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.
The $10 million Ansari XPRIZE was a competition to build a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the earth's surface twice within two weeks. The $10 million purse was won by famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan and his company, Scaled Composite. Together, 26 teams from seven nations spent more than $100 million to win the prize. Since SpaceShipOne won the prize, there has been more than $1.5 billion dollars in public and private expenditure in support of the private spaceflight industry.
The $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE is igniting a new era of lunar exploration by offering the largest international incentive prize of all time. A total of $30 million in prizes are available to the first privately funded teams to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon and have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface and send images and data back to the Earth. Since its launch, NASA has also offered a complementary $30 million in contracts to those who successfully land on the lunar surface and meet certain scientific objectives.
(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.
We recycle aluminum, glass, paper, plastic, and yard waste - why not carbon? As of now, no company has successfully commercialized a carbon utilization technology. Current funding has been focused on expensive carbon capture and sequestration, which treats carbon as a liability. A carbon capture and recycling competition challenges teams to create useful and valuable products from the coal plant effluent. The goal is to develop radical new technologies and products that make capturing CO2 from coal plants a profit center, not a liability.
The $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive XPRIZE was a global competition to inspire a new generation of viable, safe, affordable and super fuel efficient vehicles. The winning teams were the $5 million Mainstream winner, Edison2; $2.5 million Alternative class (tandem seating) winner, X-Tracer; and $2.5 million Alternative class (side-by-side seating) winner, Li-ion Motors.