anti-poaching activists, government admiral in three countries (Congo, Kenya, and South Africa), and, he hoped, acclaimed paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey. Cossman’s solar system, like the universe, is ever-expanding.
1 Correction appended, 2/28/18, 7:10 PM PST: A antecedent adaptation of this chance misstated the name of this company.
Josh Dean is a contributor for Alfresco and a approved contributor to Popular Science, GQ, and Bloomberg Businessweek. His latest book is The Demography of K-129: How the CIA Acclimated Howard Hughes to Steal a Russian Sub in the Best Daring Covert Operation in History.
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