The humble cookstove is surprisingly the most mundane of killers. More than two billion people worldwide use biomass cookstoves, which can require hours to gather sticks and other fuel every day. Each year, nearly two million people, mostly women and children, die from carbon monoxide and other poisoning produced by incomplete combustion from these cookstoves.
A staggering two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiency, which is perhaps the most prevalent and the most addressable part of world hunger. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals (e.g., iodine, iron, vitamin A) that prevent brain damage and forestall disease. A group of Nobel-laureate economists ranked micronutrient interventions as the single most cost-effective way to combat global poverty.
Space research costs today are dominated by expensive launches, precluding many interested researchers, students, and companies from engaging in the field. Developing a very low-cost, robust capability to take scientific instruments to the edge of space (200,000 feet) on a dedicated basis will shepherd in a new era of low-cost flight for academic and corporate R&D.
Tens of millions of pieces of debris are currently orbiting Earth at altitudes that pose a danger to satellites and human spacecraft. The threats from such debris are predicted to rise 50 percent in the coming decade and quadruple in the next 50 years. Large object collisions are particularly dangerous, due to the ensuing creation of additional debris. The threat is both to spacecraft in orbit and to those that need to pass through the gauntlet of debris to reach their intended orbit. This XPRIZE seeks a low-cost, scalable method to safely and efficiently dispose of orbital debris.
We currently lack high-resolution maps of nearly 75 percent of the planet’s surface and know more about the surface of Mars than about the floor of Earth’s oceans. Improved knowledge of the ocean floor improves exploration, navigation, basic geological discovery, and economic development.
Thousands of asteroids and other Near Earth Objects (NEOs) exist, but worldwide efforts have only been able to catalogue and track a fraction of these objects. Historical impacts with the Earth have had collision forces exceeding a nuclear bomb, causing massive destruction and climate change. While the likelihood of future events is not large, there have been some relative near misses and the ramifications of collisions could be devastating.
(1) Most solar photovoltaic improvements focus on incremental gains in panel efficiency, not materials or process improvements to reduce weight and therefore cost of production and installation.
(2) Despite the availability of wind, less than two percent of total world power needs are currently met by power generated from wind turbines. Breakthroughs in ultra-lightweight wind turbines would mean reduced costs, increased production rates, and increased ease of installation.
Most utility companies are paid for the amount of power they sell and are provided little incentive for improvements in efficiency. A home-based energy storage system (i.e. an ePod) that is able to buy energy from grid when it is cheap (off-peak) and supply it for household needs when electricity is expensive can lower peak energy demand, lessen pollution, and increase access to renewable power generation. The device will also create greater resiliency to blackouts and brownouts.
A new class of all-electric aircraft would help minimize our dependence on fossil fuels. The development of faster and more capable aircraft was initially incentivized annual races held during the 1920s and 1930s. The goal of this XPRIZE is to incent a new generation of fast, safe, long-endurance, electric aircraft that will reduce noise pollution and dependence on fossil fuels.