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Makani Power’s CEO and Co-Founder Corwin Hardham Dead at 38

Makani Power’s Corwin Hardham, dead at 38. (Courtesy photo.)

Alameda’s Makani Power has announced that its co-founder and CEO, Corwin Hardham died unexpectedly on Tuesday at age 38. Makani Power, based at Alameda Point, had developed an airborne wind power turbine.

As of Thursday evening, a Makani Power spokesperson had no further details on the cause of death, referencing an announcement on the company’s website and writing, “We have no other statement, except perhaps to say that we are very surprised by all of this since Corwin was a very active and healthy person.”

Makani Power’s announcement reads, “Corwin’s clear vision and deep commitment to transformative innovation in clean energy inspired us all. A brilliant engineer and skillful leader, as well as avid kitesurfer, dancer, and community builder, he showed boundless energy and generosity in all aspects of his life.

“Our hearts go out to his family, his close companion Gia Schneider, and his many friends.”

The company also provided these statements from Mr. Hardham’s peers:

Damon Vander Lind, Chief Engineer at Makani Power:
I am immeasurably lucky to have been able to count Corwin as a friend, a coworker, and a mentor. We experienced some difficult and some wonderful times together in pursuing the dream that is Makani. He approached life with an immense deal of gratitude for the opportunities he was given, and with a strong belief in using those opportunities to better the world. I think we can all learn from his sentiment and his efforts.

Eric Wilhelm, colleague at previous startups with Corwin such as Squid Labs and Instructables:
Corwin was a source of constant inspiration to everyone who knew him. He would casually approach — and complete — amazing tasks most wouldn’t even consider. He regularly commuted across the San Francisco Bay by windsurfer or paddleboard. He once bicycled several hours in the dark, on a folding bike, on unfamiliar roads in a foreign country, to catch a pre-dawn flight. In graduate school, he created a system to hold lasers so absolutely still they could measure minute fluctuations in space itself. And most recently, he was working to change the world’s supply of clean energy.

Just knowing that Corwin was on the job was a relief to the rest of us – we knew that Corwin wouldn’t, couldn’t stop. Like all the other impossible things he did, Corwin would continue until he found a way to successfully harness high-altitude wind.

The loss of Corwin is a tragedy, certainly to his friends and family, but also to all who would have benefited from his work. He was a brilliant engineer, and the losses will compound as we continue to discover the depth of his contributions to the many projects that drew his passion. While no one can ever fill the gap he leaves, we should celebrate his memory so Corwin can continue to inspire us and help us all achieve impossible things.

Saul Griffith, Makani Co-Founder and Squid Labs with Corwin:
A hero for our era, ode to an engineer.

We live in strange times; even the super-heroes of our movies and comic books are complex characters with moral ambiguity. In a world where most geography has been climbed or explored, there are few people today lauded as heroes in the mold of a Shackleton, Edmund Hilary, or a Columbus.

There are however spectacular heroes who walk and work amongst us. We should celebrate them. We particularly should celebrate them when they are alive. In the real world, as opposed to comic books, these heroes can die tragically, and then we can only regret that we were not celebrating every moment of their existence while they were alive to celebrate it with us.

I was born on the very same day as one of these heroes, and I was lucky enough to call him a friend, a colleague, and a fellow adventurer. On February 13th, 1974, Corwin Hardham was born. I suggest he is the kind of exemplar human that we should laud in the uncertain times in which we live. If Corwin was alive in the 16th century he would have been a Columbus discovering continents. If he were alive in the 17th century he would have worked alongside Galileo ushering in the age of science and reason, in the 19th century he would have happily played the role of an industrialist spanning continents with railways, and in the 20th century he would have been a key engineer in realizing humanity’s dream of sending people into space, and to land on the moon.

Corwin’s professional career however was in the 21st century, and he, as an engineer’s engineer, was a man of this moment, and this time. Corwin understood the frontiers and the threats and the challenges of this century, and applied the full force of his great intellect, the joy of his wit, and the commitment of a stubborn and great heart to that challenge. As a surfer and a cyclist, he spent enough time in the elements to feel an empathy for the natural environment, and to become concerned with the threats to the natural environment that the collective emissions and waste of humanity has become. Corwin applied his great passion to finding solutions to the challenge of climate change and providing clean renewable energy for all. He chose to spend his precious life pioneering a new form of renewable energy – high altitude wind power. He had found an engineer’s Everest to climb, and he was pursuing it purposefully and intelligently. There is nothing simple about what he was applying his life’s efforts to, he was a visionary driving a team to build the world’s first autonomous flying wind turbines. He worked tirelessly on all aspects of this problem. He wore all of the hats required, Aerospace engineer, materials scientist, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, designer and project manager. His attention to detail was that of someone who would not tolerate failure. The force of his personality was fully applied to bringing this vision to reality.

Part of being an adventurer is successfully being a leader. Any goal worth achieving requires the efforts of many. Piloting a project as complex as Makani Power is no less a challenge than piloting a small wooden boat full of fellow sailors across the unknown waters of Columbus’ Atlantic. Corwin had to lead and he did, and he found and nurtured a community of like minded young adventurers to cross this ocean with. You don’t succeed on the difficult voyages of discovery unless you can motivate and capture the hearts and minds of a team. He accepted this challenge as readily as he did the technical challenges. He was an engineer, he solved problems and got things done.

When you tell the queen of Spain that across the great ocean is untold riches, and that she just needs to believe you that the earth is in fact round, not flat, that science, skill, and reason will lead us there, you need to bridge the large gap in imagination between engineers, entrepreneurs and adventurers, and everyone else. Corwin did this too. Selling the world on the notion that autonomously flying wings will generate wind energy at a lower cost than coal is not a simple task, yet as with everything Corwin did, he did this beautifully – with animations, story-telling and compelling arguments based on real physics that he communicated simply and elegantly so that anyone could understand that this was something worth doing, worth investing time and effort and resources in, worth the precious time commitment of our most prized resource – young talented people.

It won’t be politicians who find solutions to climate change and environmental degradation. It won’t be actors or actresses. It won’t be footballers or basketballers. It certainly won’t be financiers. It will be people like Corwin, scientist and engineer, artist, activist and adventurer – the tools of positive change at his fingertips and in his imagination. Leaders capable of sailing ships of beautiful, intelligent peers across uncertain waters and triumphantly returning with fantastic prizes and riches that suggest new possibilities for humanity. Sadly the ships of some adventurers don’t return, and the adventurer is lost. This is the loss we feel.

The tragedy of this loss is genuine. Corwin is among the great engineers of his generation, leading in a time when the world needs great engineers to find solutions to our pressing challenges. Best of all Corwin would laugh at this praise, probably ignore it completely. He’d blush and shy from these words. Like any sufficiently ambitious engineer, Corwin had been humbled by the laws of gravity and physics just like the rest of us. The delightful consequence was that Corwin would prefer to work, surf, climb, cook, dance, build something, or otherwise seize the opportunity of the next moment to enjoy the great adventure of life rather than receive acclaim. Corwin was never idle, he was always producing something, always participating, creating, and delighting.

Corwin you will be sadly missed as a 21st century pioneer and I’m proud to call you not just a friend, but one of my heroes. I wish for a world with more people like you, and a world where we make heroes of people like you. The world would be better. It would be the type of world that you imagined was possible, a beautiful one.

Don Montague, Makani Co-Founder:
Corwin was the first in the ocean to surf, sail or kite and always the last to come out—then only because it was dark. His passion for life, adventure and his friends was amazing. He was an inspiration to all and I was lucky to be part of many adventures with him.

Makani Power is holding a celebration of Hardham’s life this Saturday, October 27th, at 2pm, at its offices at 2175 Monarch Street in Alameda.

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