When the early Texas rancher Charles Goodnight invented the chuck wagon in 1866, he didn’t just presage today’s food trucks; he solved an immediate problem, which was how to keep cowboys on the remote parts of the range well-fed. During the rough-and-tumble frontier days, Texas demanded such inventiveness from its inhabitants just so they could survive. Through the years, as Texans have tamed the land, their signature moxie has led to many more triumphs, not just in the fight to survive but also in the quest to advance. Indeed, there’s a whole lot for which the world can thank Texas. The fields of ranching, oil and gas exploration, weaponry, medicine, science, and high technology have all been forever affected by the touch of a Texan. So too have the arenas of sports, music, entertainment, and the culinary arts. Nowadays, Texans like the ones below, every bit as tenacious as their predecessors, are inventing new ways to do everything from saving lives to serving brisket. The future is now.
The Disaster Roboticist
During Hurricane Harvey, people from a subdivision in Fort Bend County were anxious to return home and called local officials to say that they had heard the neighborhood was dry. Could they go back to their houses? County officials asked the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, a nonprofit based in College Station, to fly drones over the neighborhood to assess the situation. “The roads were all flooded,” remembers Robin Murphy, the center’s director. “Oh, look at the nice deer floating through it, and the sewage on top. Definitely don’t want to go walking around in that kind of water.”
Murphy, Texas A&M’s Raytheon Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, is one of the world’s leading innovators in the use of robots in search-and-rescue and disaster-recovery operations. She develops computer programs and artificial intelligence that combine with robots—whether they fly, drive on land, or dive under water—to turn raw data into information that emergency managers can use to make instant decisions on how to deploy personnel.
Working with Fort Bend officials, Murphy’s team flew a record 119 Harvey-related missions to locate potential flood zones, find routes for rescuers, assess damage, and document flooding for federal assistance requests—processes that once took weeks and could now be done in days. Then, with two days to prepare, the team deployed to Florida for Hurricane Irma. —R. G. Ratcliffe
The Hollywood Outsider
The most innovative person working in television today escapes Hollywood for Texas every weekend. Noah Hawley, the showrunner behind FX’s critically adored Fargo (22 Emmy nominations in three seasons) and the network’s visually and conceptually intoxicating Legion (an X-Men spinoff and ode to Kubrick-ian dystopia) commutes to Los Angeles from Austin.
Being an outsider might be his best asset: rather than get sucked into conventional ways of thinking, he sees potential in projects where others don’t. His initial pitch for Fargo was a nineteen-page document that threw out the characters and plot from the beloved Coen Brothers film on which his show is based. And when he was asked to develop an idea around X-Men, he picked an obscure character who never had his own superhero costume or appeared in a comic book title.
Hawley honed his craft in the mid-aughts as a writer on the Fox procedural Bones and as a best-selling novelist. Now, in TV’s golden age, he is using Fargo, Legion, and his in-development adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle to push the form in new and unexpected ways. “Qualitative greatness is now so routine that the question becomes ‘Why should people watch it?’ We’ve perfected the art of the emotional roller-coaster ride,” he says. “So what else can the roller coaster do? What happens when you take it off the rails and the experience becomes a structural roller coaster, or a conceptual roller coaster, at the same time that it’s an emotional ride?” —Dan Solomon