The Jetsons, a cartoon about life in the future, lasted just a year on TV. But its bold vision of the year 2062 – with its autonomous vehicles, push-button luxuries and buildings that floated magically in the sky – has become immortalized in pop culture.
Seattle’s iconic Space Needle served as animator Iwao Takamoto’s inspiration for The Jetsons’ city of the future. In many ways, Washington was already leading the way.
Today, thousands of Washington companies are creating a Jetsonian future. From autonomous vehicles and sophisticated robotics to satellite constellations and targeted cancer therapies, Washington is a place where the impossible becomes commonplace and the world of tomorrow lies just beyond the horizon.
Reducing society’s carbon footprint is a major focus for Washington State businesses. Companies are working on many fronts, from smart-grid technologies to transportation systems. Zunum is one such company. It is working on a new 10 to 50 passenger aircraft powered by a pair of ducted electric fans. The hybrid approach will reduce noise by 75 percent and cut fuel costs by 40 to 80 percent. No need to worry if the batteries run low – a jet turbine adds a measure of safety if it’s needed.
Washington’s Maritime BLUE initiative is exploring the use of fast-charging systems at ferry docks. This would allow many of the state’s ferries to electrify, greatly reducing noise, emissions and operating costs. The ferries serve as a testing ground for expanded use of electric propulsion technologies in other large vessels, such as freighters and passenger ships.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Washington’s growing pool of artificial intelligence and machine learning talent is closely aligned with the state’s philanthropic culture. Washington has a rich history of fostering trusted brands such as Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Microsoft and Starbucks. Companies working on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning projects are exploring solutions that balance ethical concerns with the tremendous potential AI offers. Researchers at Microsoft, Amazon and the Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence are among those leading the way in this regard, focusing on natural language processing, algorithms, data analytics, AI, machine learning and more. Google, Facebook, Oracle, Apple, HP, Uber, Lyft, Twitter, SpaceX, Salesforce, Splunk and nearly 100 other technology giants have opened engineering offices in Washington State in recent years.
New players such as Kymeta and Blue Origin have joined industry stalwarts Aerojet Rocketdyne, Tethers Unlimited and nearly 40 other companies to create a rapidly-growing commercial space cluster in Washington. These firms are involved in all facets of space exploration: propulsion, structures, avionics, communications, satellites and systems. Spaceflight Industries is a good example. Spaceflight offers comprehensive launch and mission management services. It recently launched 64 customer satellites on a single Falcon 9 rocket. Washington space companies are working closely with Blue Origin, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing and Stratolaunch to create a profitable economic model for commercialization and exploration.
Automation & Robotics
Washington is spearheading the use of autonomous technologies on many fronts. Autonomous drones are already being used to monitor crops in Eastern Washington and the health of remote forests in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. Taking advantage of the state’s expertise in software, hardware and systems, Cruise Automation, a General Motors subsidiary, recently announced it was opening an engineering office in Washington. Similarly, Kenworth is working on autonomous trucks to transport goods safely and efficiently on the nation’s highways.
Boeing continues to be a leader in the innovative use of robotics on the factory floor, working with KUKA and Electroimpact to automate the application of composite fiber to high-load aircraft structures. They are also using robots to paint aircraft wings using less paint with far greater precision. Robots are even finding their way into the state’s orchards and vineyards. Faced with a growing shortage of pickers, farmers are studying the use of robotic harvesters to pick berries, apples, grapes and other fragile fruits.
Adaptability has been a hallmark of Washington businesses since the first lumber mill staked its claim in what is now downtown Seattle. One of the most promising uses of the state’s renewable timber resources is cross-laminated timber (CLT). Two new mills are gearing up operations to produce this advanced construction material, which uses smaller diameter trees that once were unsuitable for harvest. Stronger than steel, CLT gives builders a new material that adds beauty and strength to structures.
Hundreds of Washington companies are exploring the production and use of advanced materials across the State, from carbon fibers and exotic blends of metals to recycled composites. Advanced manufacturing materials and techniques are finding their way into a range of Washington-made products, from guitars, prosthetic legs and Pickleball rackets to commercial aircraft and high-performance racing shells.
The state that gave the world kidney dialysis machines, portable heart defibrillators and bone marrow transplants continues to lead the way in life science and global health. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington, PATH and others are leveraging the state’s culture of collaboration to create revolutionary new solutions, treatments and cures, such as making wastewater potable, transporting perishable vaccines safely to the remote corners of the world and treating cancer with revolutionary gene therapies. A robust community of startups feeds new ideas into the healthcare ecosystem, including hundreds of medical device companies that are taking advantage of the state’s expertise in software, big data, cloud computing and hardware.
You’re in Very Good Company
Washington is truly a study in contrasts. Featuring an educated, highly-productive workforce, a smart, sector-driven growth strategy, a history of creating world-renowned companies and a healthy startup community looking for the next big thing to shake up the marketplace, Washington continues to enjoy historic economic growth and expansion.
The state’s entrepreneurial spirit, vast intellectual capital and collaborative ecosystem have drawn some of the most well-known and respected firms in the world, including Mitsubishi, Philips Healthcare, Dassault Systèmes, REC Silicon, Sharp, Toray, Zodiac and 800 other multinational firms.