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2 March 2010

Major new challenges to receive X PRIZE backing

Filed under: catalysts, challenge, futurist, Genetic Engineering, Google, grants, innovation, medicine, space — David Wood @ 7:16 pm

The X PRIZE Foundation has an audacious vision.

On its website, it describes itself as follows:

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit organization whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity thereby inspiring the formation of new industries, jobs and the revitalization of markets that are currently stuck

The foundation can point to the success of its initial prize, the Ansari X PRIZE.  This was a $10M prize to be awarded to the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.  This prize was announced in May 1996 and was won in October 2004, by the Tier One project using the experimental spaceplane SpaceShipOne.

Other announced prizes are driving research and development in a number of breakthrough areas:


The Archon X PRIZE will award $10 million to the first privately funded team to accurately sequence 100 human genomes in just 10 days.  Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking explains his support for this prize:

You may know that I am suffering from what is known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which is thought to have a genetic component to its origin. It is for this reason that I am a supporter of the $10M Archon X PRIZE for Genomics to drive rapid human genome sequencing. This prize and the resulting technology can help bring about an era of personalized medicine. It is my sincere hope that the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics can help drive breakthroughs in diseases like ALS at the same time that future X PRIZEs for space travel help humanity to become a galactic species.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth.  Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, provided some context in a recent Wall Street Journal article:

Government agencies have dominated space exploration for three decades. But in a new plan unveiled in President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget earlier this month, a new player has taken center stage: American capitalism and entrepreneurship. The plan lays the foundation for the future Google, Cisco and Apple of space to be born, drive job creation and open the cosmos for the rest of us.

Two fundamental realities now exist that will drive space exploration forward. First, private capital is seeing space as a good investment, willing to fund individuals who are passionate about exploring space, for adventure as well as profit. What was once affordable only by nations can now be lucrative, public-private partnerships.

Second, companies and investors are realizing that everything we hold of value—metals, minerals, energy and real estate—are in near-infinite quantities in space. As space transportation and operations become more affordable, what was once seen as a wasteland will become the next gold rush. Alaska serves as an excellent analogy. Once thought of as “Seward’s Folly” (Secretary of State William Seward was criticized for overpaying the sum of $7.2 million to the Russians for the territory in 1867), Alaska has since become a billion-dollar economy.

The same will hold true for space. For example, there are millions of asteroids of different sizes and composition flying throughout space. One category, known as S-type, is composed of iron, magnesium silicates and a variety of other metals, including cobalt and platinum. An average half-kilometer S-type asteroid is worth more than $20 trillion.

Technology is reaching a critical point. Moore’s Law has given us exponential growth in computing technology, which has led to exponential growth in nearly every other technological industry. Breakthroughs in rocket propulsion will allow us to go farther, faster and more safely into space…

The Progressive Automotive X PRIZE seeks “to inspire a new generation of viable, safe, affordable and super fuel efficient vehicles that people want to buy“.  $10 million in prizes will be awarded in September 2010 to the teams that win a rigorous stage competition for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 MPG energy equivalent (MPGe).  Over 40 teams from 11 countries are currently entered in the competition.

Forthcoming new X PRIZEs

The best may still be to come.

It now appears that a series of new X PRIZEs are about to be announced.  CNET News writer Daniel Terdiman reports a fascinating interview with Peter Diamandis, in his article “X Prize group sets sights on next challenges (Q&A)“.

The article is well worth reading in its entirety.  Here are just a few highlights:

On May 15, at a gala fundraising event to be held at George Lucas’ Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco, X Prize Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis, along with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and “Avatar” director James Cameron, will unveil their five-year vision for the famous awards…

The foundation …  is focusing on several potential new prizes that could change the world of medicine, oceanic exploration, and human transport.

The first is the so-called AI Physician X Prize, which will go to a team that designs an artificial intelligence system capable of providing a diagnosis equal to or better than 10 board-certified doctors.

The second is the Autonomous Automobile X Prize, which will go to the first team to design a car that can beat a top-seeded driver in a Gran Prix race.

The third would go to a team that can generate an organ from a terminal patient’s stem cells, transplant the organ [a lung, liver, or heart] into the patient, and have them live for a year.

And the fourth would reward a team that can design a deep-sea submersible capable of allowing scientists to gather complex data on the ocean floor

Diamandis  explains the potential outcome of the AI Physician Prize:

The implications of that are that by the end of 2013, 80 percent of the world’s populace will have a cell phone, and anyone with a cell phone can call this AI and the AI can speak Mandarin, Spanish, Swahili, any language, and anyone with a cell phone then has medical advice at the level of a board certified doctor, and it’s a game change.

Even more new X PRIZEs

Details of the process of developing new X PRIZEs are described on the foundation’s website.  New X PRIZEs are are guided by the following principles:

  • We create prizes that result in innovation that makes a lasting impact. Although a technological breakthrough can meet this criterion, so do prizes which inspire teams to use existing technologies, knowledge or systems in more effective ways.
  • Prizes are designed to generate popular interest through the prize lifecycle: enrollment, competition, attempts (both successful and unsuccessful) and post-completion…
  • Prizes result in financial leverage. For a prize to be successful, it should generate outside investment from competitors at least 5-10 times the prize purse size. The greater the leverage, the better return on investment for our prize donors and partners.
  • Prizes incorporate both elements of technological innovation as well as successful “real world” deployment. An invention which is too costly or too inconvenient to deploy widely will not win a prize.
  • Prizes engage multidisciplinary innovators which would otherwise be unlikely to tackle the problems that the prize is designed to address.

The backing provided to the foundation by the Google founders and by James Cameron provides added momentum to what is already an inspirational initiative and a great catalyst for innovation.

24 February 2010

Grants available for online social entrepreneurs

Filed under: grants, innovation, sustainability — David Wood @ 10:44 am

Are you a UK-based online social entrepreneur?

That is – to quote from the website of UnLtdare you someone with vision, drive, commitment and passion, who wants to use the Internet to change the world for the better?

If so, you could be eligible for one of more than 80 grants which UnLtd plan to distribute this year, as part of the “Better Net Awards” programme being managed by UnLtd and funded by the Nominet Trust.

I recently met with Analia Lemmo from UnLtd, who explained to me how the programme works.

Throughout 2010, the programme will be making awards, at two levels:

  • Level 1 is for awards of between £500 and £5,000 (expected average of £2,000) to startups;
  • Level 2 is for awards of up to £15,000, for people who have already put their idea into practice, and who now want to expand it.

The key criteria for people to receive one of these awards is that:

  • You must have a project in mind to use the Internet for social impact;
  • Your project must be sustainable, that is, the grant should enable you to move the project to a level where it won’t need additional grants to keep it running;
  • Your project should be run from the UK, and should have an impact on a community of people in the UK.

The process to apply for a grant is explained on the UnLtd website:

  • UnLtd run regular information sessions, at various locations around the UK;
  • After taking part in one of these sessions, you should decide whether to proceed to fill in an application form;
  • Candidates may then be interviewed to check details of the proposal;
  • The final decision is made by a board of trustees.

Projects should fall within the following range of areas:

  • Digital inclusion – encouraging and assisting more people to acquire an online presence;
  • Education about the Internet;
  • Improving the environment;
  • Improving healthcare;
  • Online safety for children.

In a press release, Nominet explained their goals in providing this funding:

Teaming up with UnLtd allows Nominet Trust to source often hard to reach entrepreneurial individuals and community groups around the UK, and support their efforts to create, develop and implement Internet-based projects that benefit society.

UnLtd will provide hands-on support and resources alongside awards of funding to individuals and small groups who are creating new projects that reflect the objectives of Nominet Trust. The projects will focus on the safe use of the Internet for social benefit purposes such as education and inclusion. All awards in the partnership programme will be jointly approved by Nominet Trust and UnLtd.

Cliff Prior, chief executive at UnLtd, says: “UnLtd has a history of finding fantastic people with talent and a passion to transform the world in which they live, and supporting them to become successful social entrepreneurs – over 16,000 people to date. The Nominet Trust awards programme will enable UnLtd to build on this success by helping a new wave of people create social benefit through the Internet.”

Examples of previous winners of UnLtd awards are highlighted on the UnLtd website, and include:

  • Action for Sustainable Living, which supports people to live more sustainably in the context of their local community, so that local sustainability issues and priorities are tackled and resolved locally;
  • MOTIV – which works with primary and secondary schools to improve attendance and raise children’s aspirations;
  • The Big Green Idea – a charity dedicated to showing people how sustainable living can be easy, healthy, inexpensive and fun;
  • BabyGROE – the first free UK-wide magazine to inform new parents on ways to raise children which save money and protect the environment;
  • The Calma project – which provides support and training to individuals, families and carers who are affected by the challenging behaviour associated with autism, Asperger syndrome, learning difficulties, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and related conditions.

In contrast to the general awards available from UnLtd, the Better Net Awards programme will have a special emphasis on Internet-based solutions.  If you think you could qualify – or if you think you could be a useful partner who can help UnLtd to identify potential award winners – then please follow the contact links on UnLtd’s site.

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