Nerd Bird takes TEDx to the sky

Graeme Philipson

Qantas has held the first ever aerial TED talks, in the first class cabin of a Boeing 747 (flight QF73) flying from Sydney to San Francisco on Thursday afternoon.

TED (which originally stood for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design) has become a global phenomenon since being founded in 1984 – the year the Apple Mac, which featured in the first ever TED conference, was released.

TED talks are held all around the world, to live audiences and streamed across the Internet. A Sydney chapter, TEDxSydney was started by local entrepreneur Remo Giuffré in 2010. It started with events at the Carriageworks in Redfern, and has now moved to the Sydney Opera House to accommodate growing numbers.

World’s first tech talk in the sky

The TED talks on the Qantas flight were the first ever to be held in the air, as part of an ‘Ideas that Travel’ partnership with TEDx Australia. Four Australian startup technologists spoke, with their talks streamed to seats throughout the plane. They are now available online. The series will also be screened during TEDxSydney on 25 May 2016.

The speakers were:

  • Jo Burston, founder and CEO of Job Capital and Rare Birds, which works to promote opportunity for women in entrepreneurship. She spoke about gender bias and obstacles for women when seeking backing to expand offshore.
  • Michael Biercuk, an experimental physicist and Director of the Quantum Control Laboratory at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems at the University of Sydney. He spoke about the potential of quantum physics to transform everyday technology.
  • Marita Cheng, 2012 Young Australian of the Year, who runs robotics company and an artificial intelligence company 2Mar Robotics. She offered insights into her work in robotics and gave an in-flight demo of her teleportation robot Teleport.
  • Jeremy Howard, CEO of Enlitic, a startup he founded to use recent advances in machine learning to transform medical practice. He spoke on recent advances in deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence that mimics the way human brains work.

On the flight were a group of ten Australian tech entrepreneurs and start-ups sourced by innovation hub The York Butter Factory and Australian supplier diversity organisation Supply Nation.

They will be attending a series of meetings and events with Bay Area entrepreneurs over the next ten days. They will visit the HQs of Google, Twitter and Facebook and participate in workshops at the Singularity University, a Silicon Valley non-profit educational network.

One of the reasons Qantas sponsored the flight was to promote the fact that it is now flying direct Sydney San Francisco, a service it began in December. Previously all Qantas flights to the US landed in Los Angeles, giving United a monopoly on the San Francisco route.

Qantas Group Executive Olivia Wirth said: “95 years ago, Qantas was a start-up itself, and a large part of our success comes from the fact we have kept trying new ideas. So, we’re delighted to be able to give these emerging thinkers a unique platform to tell their stories.

“This is the perfect route for a world-first. We all know about the impact of the California tech boom, but what’s really exciting is the growing number of Australians doing business with Silicon Valley on the one hand, and building a home-grown Australian culture of entrepreneurialism on the other.”

In the US, planes that fly direct between tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas are called ‘Nerd Birds’. It seems Qantas now has its own.

Photo credit:Qantas

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