October 29, 2013 – I am a great believer in prizes as a means of driving technological innovation. From Lindbergh to Rutan, the Spirit of St. Louis to Spaceship One, we have seen prizes work to move us forward. Rutan and Spaceship One were winners of the Ansari X Prize when they created a reusable suborbital space plane. Now the X Prize team has looked to inner space challenges in offering three new Ocean X Prizes to be launched by 2020.
What makes this prize different from any of the previous ones is the use of crowdsourcing to identify what three issues need to be addressed under the banner of what is being described as the grand challenges facing the oceans of the world. Scientists, business leaders, the general public, government officials and philanthropists will all have a say in what problem each prize will address. Will it be over fishing? Will it be a way to stop coral bleaching? Will it be pollution? Will it be coming up with technology to clean the plastic filled gyres at mid-ocean locations across the planet? Or will it come up with an overall strategy for addressing the 46,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer that can be found in ocean waters everywhere today?
The ocean has already been the subject of previous prize competitions. In 2011 a $1.4 million prize was given to a team that demonstrated the ability to cleanup oil spills at 4 times the rate and capacity of any existing technology. And in September 2013 a new $2 million prize, the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X Prize was announced to develop affordable, robust and accurate ocean pH sensors to study the impact of carbon being sequestered by the ocean causing increasing acidification.
Why introduce crowdsourcing into the XPrize equation? Dr. Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of X Prize is also a big backer of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. So it is no surprise that he would add crowdsourcing to engage the larger public in fostering innovation through competitions with large prizes. I suspect that once the three challenges have been identified that crowdfunding donations will be used to add money to the prize pool.