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Peter H. Diamandis is the Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and launching large incentive prizes to drive radical breakthroughs for the[…]

Someday we could have the ability to pay for a car to take us from point A to point B the moment we want to go.

Question: In terms of ground transportation, what are some game-changing ideas out there?

Peter Diamandis: The paradigm I want to change is that, you can have a car that is beautiful, manufacturable, affordable, safe, fast, and oh, by the way, does 100 mpg, or its energy equivalent.  Why wouldn’t you?  So, we put out this competition.  We had 135, 136 vehicles registered to compete.  We whittled it down not to 51 vehicles.  They’ll be a few winners, and at the end of this, besides having a few winners, three winners in particular for the Progressive Automotive X Prize, my goal is there’s a new generation of cars.  And people can say we’re living in a new day and age.  A new day and age of cars that are beautiful, affordable, safe, and of course every car gets over 100 mpg, why wouldn’t it. So, that’s a game changer, a change in the paradigm, a change in the kind of cars that we drive.

Another game changer is another X Prize I am itching to get launched, and it is the Autonomist Car X Prize.  I think 100 years from now, people will look back and say, “Really?  People used to drive their cars?  What are they, insane?”  Humans are the worst control system to put in front of a car. You know, we have these 100 mms delays, you know, our attention is on our PDA, we’re always in a rush.  We drive around in these 4,000 pound metal wombs, these 4,000 pound containment systems to protect us from these 6,000 pound cars from smacking us.  And you know, “I’m going to buy a large SUV because I scared about the other SUV’s.  I’m not going to buy this small little car.”  And of course, they’re right in that regard.  But if we can build autonomous cars that are so smart, and so sensitive to what’s going on that they can’t be hit, then you’re thinking.  When cars have the sensory systems around them, GPS intelligence, they’re looking at the world not only in visual spectrum, but infrared, ultraviolet and everything else that’s going on and they’ve got reaction times in microseconds.  Not a tenth of a second.  They’re a hundred thousand times faster.  Then you’re talking.

Three things come out of it.  Today, there are about 2 million major injuries, 50,000 losses of lives in the United States alone.  You’ll get rid of those, first and foremost.  If you care about saving 50,000 lives, that’s one option.

The second thing is, cars will get a lot lighter because they’re not worried about it.  So, you don’t need 4,000 pounds.  1,000 is plenty.  And if you’re carrying around – the idea of a young thin woman who weighs 100 pounds driving herself around in a 4,000 pound SUV is laughable.  So, she doesn’t need that.  A thousand pounds is plenty to give you all the the room and such.  So, you reduce the energy usage by a large factor.

And the third is, all these autonomous cars know where all the other autonomous cars are.  They can fan out and they can take the most efficient route to get you from one place, and you’ve gotten rid of traffic jams.  Eventually, frankly, no one’s going to own a car.  What you’re going to own is on your PDA.  The ability to say, I need a car from here to here and you can say, I need a car now, in which case they’ll charge you a premium, or I’m willing to pay 50 cents for that drive, in which case the car willing to take your 50 cents – or I need a Ferrari because I’m on a date.  And you’ve got this pantiplea of cars that you can choose from and you will own the ability to command transportation.  Not the need to have a car.  So, those are the futures there.

Question: What could the Federal Government be doing to advance this vision?

Peter Diamandis:
The Department of Energy has come on as a major partner for the Progressive Automotive X Prize and I am extraordinarily thankful to them for that.  I think that there’s a lot more that the government can do.  But it’s a start.  The idea of starting to envision the rules and regulations to allow for autonomous cars is a hard one to think about.  When I did the Ansari X Prize originally, the rules and regulations to allow for private space flight didn’t exist.  You could not legally put a human and fly them into space.  In fact, you couldn’t bring a spaceship back.  All those spaceships we were sending commercially into space were one way.  You sort of like, got rid of them.  And most passengers, who go up, do want to come back down.  So, we had to go and change the rules and regulations.  And the momentum of the competition allowed us to do that.

I imagined there would be new rules and regulations on the autonomous car X Prize.  And I didn’t mention what two of the ideas for the autonomous car X Prize.  One is the first car to win against a top seated NASCAR or Indy car driver.  So, it’s really the deep blue equivalent from the chess world in the automotive space.  And the alternate would be the first car to go autonomously from LA to New York in under three days, obeying all the rules and regulations.  And I have a heck of a time going through state lines and local police and all of that, but – anyway, those are two concepts.  Looking for, again, a dramatic demonstration of autonomy showing itself to be far more safe than worrying about whether the person on the street next to you is texting, or has had a drink, or is paying attention.

Question: What could go wrong in our attempt to colonize elsewhere?

Peter Diamandis: What can go wrong is that we can become landlocked.  One of the things that is going on right now is that we have this amazing debris cloud in space; orbital debris is what it is called.  Where you’ve had anti-satellite weapons blowing up satellites, you have old satellites decommissioned and left in orbit and other satellites smacking into them.  And every time there is a collision, hundreds of parts break off.  And these components are traveling at 1,700 miles per hour so there much faster than a speeding bullet.  And there reaches a point at which all of this debris starts to grow exponentially and we will literally have this, we’ll be locked in, or sending a spacecraft up to space to get through the debris cloud will be taking your chances.  So, solving that is another X Prize that we’ve talked about.

One of the other major things, I think to really incentivize and open the space frontier; we need to allow for ownership.  You know what opened up the American West?  It was the fact that you owned the real estate.  You owned the gold mines, the oil wells.  The creation of these, back then, million dollar industries drove the railroads and eventually the airlines to provide this kind of transportation.  So, I’m extraordinarily passionate, for example, about the idea of asteroid mining in the future.  Asteroids out there, we know them from those that have fallen on the Earth, there is a class of asteroids, sub-class of nickel/iron asteroids, which are 50,000 times more enriched than Platinum mines on earth.  Extraordinary wealth that can be created; the first trillionaire can be made in space.  The question is, do we have the structure to allow for the ownership of these?  If we do, or when it’s finally created, we will have really, the impetus the real market creation that will cause billions to be invested privately in space transportation to gain access to the trillions that are out there.

Recorded on January 26, 2010