A Growing High-Tech Las Vegas (Yes, Las Vegas!)

By Doug Mohney April 02, 2013

Las Vegas is quietly becoming a high tech hub, with strengths in "high touch" customer service, data centers, and space technology. Walk past the neon glitz of the casino-laden Strip and you'll find a number of gems you'll want to remember if you're coming to ITEXPO West in August.

Our tour begins with Zappos.com, a subsidiary of Amazon.com currently headquartered in Henderson, Nevada. Founded in 1999, Zappos moved from San Francisco to Henderson in 2004. In the years that followed, the company focused on offering superior customer service. It was a formula that took the company from $184 million in gross sales to over a billion dollars by 2008, selling 50,000 varieties of shoes, clothing, eyewear, and handbags.

Zappos was bought by Amazon in 2009, with CEO Tony Hsieh continuing to run the company after the acquisition. This year, the billion-dollar business is moving its nearly 2,000 employees out of the suburbs of Henderson to the Old City Hall in downtown Las Vegas, part of a larger effort to revitalize the area.

Hsieh is putting $350 million of his own money into the reboot of downtown Las Vegas as a part of the Downtown Project. Part of that cash is going to $50 million in tech startups building businesses through the VegasTechFund, along with efforts to develop culture and education.  

One part of the Downtown Project getting a lot of attention this week is Project 100, a "complete" transportation system designed to let people get rid of their cars and be more connected to their neighborhoods. Just this week, Project 100 announced it is purchasing 100 Tesla Model S all-electric vehicles for its rideshare fleet to move people between downtown and the surrounding area. 

Project 100 starts with an app designed to offer an individual a set of options to travel from point A to point B within the Las Vegas city limits, ranging from an on-demand car with driver to pick you up to grabbing a bike or a ride on a bus. The full system incorporates hardware and software developed by startup Local Motion.

Using technology to stimulate urban renewal is very down-to-earth, but Las Vegas has a couple of firms looking upward for business opportunities. Bigelow Aerospace plans to put an inflatable habitat into low earth orbit for tourists and leasing by national space agencies unable to afford astronaut time onboard the International Space Station (ISS). The commercial enterprise is offering a turn-key service to deliver an astronaut to its space station for a 60 day stay (with a return, of course) for a per seat rate of $26.25 million. 

In 2015, Bigelow will conduct a two year demonstration of its BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) at the ISS for NASA. Bigelow would like to to sell NASA and commercial providers inflatable habs for space exploration ventures beyond earth orbit to place such as the surface of the Moon and Mars.

Closer to earth, GeoMetWatch plans to build a set of advanced hyperspectral atmosphere sounders to gather better weather data. The instruments would be hosted payloads placed on board six commercial satellites -- most likely communications platforms -- in geostationary orbit, with data collected and sold to weather agencies, governments, and commercial entities. The data is expected to "vastly improve" the ability to provide early warning of severe weather, saving lives and providing more efficient operations to businesses such as the passenger airline and commercial delivery industries.

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Edited by Rich Steeves

Contributing Editor

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