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Featured The Rise of Incentivized Competitions for Humanity

  1. Sep 17, 2018 #1


    Staff: Mentor

    The recent rise of incentivized competitions for humanity has prompted me to create this thread, to tell PFers what's out there and to share my meager experience in "almost" entering one.

    The largest and arguably most influential one has been the XPRIZE organization which finds sponsors and puts out many competitions to solve some of our worst problems. Its a competitive game with many teams worldwide competing for the bragging rights to a first prize.

    Often the cost of competing exceeds whatever prize money is offered but teams persist in the hope of getting greater rewards later through sponsorship and perhaps even establishing a new company or industry.

    More on the history of XPRIZE is here:


    My Experience

    A few months ago,I was considering entering the XPRIZE Natural Disaster Challenge. The goal was to design a competition, that's right to design a competition where you're competing with other designers around the world. Basically, XPRIZE was outsourcing their competition designs. There were 5 challenge areas to consider and I chose the Natural Disaster Challenge. Herox.com is the place to go to learn more:


    The Natural Disaster Challenge endgame was to find a competition written according to XPRIZE guidelines that they could host and find sponsors for. In this case, we were to imagine some device or algorithm or something that could predict natural disasters. We got to select the natural disaster and we got to write the requirements that would be used to judge entries to the competition.

    They used the Ansari Space XPRIZE as an example and a template of how you should write your entry. In that prize, they had requirements that said the winner had to be able to take three people into space up to a minimum of 62 miles - 100 km and back and then do it again with the same vehicle in two weeks time.

    For my effort, I kept trying to actually design the winning entry of the competition I was designing and then decided this isn't going to work well. I also discovered that they had a shark tank component to the competition where you pitched your competition to some entrepreneurs and they would either sponsor it or rip it to shreds.

    I didn't like that part at all as I hate how these entrepreneurs operate. So many times I've seen good products get trashed or the inventor gets hoodwinked by the entrepreneur or the funding falls through later on. Reality TV shows are not reality for these great inventors.

    The end result is I did not enter due to the licensing issues with work and due to the shark tank approach.

    In Summary

    I would encourage you all to look into these competitions to see what you can do to help humanity solve these intractable problems. I think it's a worthy cause and whether you enter or not, it's still great that you invested some time to learn about them and maybe someday you will find a novel solution that can make a difference.



    For the remainder of the thread I'd like to post various competitions that I've found so far and would encourage others here to share the competitions they know about.

    In the wikipedia article on XPRIZE several other competitions past and present were listed and are worthy of some investigation:

    See also:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 19, 2018 #2


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    You're not, but you "are?" Sounds akin to "damnation with faint praise." No, thank you very much.
  4. Sep 19, 2018 #3
    Sounds like Nobel and Millennium problems for pedestrians. I would put them in the Hyperloop competition and online programming/engineering competitions. In any case, why is this featured? There has only been one brief response; one might suspect foul play/propaganda/etc
  5. Sep 19, 2018 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    No, conspiracy here. I was going to post more content shortly but didn’t want to make it a blog. These competitions are different they are closer to reality and solvable but the idea is to find cost effective solutions and solutions that we haven’t thought of before. It’s a noble idea to get people and companies to sponsor them and to see how they can influence society to look at these problems.
  6. Sep 19, 2018 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    Whether you enter or not some people are motivated by the idea while others by the physical competition and often the money spent in exploring a solution far exceeds the prize money but the knowledge learned could be quite valuable to the team. Just look at how many times entrepreneurs try and fail until finally they succeed. Jack Ma is a good example of this. He failed several times learning what not to do before he founded Alibaba.
  7. Sep 19, 2018 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    @Dr. Courtney’s insights article could be used as a basis for solving an XPRIZE challenge. You have to do your research and you have to present your idea to a panel of judges so his suggestions could help make your presentation better. XPRIZE solutions require a good deal of creativity and knowledge of the problem which is akin to doing PhD level research or entering a science competition.
  8. Sep 19, 2018 #7


    Staff: Mentor

    Last year XPRIZE hosted a sci-fi writing competition which I and few others entered. The idea was to write story around an airplane traveling 20years into the future. We had to feature new technologies and how they might be used. Of course, I didn’t win but the experience of actually writing a 4000 word short story was invaluable and got me to thinking I can do this and so now I just need the time and space to do it.

    One of my inspirations was the Saves the Cat book by Blake Snyder. It’s a cookbook for writing screenplays and by extension stories of any kind. It details what works and doesn’t using many well known movie examples.
  9. Sep 19, 2018 #8


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    Here's one that could have been a winner if it hadn't started 16 years ago.

    In the magazine Science, Aug 24, 2018, pg 735 (behind a paywall. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6404/734.summary) there is a News article "Bird watching from space".

    Cosmonauts on the Space Station just unfurled a good-sized antenna, 3-meter by 2-meter, to track critters wearing a 5 gram transmitter tag. They will scan 120 tags over a 30 by 800 kilometer area every 3 seconds. The 2 projects mentioned were tracking Fruit Bats in Africa to track the spread of Ebola, and track the behavior of goats on Italy's Mount Etna to see if they can predict eruptions. "...should become fully operational in 2019."

    16 years ago that could have been considered science fiction.

  10. Sep 19, 2018 #9


    Staff: Mentor

    With respect to the SpaceX Hyperloop competition, they're looking for a new mode of fast transportation to replace cars for medium distance travel. Its interesting how things are playing out. We have scooters to cover that last mile to/from home to the transit station. Hyperloop and light rail for the commute. Electric cars for day to day travel and planes, trains and ships for long range travel.

    Its really hard to beat gas cars though for speed of refueling and range of travel. Its unfortunate that they are a direct source of pollution.

    More on the Hyperloop:


    The competition guidelines seem very similar to XPRIZE. The winner must meet a set of measurable criteria.

    One problem with these competitions is that they can change the rules or even cancel the competition should some new technology supersede it or not enough teams enter. I’m sure that uncertainty could give some teams a reason to not enter.

    What interests me about these kinds of competitions is the power they have to incentivize teams in third world countries to try and compete for a worthy cause that could directly benefit their people. I've seen other efforts where MIT engineers compete to design a better wheel chair for handicapped people in rural villages. One that can travel over rough ground and be easily repairable by local mechanics.
  11. Sep 19, 2018 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    It is interesting how Musk's projects try to cover all distance scales of passenger transport.

    Cars for flexibility in the city or countryside
    Boring company (air-filled tunnels, pods with pedestrians or cars) for longer distances in city regions
    Hyperloop (vacuum tunnels) for inter-city transport
    BFR for intercontinental and interplanetary distances
  12. Sep 20, 2018 #11


    Staff: Mentor

  13. Sep 20, 2018 #12


    Staff: Mentor

    Here's the most recent challenge I got from XPRIZE looking for innovative solutions in the following areas:

    In Good Company: The 2018 Optimal Aging Challenge is a $20,000 (USD) global competition to improve healthy aging by leveraging the development of breakthrough technologies, community resources and other solutions to reduce social isolation and loneliness and increase engagement among the older populations.

    In collaboration with Massachusetts Governor Baker's Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts (MA Aging Council),Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab (MIT AgeLab), Benchmark Senior Living (Benchmark) and GE Healthcare are seeking ideas across four key pillars:

    Develop or apply innovative approaches in caregiving

    Develop or apply innovative approaches in transportation services for seniors

    Develop or apply innovative elder care housing solutions

    Develop or apply effective employment or volunteerism opportunities for seniors

    More info here:

  14. Oct 2, 2018 #13


    Staff: Mentor

  15. Oct 2, 2018 #14


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    Although not really meant for the general public, Cancer Research UK is running a Grand Challenge competition for cancer research (applications have currently been judged, and they are now evaluating their shortlisted candidates to choose the winners). However, it does give some information on what they see as some of the biggest challenges in cancer research:
  16. Oct 2, 2018 #15


    Staff: Mentor

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