The Automotive X Prize: A Primer
Follow @GretchenMargJuly 17, 2012, 9:38 pm ET
When a group of teenagers from West Philadelphia High School showed up at the 2010 Progressive Automotive X Prize competition in Michigan, they were just a few of the innovators working toward a single goal: to construct a vehicle capable of getting 100 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) during normal driving.
The competition, announced in 2007 by the X Prize Foundation, challenged teams to build one of two types of cars:
The West Philly EVX team built one of each. Their team was one of 111 that made it past the first stage of competition; by the time they made it to the final rounds in 2010, fewer than 30 teams were left. Theirs was the only one based out of a high school.
In order to win, a vehicle had to meet the following requirements:
In the case of a tie, speed would be the deciding factor.
After additional stages of competition, three teams came away with prizes: Oliver Kuttner’s Edison2 Very Light Car reached 102.5 mpg and won $5 million in the mainstream class, while Li-Ion Motors and Peraves X-Tracer Team Switzerland split the remaining $5 million for the alternative class division.
X Prizes, however, are not just limited to cars.
In 1996, Peter Diamandis founded the nonprofit X Prize Foundation to “bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.” Specifically, the foundation encourages groups to push the boundaries of engineering by setting up competitions to build next-level technology. The incentives are lucrative and can reach $10 million. (The foundation’s website has an entire section on breakthroughs throughout history that occurred as a result of the result of competition.)
Yes, space. The foundation is probably most well-known for the $10 million Ansari X Prize. Announced in 1996, it challenged innovators to build a spacecraft capable of carrying three people 100 kilometers above the earth’s surface, twice within two weeks. Twenty-six teams competed and, in 2004, the prize was awarded to a company called Scaled Composites. “Spaceflight was no longer the exclusive realm of government,” the foundation writes. “With that single flight, and the winning of the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE, a new industry was born.”
Other competitions involve sending a robot to the moon; developing a new way to quickly and easily clean up after oil spills; and sequencing “100 whole human genomes to a level of accuracy never before achieved.”
For more on Diamandis, his foundation and his goals for the future, read his recent interview with Wired.
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