Year in pictures: Amazon’s amazing growth, SpaceX blasts off, the passing of Paul Allen and more

Amazon opened The Spheres in 2018 and continued to build out its massive Seattle presence, all while searching for and finding new homes on the East Coast. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

2018 was a year of acronyms. We witnessed an overhyped search for HQ2, a flurry of IPOs and the passing of Seattle tech pioneer PGA: Paul G. Allen.

It was an intense and crazy year, marked by an unprecedented level of vitriol — much of it directed at tech juggernauts like Facebook, Amazon and Google. And, yet, despite that negative cloud hanging over the country, the tech economy surged, and the pace of innovation only seemed to accelerate as technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing and advances in biotechnology rooted more deeply in society.

With our home in Seattle, GeekWire has a front row seat to much of this transformation, chronicling the innovators, disruptors, regulators and leaders who are pressing on the gas or stepping on the brakes. There certainly was no shortage of news to cover.

In addition to telling stories in our backyard, GeekWire hit the road, running our own HQ2 stunt and taking in RFPs from a number of cities before heading to Pittsburgh — an Amazon finalist — for a month to chronicle the Steel City’s evolving tech scene. We also traveled to Florida and California for historic rocket launches.

Wherever we were, we tried to capture images to help tell the stories that matter to you. Check out some of the 2018 highlights below.

Amazon’s busy year

The Space Needle stands out amid cranes and construction materials near Amazon’s towers in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The tech giant showed no signs of slowing its remarkable growth in Seattle, as construction cranes continued to swing over South Lake Union and the edge of downtown, further building out the company’s towering urban campus. One of GeekWire’s top stories of the year was indeed a story on a time-lapse video capturing the rapid rise of new Seattle.

The unique glass-enclosed and plant-filled office experiment called The Spheres opened as did the revolutionary retail concept called Amazon Go, which allowed customers to walk in and take what they needed without checkout lines or cashiers.

Against that backdrop of growth, Amazon battled its share of backlash, as the Seattle City Council passed and then repealed a so-called “head tax” on large businesses to help combat homelessness. Anti-Amazon and anti-Jeff-Bezos graffiti popped up across the city and finally, after the year-long HQ2 campaign, the blowback spread to Queens, where some loudly declared they were not hitched to New York’s Amazon welcome wagon.

Spheres opening
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the top of The Spheres during which he asked Alexa for help with the grand opening. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Read the story.
People move about the first cashier-free Amazon Go store on opening day in Seattle in January. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop) Read the story.
Supporters of the head tax rush the City Council chambers during a vote to repeal the controversial legislation in June. Behind the banner, Councilmember Kshama Sawant calls for order. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) Read the story.
A stencil sprayed onto the side of a parking meter in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood has an unwelcome message for the city’s largest employer. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Read the story.
Shawn Dixon, left, joins other protesters in Queens, N.Y., who are worried about their neighborhood and businesses when Amazon comes to town. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) Read the story.

Paul G. Allen: 1953-2018

The loss of the Microsoft co-founder in October, at the age of 65, sent a wave of shock and sadness across the tech landscape. With a lasting legacy tied to technology investing, sports ownership, commercial space, global philanthropy, the environment, museums and the arts, Allen was remembered as a visionary, a philanthropist and the go-to source when local problems needed a solution. (Read all of GeekWire’s special coverage.)

Buildings and landmarks in the Seattle skyline were turned blue in tribute to Paul Allen in November. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.
The Seahawks honored late owner Paul Allen with a tribute video and special 12th Man flag raising before a game against Los Angeles. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Blast off!

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy clears the tower at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.

More than 2 million people watched a live video stream, and GeekWire was at the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in February when Elon Musk blasted his Falcon Heavy rocket into space for the first time. While the launch was a serious step forward for SpaceX, the payload was totally far out as Musk’s red Tesla Roadster sports car and a “Starman” driver were shot into space while David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” played on the radio.

GeekWire photographer Kevin Lisota got his amazing Falcon Heavy images by using multiple cameras and vantage points.

“I set up three cameras at the launchpad for Falcon Heavy, between 1,200 and 2,300 feet away from the rocket,” Lisota said. “The tripods were staked to the ground, covered to protect from rain and dew and activated by a sound trigger that fired the shutter based on the sound of the rocket. Since you have to set up the day before, I crossed my fingers that all of my settings were correct. I watched and photographed the launch from the top of the massive NASA Vehicle Assembly Building.”

The busy race for space continued with, among other events, the launch of the Mars InSight lander aboard an Atlas 5 rocket in May and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShip Two rocket plane, which flew to the edge of space in December. (For more, read the Year in Space.)

An Atlas 5 rocket rises from its fog-shrouded launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, sending NASA’s Mars InSight lander toward the Red Planet. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.
Virgin Galactic’s White Knight Two mothership has a double-tailed contrail at left, but VSS Unity’s contrail rises higher as it fires its hybrid rocket motor. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle) Read the story.

Immigrants’ journey

Nourah Yonous, founder and executive director of African Women Business Alliance, which helps black women — especially African women immigrants — start, grow, and scale small businesses. (GeekWire Photo / Starla Sampaco) Read the story.

Amid a broader national debate over U.S. immigration practices, GeekWire spotlighted the stories of a diverse group of immigrant entrepreneurs and tech leaders over the summer. We asked how the U.S. could improve immigration policy, and we spoke to women entrepreneurs about the biases and microaggressions they experience. (Watch the video series.)

Tracking tech in the Steel City

Go Pens! Go Uber? A self-driving car is seen on the streets of Pittsburgh. GeekWire took a ride and learned a lot about whether the technology is ready for primetime. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop) Read the story.

After Amazon announced plans at the end of 2017 to solicit proposals from North American cities interested in being home to the company’s second headquarters, GeekWire decided to give the same thing a try. Pittsburgh beat out a handful of other hopefuls, and in February we hit the road for a month to learn about and chronicle the emerging tech scene in the once mighty Steel City.

We found self-driving cars, cutting-edge robotics and computer science, a startup scene looking for attention, health and sports and arts tech, and a population starving for the chance to prove how hard working it could be should 50,000 jobs come their way. Amazon ultimately chose another two cities for HQ2, but we’ll never regret our chance to discover Pittsburgh. (Read full coverage from the project.)

Red Whittaker, founder and director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Field Robotics Center, with Cave Crawler, a robot developed to autonomously map underground mines. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop) Read the story.
A big part of understanding how Amazon could impact Pittsburgh, or any HQ2 hopeful, was examining where the city had been and where it hoped to go. A mural on the side of a restaurant, whose website reads: “New Amsterdam reflects the hip sensibilities of trendy Lawrenceville while also staying true to an identity that is authentically Pittsburgh.” (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

DreamBox dreams big

DreamBox Learning CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson at the GeekWire Summit in November. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong) Read the stories here and here.

In one of the biggest financing deals of the year, Bellevue, Wash.-based DreamBox Learning — makers of an adaptive K-8 math education platform — announced in July that it has raised $130 million. Led by CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson, the education technology startup is “on mission to transform the way the world learns by using intelligent adaptive technology,” she said.

IPO Dreaming

Smartsheet CEO Mark Mader, left, joined by CFO Jennifer Ceran and John Tuttle, Global Head of Listings at NYSE, rings The Opening Bell. (NYSE photo). Read stories here and here.

It was a big year for initial public offerings, as four companies with deep roots in Washington state made their stock market debuts in 2018: tax automation software maker Avalara; electronic signature pioneer DocuSign; enterprise software company Smartsheet; and fiber laser manufacturer nLight. That was up from last year’s total when just online real estate company Redfin went public. In total across the U.S., there were 191 IPOs in 2018, up from 160 in 2017 and 105 in 2016, according to Renaissance Capital. While big tech companies like Uber, Slack and Airbnb are lining up to go public in 2019 at lofty valuations, some are predicting a slow down for IPOs in the Seattle region.

Center stage

From the GeekWire Awards to the Cloud Tech Summit to the GeekWire Summit, we played host to some of the most innovative and interesting people in tech in 2018.

Trish Millines Dziko, co-founder and executive director of Technology Access Foundation, accepts the Geeks Give Back award as TAF’s Tyrone Cunningham and Shaunte Nance-Johnson look on. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.
Julie Sandler, managing director at Pioneer Square Labs, after winning Hire of the Year at the GeekWire Awards. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota).
GeekWire’s John Cook, left, speaks with the Elevator Pitch finalists on stage at the GeekWire Summit in October. Jonathan Kumar, right, CEO of Samaritan, accepted the grand prize for his app to aid the homeless. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong) Read the story.
GeekWire Summit attendees in Seattle hold up their smartphones as a message arrives from the federal government testing an emergency alert system. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong) Read the story.
The second annual GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit brought together some of the most interesting people in cloud computing for a full day of talks, interviews, and presentations to paint a clearer picture of the fast-changing world. Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO, Cloudflare, was among the speakers. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the full coverage.

Uber’s change in direction

Uber Chief Legal Officer Tony West at the 2018 GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong) Read the story.

On the brink of a promised IPO in the new year, the ride-hailing giant Uber wasn’t done looking at tough issues in the rear view mirror this year. Whether it was dealing with internal harassment issues, data breaches or the death of a woman run over by one of its self-driving vehicles, Uber had a lot on its plate. Chief Legal Officer Tony West made the argument to GeekWire why the company deserves a second chance.

Fun and games

At the top of Seattle’s iconic and redesigned Space Needle or deep inside a virtual reality experience, there’s no shortage of fun to explore when engineering, science and technology join forces to wow us. Or maybe we just appreciate giggling at naked people on LimeBikes.

Space Needle
Ed and Yvonne Senior of Scotland share a kiss on a glass bench on the Space Needle observation deck in May. The couple just arrived in the city on their honeymoon and got to check out the iconic tower’s renovation. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Read the story.
The Canadian theatrical company Cirque du Soleil is known for amazing acrobatics and incredible performers on stage, but the technical gymnastics behind-the-scenes are just as impressive. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.
VR? AR? How about vintage Atari? Paul Allen’s Living Computers Museum + Labs got totally radical with an exhibition for nostalgia nerds in which a basement rec room, video arcade and high school classroom all took us back to simpler tech. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong) Read the story.
A Black Panther cosplayer is in his element during the Emerald City Comic, the largest comic convention in the Northwest in March. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.
Naked cyclists have always been a thing at the annual Fremont Solstice Parade in Seattle. But the rise of bike sharing in the city added a new twist to the quirky event and provided GeekWire with some real braking nudes. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.

More personalities

Shop owners, artists, athletes, kid coders, CEOs and more didn’t shy from sharing their varied and interesting viewpoints about the work they do, the places where they live and tech’s impact on everyday life.

Libby Hopfauf, left, and Ari Lavigne, audiovisual archivists with Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound, battle the “magnetic media crisis” as they work to digitize movies before they vanish. (GeekWire Photo / Lisa Stiffler) Read the story.
Bike shop
Charles Hadrann, longtime owner of Wright Bros. Cycle Works in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, stands in the doorway to the shop near a new sticker that says, “Seattle sucks now.” (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Read the story. 
Vanessa German
Artist Vanessa German performs a spoken word poem in front of one of her sculptures at Concept Art Gallery in Pittsburgh. German discussed art, affordability and Amazon during an interview with GeekWire. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Read the story.
John Legere & David Wasielewski
T-Mobile CEO John Legere, left, andDavid Wasielweski, managing partner of Din Tai Fung, during a taping of Legere’s “Slow Cooker Sunday” food show. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story. 
Special Olympics
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses the crowd at the Opening Ceremony for the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games at Husky Stadium in Seattle in July. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.
Media-savvy students became much more vocal in 2018 as they wielded the internet and social media to fight for gun control and climate protection. Jamie Margolin, far left, launched Zero Hour, a youth-led movement to mobilize for climate action, as she others rallied at the Washington State Capitol in Olympia in February. (Robin Loznak Photo) Read the story.
Russell Wilson records a video with Zillow Group employees and CEO Spencer Rascoff, with co-founder Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink in the front row in August. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Read the story.
Nathan Myhrvold talks cheeseburgers and photography in his new Modernist Cuisine Gallery in downtown Seattle in front of the stylized images of food that he captures. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Read the story.
Steve Ballmer records an episode of “Numbers Geek,” the podcast that is a collaboration between GeekWire and Ballmer’s USAFacts. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota) Follow the series.
“The plants look happy,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, left, said to lead horticulturalist Ron Gagliardo inside The Spheres during Amazon’s grand opening. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Laptop stickers
Carter Rabasa and his daughter Catherine sit in front of the sea of stickers sent to the 8-year-old so that the young coder could decorate her computer. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Read the story.