MLTalks: Rich DeVaul

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MIT Media Lab

Joe Jacobson in conversation with Alphabet's Rich DeVaul

What do X and the Media Lab have in common? A genuine interest in creating and deploying innovative ideas that can make the world a radically better place. In this talk, Rich DeVaul will give an insider look at Alphabet's X, also known as the "moonshot factory"— its mission, research, and processes—to develop and de-risk early-stage ideas and turn them into proven technologies that make a real impact in the world. As a society, we have finite resources. How can we be more efficient in utilizing and scaling them? How can research-focused institutions, like MIT and X, benefit from each others' work?


Rich DeVaul is the senior technical leader at X, formerly Google [x]. He heads X's Rapid Evaluation team and Design Kitchen, which prototype, build, and test ideas that could become "moonshot" technologies to “make the world a radically better place.”

He is a co-founder and the first chief technical architect of Project Loon, an X project aimed at delivering the internet via high-altitude balloons to the estimated billion five billion people who are not yet connected. Rich has been involved in a number of other X explorations, including the Foghorn investigation into carbon-negative synthetic fuels, and Calcifer, an effort to accelerate global development by means of low-cost cargo airships.

At X, Rich is a team leader, innovator, and in-house skateboarding consultant. He mentors researchers, invents things, and builds stuff, while inspiring others to be audacious, to take risks, and to fail as quickly and productively as possible. Prior to joining Alphabet (then Google) in mid-2011, Rich worked in technology advancement at Apple, where he investigated new technologies, features, and approaches for Apple products. In 2004, he was co-founder and president of AWare Technologies.

Rich earned a master’s degree (‘98) and PhD ('04) at the Media Lab, and a BA in environmental design from Texas A&M University ('93).

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