Saturday, September 29, 2007

X PRIZE Foundation 7 Year, $300M Commitment to Education, Energy, Poverty Alleviation, and Health

On the X PRIZE Foundation news ticker, a press release is linked showing a big commitment by the Foundation in the areas of "Education, Energy and Climate Change, Poverty Alleviation and Global Health". This was done at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative meeting.

The commitment is for $300M, in the form of prizes, over 7 years. That's a big commitment, but note that Larry Page from Google was with Peter Diamandis when he made the announcement. I don't know if, or how much, Google or Google representatives expect to actually contribute to the $300M, but it lends a certain level of credibility to the announcement.

The press release gives more details about the Foundation's plans:

"The first step toward meeting this Commitment to Action will be the official launch of the Automotive X PRIZE, scheduled for early next year. In all, a dozen prizes will be launched over the course of the seven-year commitment ... The Foundation has defined four prize initiatives within each of CGI's areas of focus, all of which are designed for a global impact".

That's a lot of prizes! I guess 4 times 4 is 16, which isn't a dozen, but maybe some of the prize initiatives within the 4 areas of focus won't be chosen for launch. "A dozen" may just be a rough goal at this point.

There's more information about each of the areas:

"Energy & Environment: The Foundation is developing a suite of prizes that will increase the supply of renewable energy, improve the efficiency with which we consume resources and promote the use of environmentally friendly alternative sources of fuel."

At this point I'd like to mention the paper Technology Prizes for Climate Change Mitigation, which discusses the applicability of prizes to this area.

Of course the Automotive X PRIZE draft rules have been released, and many teams are already preparing for this competition. I hope they offer some intermediate rule updates if there are any significant changes in the works!

It would be very interesting if they can come up with a prize that combines the areas of space and environment. Some kind of Earth Observation smallsat advance, or sensor that can be put on an already-planned satellite to help monitor the environment, might work. Iridium, although not in a typical Earth-monitoring orbit, seems to be interested in hosting Earth Observation sensors in their next generation of satellites, although they might prefer lots of sensors for a whole constellation - meaning lots of money - to make it worth their trouble. Something like that might even be of interest to Google as a core business supplier for Google Earth, rather than primarily as a marketing or charitable effort. A solar power satellite demo might be another way to combine the 2 fields (space and energy/environment). Of course there are other possibilities, but they would have to fit together into a reasonable prize competition.

"Life Sciences: New prizes are being created to improve public health and healthcare. With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a panel of seasoned medical, scientific and engineering experts, multiple prizes will be developed in early 2008. The Foundation is also working closely with a panel of cancer research and treatment experts to develop a suite of strategically sequenced prizes to unlock the challenges of cancer prevention, detection and treatment."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation lists the X PRIZE Foundation in its grant list.

I should mention that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsored the Disruptive Innovations in Healthcare competition, which was run by Check out the winners; one of the finalists uses medical systems developed for remote medical work on the ISS for medical treatment from a distance on Earth.

Naturally this again makes me wonder if there's some way 2 goals could be accomplished with 1 prize. Could a life sciences prize be merged with a space prize? The telemedicine prize finalist make it seem possible, but I'd only recommend such a combination of prize efforts if there's a really good natural fit, or if the benefit of combining health care and space prize sponsor funds clearly benefits the prize, from the points of view of all sponsors, more than any awkwardness resulting from the combination.

Also of note is the Gotham Prize for Cancer Research.

Dr. Peter Diamandis is also listed as a speaker in the "Innovations in Building Consumer Demand for Tobacco Cessation Products and Services" conference.

There are also somewhat more general descriptions of the education and global poverty prizes that the Foundation plans. The education prizes under investigation focus on advanced learning technologies, and the global poverty prizes are focused on incentives and market approaches. Check out the work that's been done on prizes for African agriculture. These proposals are a bit more complicated than the typical X PRIZE for specific innovations, which I think makes them more difficult to manage than an X PRIZE. However, there is an argument presented that justifies the complication. Hopefully both approaches are tried so we can see what works best.

Hopefully we will see more X PRIZE news in the education and global poverty areas.

All in all this sounds like a very ambitious and important series of efforts. Best of luck to the X PRIZE Foundation and all sponsors and competitors in these prizes!