One needs only look skyward after sunset to understand the full potential of mankind. The bright celestial object above is the moon, and it is some 240,000 miles away. Despite the obvious challenges, people thought it was possible to travel there, and eventually they did. The first moon landing is the most referenced occurrence when discussing what is possible for humanity to achieve, and for good reason. Decades later it remains an inspiration to those with the audacity to believe that anything can be accomplished.
Belief that a solution can be found to an inherently difficult problem – like how you get a man to set foot on the surface of the moon – is what drives the XPRIZE competition. It exists to reward those who are steadfast in their desire to innovate in order to make a difference for the betterment of humanity. The first XPRIZE was dreamt up in the mid-1990s as a challenge to award a team that could fly a craft at least 100 kilometers into suborbital space two times over the course of two weeks. In 2004, the feat was accomplished by a myriad of individuals who created and flew the aptly named SpaceShipOne and claimed the $10 million prize.
SpaceShipOne was the first winner of the XPRIZE, but there have been subsequent winners in areas of technology other than traveling into space. The Lunar Lander Challenge was launched in 2006 and required teams to build rocket-powered vehicles that could take off, reach a height of 50 meters and fly laterally for 100 meters before landing. The top prize of $1 million was not claimed until 2009 by Masten Space Systems. A contest called the Automotive XPRIZE was also underway at this time, with the potential for this innovation to impact the masses in a way the space-oriented endeavors may not have. The challenge for the automotive contest was fairly straightforward and easy for anybody to understand – build a car that would average at least 100 MPGe (miles per gallon gasoline equivalent) with maximum CO2 emissions of 200 grams per mile. The $5 million top prize was won by a team called Edison2 in what was named the Very Light Car, a vehicle which got 102.5 MPGe.
In 2011, another prize was awarded, this one for completing the Oil Cleanup XChallenge. This competition was in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that devastated the Gulf of Mexico and challenged teams to come up with ways to remove crude oil from the ocean. The winning team claimed the $1 million prize by coming up with a skimming device that would collect oil sitting on top of the water. Other prizes claimed were for the use of sensors to enable better personal health, followed by one that would allow for better understanding of ocean acidification.
XPRIZE has other contests which remain open, each of which deals with coming up with a breakthrough of some sort using technology for the betterment of humanity. The open prizes are for space exploration, a mobile device to diagnose patients, educational apps, developing artificial intelligence, ocean floor mapping, adult literacy, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Along with these already open contests, more in the planning stages as the solutions to issues that mankind is fighting are always going to be needed.
XPRIZE seeks to change that by developing certain criteria that ensures a problem won’t just be covered up, but solved. Simply throwing money at a problem will never fix that problem, but mask it. In essence, this is what XPRIZE is all about – delivering hope that problems, no matter what the scale is – can be resolved by relatively small teams of people with a common cause. Humanity is better off when people are working together to come up with solutions to issues, and one way to accomplish that is by rewarding those who find those solutions. This is what makes XPRIZE different than so many other organizations – what matters is the end result, a solution to a problem that can offer hope and inspiration to others who may be watching and wondering if they can achieve something that will truly make a difference in the lives of others around the world.