A mention of the "X Prize" typically conjures up images of experimental, futuristic commercial spacecraft -- particularly the SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize
But today the X Prize came down to earth. Far down, in fact: below the waters of the gulf, where an estimated 40,000 barrels
continue to spew from BP's uncapped well every day.
The nonprofit X Prize Foundation -- created by space-age entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter Diamandis -- announced today at the TEDxOilSpill conference
that it would be offering a new $10 million bounty "for smart ideas on how to handle the oil spill."
"This will be a special prize, not exactly like the others we give," X Prize Foundation Vice President Francis Beland said, according to JustMeans.com.
Though the details of the contest aren't expected to be released for two weeks, Beland reportedly encouraged entrepreneurs to e-mail him ideas directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What Is TEDxOilSpill?
The TEDxOilSpill conference is a unique event that takes its name and some of its ethos from the better-known Technology Entertainment Design Conference, hosted annually by the nonprofit TED Foundation since 1990.
While that conference traditionally includes a wide range of topics and speakers -- everyone from Al Gore to Bill Gates to (in a very controversial appearance) comedian Sarah Silverman -- the TEDxOilSpill is a one-time-only event narrowly focused on the crisis in the gulf. It was organized in part by Nate Mook and Dave Troy, D.C.-based technology entrepreneurs, and is taking place in the nation's capitol today. LiveStream it here
According to the conference's website: "Topics will include mitigation of the spill and the impending cleanup efforts; energy alternatives; policy and economics; as well as new technology that can help us build a self-reliant culture."
What Is the X Prize?
Meanwhile, the X Prize
stems from a long tradition of incentivizing rapid technological innovation via spectacular cash trophies. Diamandis was reportedly inspired by French hotel-chain magnate Raymond Orteig, who offered $25,000 to the first person who could fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York City to Paris (famed American aviator Charles Lindbergh claimed that one, of course).
Since the 2004 Ansari X Prize, another three have been officially launched:
1. The Google Lunar X Prize
-- Sponsored by the search company, with a $30 million award to the first privately funded team to build and send a robot to the moon, drive it 500 meters and transmit video and image data back to Earth.
2. The Archon Genomics X Prize
-- Sponsored by Archon, with a $10 million prize for the first team that can build a device and demonstrate its ability to accurately sequence (or decode) 100 human genomes within 10 days or less.
3. The Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize
-- Sponsored by Progressive and launched at the 2008 New York International Auto Show. "Ten million dollars 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)." As The New York Times
reports, the competition is really heating up now:
After two years and 100 original entries, most of whom flunked the design approval phase last year, the competition entered its knockout round at the Michigan International Speedway last week...The remaining entries are a multifarious bunch from throughout the United States and several European countries. The list blends the mundanely familiar with the shockingly bizarre. Some of them raise questions about being true to the X Prize's stated objective of showcasing a new generation of vehicles that are capable of being manufactured in volume and that consumers will want to drive.
It remains to be seen just who will be the primary sponsor of the gulf oil spill prize. Anyone want to hazard the guess that a certain British oil giant may pony up some cash?
In all seriousness, BP is reported to be in increasingly dire financial straights
, so financing a gulf oil spill prize may not be realistic at this time. And, after all, BP has already reportedly rejected
the advice of some would-be innovators.