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Apple Watches and Carbon Removal

May 12, 2021

10 years ago, I was part of a startup team that had raised tens of millions of dollars, competing for a $10M XPRIZE, and invited to speak on stage at TEDxBrussels in front of 2,000 people.

No....it wasn't about carbon removal. It was about digitizing the human body. 

I learned a lot from the experience that comes to mind today when I hear all the criticism of carbon removal -- the clunky machines, farmer schemes, and seemingly impossible policies. So here's my story...(and on YouTube of you want to watch the video)

Back in 2010-ish, I was part of a company called Scanadu started by my brilliant friend Walter De Brouwer. Our goal was to put a doctor in your pocket using this wacky new device called a smartphone as the backbone. We engineered a handheld sensor array for measuring your heart rate, ECG, blood oxygenation, body temperature, the works...tracking all these indicators to figure out how you're doing.

Yesterday I got the first consumer device that integrates all these sensors. It's the new Apple Watch! It does all the stuff I was talking about, heart rate, ECG, blood oxygenation, and more.

A decade ago, most doctors I met didn't think a doctor in your pocket was possible. Not only did they think it wasn't possible, they told us it would be dangerous, putting patients in harm's way because doctors are the ones that know everything, and these people coming in with reams of WebMD printouts should just leave it to the professionals.

Seeing the Apple Watch makes me think about the progress of sensors over all that time. I remember working on that mini-ECG sensor to measure the electrical signal of the heart. We had a tough time making the sensor surface small enough to fit on the pocket-sized device while still being big enough to pick up the heart's signal from your skin. What's crazy is Apple has gone way smaller than I thought was possible, putting a finger to little digital crown is all that's needed. I'm floored.

Scanadu ultimately blew up and some of the team ended up at Apple or other medical device companies. We  helped started something but we didn't get to finish it, Apple came along and other companies came along and and picked it up and made it real. Over 10 years, the who and the what can change a lot.

With carbon removal, we need to take a step back and be able to think about the future. Something that's clunky, expensive, energy intensive today, can tomorrow be on your wrist. Look for those weird, odd, wacky things that are happening today and to think about how might those actually be a part of the solution.

This is also why building an inclusive industry isn't an afterthought. It's how we're going to get there: including women and focusing on environmental justice at the earliest stages of creating new solutions. This is how we're going to build that future building in an equitable way is fundamental to the challenge of carbon removal. 

An an entire industry is needed, not just one solution. For every company trying to capture molecules of carbon from the air, we need a dozen that figure out what to do with it, and another dozen that figure out how to store it.

Every time I look at my Apple Watch, a little part of me is going to think back to the early days of Scanadu, when doctors told us this was impossible or even dangerous. And I think about the companies and the founders who are applying to AirMiners Launchpad to create a new solution for carbon removal.

We need to think long term in carbon removal. We don't know who's going to succeed or exactly what is going to work, but we know that we're in it together. We need to pull gigatons of carbon dioxide from the air and we need to do it fast.

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