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Surprising Science

Five Years Later, the Ansari X PRIZE Takes its Incentive Model to the Next Level

It wasn’t  greeted with the kind of fanfare it may have deserved, but five years ago when the $10-million Ansari X PRIZE was awarded, it helped usher in a new personal spaceflight industry. Five years to the day the original prize was awarded on October 4th, 2004, the minds behind the competition are taking their incentivized approach to innovation and expanding into a number of other important areas.

“It’s great taking on the incentive prize model. Lindbergh was the inspiration,” X PRIZE Foundation President and Vice Chair Robert Weiss told “In fact, I saw his [Lindberg’s] list. A numbered list of why he was doing this. It’s in a museum in St Louis, number one was $25,000. The guys who backed him put up $25,000, so the net result wasn’t just the prize money, it was not only him becoming the most famous person on the planet, but it changed how people thought about air travel.”

Founded in 1996, the X PRIZE Foundation had hoped to hand out the prize money to a winning space-flight model by 2001. Taking three years longer than expected, the prize was eventually awarded to Mojave Aerospace Ventures for their flight of SpaceShipOne. The technology originally owned by Paul Allen has since signed a licensing agreement with the Virgin Group.

Having kick-started a new space industry, Weiss and the X PRIZE Foundation are applying the same incentive model to news industries. They include:

-the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million competition to send a privately-funded robot to the moon.

-the Progressive Automotive X PRIZE, a competition to find super-efficient vehicles.

-the Archon Genomics X PRIZE, a $10 million reward to the team that successfully sequences 100 human genomes in 10 days.

With all these X PRIZEs, not to mention the major sponsors and money behind them, there’s no telling how far-reaching this model may be in revolutionizing our planet.  “There is a big paradigm change,” says Weiss. “There are other issues that can be solves through this model. We’re targeting the grand challenges.”


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