Jul
08
2008

Keep your eyes on the prize

About four years ago, the X Prize Foundation gave a $10 million award to a team of engineers for building the first private, commercial space craft. Today, the foundation has several other contests going, including prizes for gene sequencing, automotive engineering, and lunar landing. Additional prizes are planned for cancer and longevity research.

Many “big science” research efforts are conducted by government agencies or large companies, both of which try to hold costs down by finding the single best approach. The advantage of prize competitions is that they get dozens of creative teams working on a single problems, trying many different approaches at once, without the restrictions of government or corporate bureaucracy.

The idea is starting to catch on. Last year the US government approved the H-prize for developments in hydrogen-based energy. And Sen John McCain
has proposed a $300 million prize for breakthroughs in battery technology.

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