Thursday, November 4, 2010

X PRIZEr, Kacy Qua, Soars Weightless with James Cameron and Friends

Interested in what goes through one’s mind when anticipating a Zero-G flight?

Last month, AVATAR Director, James Cameron and several other entrepreneurs “went weightless” in a special Zero-G flight to raise money for the X PRIZE Foundation. Two seats were reserved for two very lucky X PRIZE staff members. To decide which employees were eligible, a “reverse raffle” was conducted. The names of all of the staff were placed into a hat and each day one or two names were drawn. Those unfortunate souls whose names were pulled from the hat were then OUT of the running (we’re not bitter – we SWEAR!). In the end, there were two left standing – Kacy Qua, X PRIZE Manager of Alliances and Leslie Surley, X PRIZE Senior Director of Sponsorship Services.

Follow Kacy as she walks us through a timeline of what it felt like when the X PRIZE Zero-G contest was first announced, to the winning moment when she learned she would be flying weightless with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, to actually being gravity free.

Take it away, Kacy…

Post Winning, Pre-Flight Stages

1. Relief – My desk is located directly across from the office where the Zero-G raffle door was held. Every day – throughout the entire month of September - I would watch as one to three names were removed from the door. This was my own personal reverse Russian Roulette. Although I BELIEVED, each day at elimination time, my heart DID beat a little bit faster…

2. Disbelief – I am the last (2nd to last) man (woman) standing (floating). I am going on a Zero-G Flight. With James Cameron. And Elon Musk. And Peter Diamandis. No big deal.

3. Appreciation – Wow, X PRIZE, you have really out done yourself this time. I feel very grateful.

4. Damage Control - How many ways can I ensure I don’t puke:

a. Take Dramamine and be tired – no way.

b. No alcohol the night before - on a Friday?! The sacrifices I make.

c. No orange juice or other acid drinks – no problem.

d. Eat very little that morning – um, I guess so.

e. Take prescription and be caffeinated – sure.

f. Avoid all of the crazy stunts I intend to engage in on the flight – backflips, front flips, ninja kicks, general plane domination…riiiiiiight.

5. Planning - How do I stake out enough space to do at least one back flip? Will I be the “crazy hippie” if I get into lotus pose? Will I have astronaut dreams? How should I wear my hair (gotta look good for those cameras!)?

6. Posturing - Is there a system for weeding out the other passengers most likely to puke, and

a. Finding a spot furthest away from them, and doing this without

b. Letting them know that I have classified them as a “puker”

7. Praying - Of course there is an occasional, “please don’t let us crash,” with a reflection of the irony that any other flight which consisted of the plane hurdling toward the earth at ultra-fast pace would be my worst nightmare, yet with this particular flight, it’s the goal.

Reactions to the News

As I began to tell others about my upcoming Zero-G flight, I discovered that there were three types of people who had specific reactions to my news –

1. Those who know exactly what Zero-G is and are jazzed/jealous about me going. They want me to take and bring back pictures, do backflips and give high fives.

2. Those who think I am going to space! (wow. Imagine? Le sigh.) I think this myth is propagated by the fact that anyone who knows me has heard me tell the great X PRIZE mythology of opening up private space. These people think I went on Virgin Galactic, into sub orbit.

3. Those who think this is dangerous/crazy and just don’t get it.

Amazingly, group number 2 is the largest. Even after I have explained that it is not a space flight (or “inner outer space” as it’s been described), people still didn’t really get it. While this is incredibly humorous, it has really highlighted the lack of general awareness about space technology and space accessibility to the general public.

Post Flight Reflections

Thank god I didn’t throw up. I didn’t even come close.

The thing that surprised me the most was the utter chaos of having no gravity. On the ground, you can walk. In a pool, you can swim. In Zero-Gravity, you need to touch a wall, floor, another person – anything solid- to move. That didn’t mean that we didn’t try to swim – it just meant that instead of moving in the direction we wanted to go, we were just kicking each other.

The coolest part of the flight was when we did the “Spiderman.” Essentially we started by lying on the ground on our bellies. As soon as we felt gravity go to zero, we climbed the wall and attempted to go up to the ceiling, and then back down the other side, while remaining attached to the wall. I got about halfway then just “fell” into a backward somersault down the middle.

When can I go back? I am looking forward to wearing my name tag right side up, since I have graduated from totally clueless first timer to super jazzed weightless pro.

Commercial flights in Coach Class just got even worse.

Thank you to Peter Diamandis, X PRIZE CEO and Chairman; Robert K. Weiss, X PRIZE President and Vice Chair; Heather Carter, X PRIZE Director of Human Resources; James Cameron, Director and Producer; Jim Gianopulos, X PRIZE Foundation Trustee and Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment; and, of course, Zero-G!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Keeping up with PIAXP Award Week

It's a busy week over here at the X PRIZE Foundation (XPF) as we are gearing up for a HUGE and EXCITING moment...the awarding of our second X PRIZE! On Thursday, September 16, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE will take its place in history as up to $10 million will be awarded to as many as three teams. It's an important moment for the Foundation, but also for each and everyone one of you as the ceremony does not mark the end of the competition, but, rather, signifies the beginning of truly transforming the way we think about cars and super-efficent vehicles. We can only look ahead from this moment, and we here at X PRIZE believe that the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE (PIAXP) will revolutionize the automotive industry just as the Ansari X PRIZE launched a new era of private spaceflight. So, get ready for what's to come!

With that said, here's a little breakdown of how you can keep up with all the buzz regarding this week's big event! We are busy spreading the word and want you to be a part of it.

LiveStream of PIAXP Award Ceremony
Can't make it to D.C.? Want to witness the excitement of the winning teams? Be sure to catch the livestream of the award ceremony on Thursday at 10:30amEDT/7:30amPDT (yes, it's early for the West Coast folk, but, if it's any consolation, you'll be rooting and hollering in spirit with all of us at X PRIZE headquarters in Playa Vista who couldn't make the trek to D.C.). Check out for details! You can also connect and participate live with other viewers via UStream at

Like what we do? "Like" us on FaceBook! Check out the official PIAXP page at or the official XPF page at

Like to Tweet? Follow us on Twitter to receive up-to-date information about the award ceremony as we receive it. Be sure to use the official hashtag of the award ceremony, #PIAXPAward. Like Trivia? Be part of our Twitter Trivia where we ask different questions about PIAXP. Be the first to answer correctly and you'll walk away with one-of-a-kind PIAXP item (not even all of us X PRIZErs have some of these things). Trivia contest will end tomorrow, September 15.

Are you a video person? Check out our youtube channel at to see all of the cool PIAXP videos that our production team has produced. Here, you'll find interviews with XPF officials, teams and some really cool footage of the cars as they tested their vehicles at the Michigan International Speedway this summer. Pretty awesome stuff!

One-Hour National Geographic Television Special
Set your DVR/TiVo! National Geographic Channel will present a one-hour television special, "X PRIZE Cars: Accelerating the Future," on Thursday, September 16 at 9pmEDT/6pmPDT. Tune in for all the highlights, drama and behind-the-scenes look on today’s innovators and their race to build a 100MPGe vehicle to capture a $10 million prize and revolutionize the auto industry.

So there you have it! A quick overview of where you can be part of all the PIAXP action. We hope that you'll help us spread the word and have some fun with us!

By: Valerie Arias, Associate, Communications

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mix It All Up in a Melting Pot (Part One)

The Foundation receives hundreds of inquiries a year from people around the world wanting to know how they can get their idea developed into an X PRIZE or X CHALLENGE and how they can use an idea they have already developed to win an active X PRIZE or X CHALLENGE competition. What we have gathered from this is that you all want to know HOW TO GET INVOLVED, and I am here to tell you that what the people want, the people will get! As such, I am going to dedicate the next two Prize Development blogs to answering some of the most frequently submitted questions in regards to the X PRIZE idea submission and idea selection process!

Q. Does the X PRIZE Foundation consider X PRIZE and X CHALLENGE competition ideas submitted by individuals?

A. Absolutely! The Foundation believes that innovation is the key to implementing revolutionary change within our society, and that the heart of such innovation lies within anyone who dares to dream. Not only do we regularly review and assess ideas submitted by the general public for X CHALLENGE and X PRIZE competitions, but we also encourage suggestions on specific prize areas (e.g. plastic pollution) in which you feel that an X PRIZE can make a monumental difference. If you wish to submit a potential prize concept or prize subject area idea to the Prize Development department, please email us at Further, the X PRIZE Foundation often reaches out to the public specifically for the purposes of harvesting and utilizing the awesome ideas that we know are incubating out there! The people that entered our Crazy Green Idea ( competition not only knocked our socks off with their inventive “green” technologies, but also provided inspiration for several different larger Energy & Environment prize concepts that are currently in development.

Q. How do you choose which prize ideas to develop into X PRIZES or an X CHALLENGES?

A. Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question. While we welcome prize idea submissions and feedback at any time, the number of new prize ideas that we choose to develop each year can vary based on a number of different factors. Some of these factors include:

1. The number of prizes that are currently in development. At any given time, there can be as few as five or as many as twelve prize ideas in development. As we mentioned in our last blog, the Prize Design process can take up to 8 months to complete, so the more ideas that the Prize Development team is currently developing, the less bandwidth we have to begin development on new prize concepts.

2. The subject matter the prize concept is addressing. As you know, there are four X PRIZE Foundation Prize Groups: Exploration, Life Sciences, Education & Global Development, and Energy & Environment. Whenever possible, we try to have a relatively equal amount of prize concepts being developed across the four Prize Groups, so if there are four prizes currently in development in Life Sciences, we might not be as apt to begin development on a new Life Sciences prize idea in favor of developing a prize idea within one of the other three Prize Groups.

3. The marketplace. The X PRIZE Foundation keeps an ear to the ground in order to always be up-to-date on the most critical issues facing the nation as well as the solutions people across the world are developing to address these issues. In fact, our most recently launched competition, the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE ( ) was developed in record time (a matter of weeks) specifically to address the lack of an acceptable solution to stem the widespread disaster that inevitably results from an oil spill. I say that to say this: if your prize idea is relevant, timely, informative, and not being done elsewhere, you may very well become the mind behind the next X PRIZE or X CHALLENGE competition!

Q. I heard about an X PRIZE or X CHALLENGE competition that I know that I can win- what do I do?

A. If the competition has in fact launched, please check the competition website for more details on the team registration process and the official rules of the competition. For anyone interested in competing in the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE, please be advised that that competition has NOT YET launched, but you can PRE-REGISTER your team to compete in the competition by visiting ( Once you have completed the pre-registration form, you will receive regular updates on the metrics, guidelines, and status of the competition. If you cannot find a website for a specific prize competition that you are interested in competing in, the odds are that the competition is not yet active and it would be best to continue to check the website for more information as it is developed. I receive hundreds of letters, pictures, and props every year from people that want to enter prize competitions that they have heard about and WE LOVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM, but unfortunately there is a method to our madness and the only way to enter a prize competition is:

1. For the competition to be actively accepting applications from potential teams

2. To submit said application through the official website for that competition

Whew, that was an eyeful! I hope that those of you that are interested in submitting a prize idea to the Prize Development department or have submitted a prize idea in the past found that helpful! As the title of the blog suggests, we feel that the best way to keep creating prize competitions that prioritize innovation and spark worldwide revolution is to take every idea or suggestion we receive, mix them all up in a melting pot, and work together to build on the strengths of our collective creativity in order to impact REAL CHANGE. More Q&A to come in Part Two!

By: Taryn Williams, Executive Coordinator, Prize Development

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Competition Isn’t Over Yet: Why Validation Matters

With the on-track stages behind us and the results of those on-track stages prominently available on the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE website, one might think the winners of this $10M competition are a foregone conclusion. Well, here are a few reasons why you should think again.

The winners must pass the Validation Stage, during which they must achieve an efficiency result on the dynamometer high enough to ensure that, when averaged 50/50 with the on-track results, it equals 100 MPGe or better. A dynamometer, or "dyno" for short, is a device that allows engineers to test a vehicle by simulating the loads associated with driving without actually moving (basically, a treadmill for cars - think of the recent Lexus super car commercial that revs its engine until it shatters a wine glass).

Though two teams advancing to Validation are alone in their respective classes, Edison2 (Mainstream Class) and X-Tracer (Alternative Tandem Class), they each must still meet some very difficult requirements on the chassis dynamometer. If you recall, competition officials ruled that Edison2 was not at fault for the incidents at Coast Down that damaged the engines of both of their Mainstream Class entries. Consequently, officials granted Edison2 a waiver from Validation testing at Argonne National Lab as the cost and timetable for repair and calibration of the engines was not feasible. However, because Roush had conducted dynamometer testing on the Edison2 vehicles that were fielded at Knockout and Finals, officials have agreed to review these third party results to determine whether they can be accepted in lieu of testing at Argonne. Tune in to the Award Ceremony on September 16 to learn how the officials ultimately ruled.

That leaves the Alternative Class. To verify the on-track results from Michigan International Speedway, vehicles must repeat efficiency, range, and emissions testing – not an easy feat on the dyno where vehicles can’t benefit from air cooling at speed. In addition, they must survive an entirely new test for gradeability, also known as a simulated hill climb. To do so, they must maintain a minimum 55 mph speed on a simulated 4 percent grade (incline) continuously for 15 minutes. They must also surmount fuel economy, range, and greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions tests.

All vehicles must meet strict EPA emissions standards and achieve an on-road life cycle greenhouse gas emissions level of 200 equivalent grams of CO2 per mile or less. This is also known as a wells-to-wheels (WTW) calculation that accounts for the upstream pollution associated with extraction, transportation, storage, and distribution of the energy that drives the wheels. Vehicles that don’t achieve these requirements during Validation Testing will not be eligible for the Grand Prize.

For the five teams in the Alternative Side-by-Side Class, placement was determined by the Combined Performance & Efficiency Test, the last event conducted at the Finals Stage. Given that Team Li-ion achieved 171.4 MPGe in on-track testing, they do not appear to be in danger of falling short of the fuel economy mark. However, should they fail any component of testing on the dyno, including the simulated hill climb, they would fail to pass the Validation Stage. In that event, eligibility for the prize would fall to the next team in the placement order, in this case RaceAbout.

Validation Stage testing is no slam dunk. Teams must not only pass these very strenuous challenges, they must achieve 100 MPGe or better when averaged 50/50 with on-track results to claim the prize.

The bottom line: No one will know for sure until the winners are revealed at the final Award Ceremony on September 16th. So stay tuned!

By: Eric Cahill, Senior Director, Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE

Monday, August 30, 2010

Flying high with Academy Award Winner James Cameron!

Ever wanted to experience weightlessness? How about strike up a conversation with Oscar® and Golden Globe® winning filmmaker James Cameron? Or what about tapping into that childhood dream of being an astronaut? Well, you can do all three by bidding for one of three seats for the once-in-a-lifetime adventure aboard an extraordinary Zero Gravity “Weightless Flight.” The rare opportunity to fly like Superman and float like an astronaut - alongside James Cameron - will be auctioned on eBay to the general public, beginning Tuesday, August 31 and ending Friday, September 3. All proceeds from the auction will go to the X PRIZE Foundation and will be used to help design future prizes intended to drive radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Also joining the flight are Jim Gianopulos, Chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment and Tim Ferriss, best-selling author of ‘The 4-Hour Workweek.’

The weightless flight will take place aboard G-FORCE ONE, a specially modified, FAA-approved, Boeing 727-200 aircraft. The flight is identical to those used by NASA to train its astronauts and replicates the same levels of weightlessness enjoyed on Mars (1/3-gravity), the Moon (1/6-gravity) and zero gravity. Martha Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne and Stephen Hawking are just a few notable passengers who’ve flown with ZERO-G and proclaimed it to be one of the most thrilling experiences of their lives.

Don’t miss out on the chance of a lifetime! The ZERO-G flight will take off from the Van Nuys Airport in Los Angeles on Saturday, October 9, 2010. To find out more information about the auction and to bid on seats, visit

By: Valerie Arias, Associate, Communications

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leaders in the Automotive Industry Gather at Leadership Summit to Discuss Future of Alternative Energy Vehicles

Written by Stephanie Schneider, Associate, Sponsorship

On July 27 & 28, suppliers, public sector energy experts, academics, and other automotive value chain participants met in Michigan to discuss how best to accelerate the commercialization and widespread adoption of advanced vehicle technologies in order to meet growing consumer demand and ambitious national goals for reducing oil dependence and combating climate change. Following the speaker session, attendees were able to view the vehicles and meet the teams in the running for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE at the Closing Ceremonies event at the Michigan International Speedway.

Here’s what some of the attendees had to say about the Leadership Summit:

“I was energized by the connections with innovative thinkers, technology and market developers pushing the limits on how we responsibly transport ourselves. I did not view the event as the completion of the challenge, but rather as the beginning of the next stage of change - and I came away more committed than ever to driving that change.” – Bill Van Amburg, Senior Vice President, CALSTART

“For me, the Leadership Summit was both inspiring and practical. I had the opportunity to learn from so many others, from various sectors, who are also working toward sustainable transportation. I gained perspective I couldn't have gained so quickly without the Leadership Summit.” – Maggie Striz Calnin, Program Manager, Kuntzsch Business Services/Greater Lansing Area Clean Cities

“The Leadership Summit was an excellent exchange of information from a diverse group of experts.” Rick Woodbury, Commuter Cars Corp.

Two days of very engaging conversations at the Leadership Summit resulted in these initial 10 actions that vehicle innovators and industry leaders should take to bring advanced vehicle technologies to market:

1. Find your focus and identify niche markets that match the capabilities of your technology with the use-case and consumers that can best leverage those technologies.

2. Consider being a car complement, not a car replacement. Adjust your expectations and strategy to position yourself as an “alternative form of mobility.”

3. Engage in ongoing consumer education to help consumers understand their role in the industry and as a part of this broad societal shift in how we transport ourselves.

4. Recognize the value of physical demos and creating opportunities for customers and partners to experience the technology in a tactile way. Suggestions included getting these vehicles into rental and car-sharing fleets where consumers would have a chance to drive the cars in real-world scenarios.

5. Pursue partnerships. Now more than ever, companies, suppliers, and public sector institutions are eager to partner with innovators. Collaboration is key.

6. Actively involve the supply-chain throughout the process, including the use of open infrastructure and the development of a parts bin.

7. Work with universities for their research and development capabilities, as well as their knowledge of potential research and development funding sources.

8. Push for performance-based regulations, rather than solution-based.

9. Use launch points and deadlines to speed your development cycle.

10. Look to other industries for ideas about consumer adoption and alternative go-to-market strategies.

X PRIZE Foundation would like to thank our sponsors for their support of this event:

Progressive Corporation


U.S. Department of Energy

Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Michigan International Speedway

MultiTech Systems

Bryan Cave

BT Global Services

DTE Energy


Consumers Union


Snap-on Tools


Ray Sidney

Jeffrey Shames

Gil & Elyssa Elbaz

Jack Hidary

Nadine Weil

Monday, August 16, 2010

How Google Lunar X PRIZE Teams May Benefit From NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) Program

An update from Will Pomerantz, Senior Director of Space Prizes, on behalf of the X PRIZE Foundation.

moon viewThis past Friday (6 August 2010), the commercial lunar exploration industry—including the 21 teams competing in the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE—got a boost when NASA, the US civil space agency, announced its intentions to purchase specific data related to lunar exploration resulting from commercial development of small, robotic lunar landers. This important announcement not only represents a significant effort to further lunar exploration, but also shows that NASA recognizes the valuable insight private companies can provide into emerging technologies and systems that will benefit NASA as it develops its own plans to explore the solar system.

The Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program, managed out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, will award small, firm-fixed price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts over the course of the next few years, with a total value of as much as $30.1 million. NASA explained that multiple awards are possible, with a minimum data purchase of $10,000 for each selected contractor. Individual awardees can earn as much as $10.1 million. Through these contracts, NASA is purchasing “data associated with the design and demonstration of an end-to-end lunar landing mission including: hardware design, development, and testing; ground operations and integration; launch, trajectory correction maneuvers, and lunar braking burn; lunar landing; and other enhanced capabilities.”

A wide range of companies are expected to respond to the opportunity, including many of the Google Lunar X PRIZE competitors. These teams—small businesses, non-profits, and university consortia located across the United States and globally—are developing important technologies and capabilities that will allow NASA to accomplish more in less time and for less money. The type of data that NASA is soliciting with these contracts has never before been available for purchase, and will come at a substantially lower cost than would be possible through dedicated governmental missions.

NASA’s offering will come as welcome news to those on both sides of the recent debate over the future of the agency’s exploration program, many of whom feared the agency would abandon exploration of the Moon. With this procurement effort, NASA has re-established itself as a world leader in the new era of lunar exploration, ‘Moon 2.0,’ which derives sustainability from an open, participatory relationship between civil and commercial partners from many nations.

Tiffany Montague, a Manager of Business Development at Google and the company’s main representative for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, says that "we're thrilled that NASA has seized this creative opportunity to engage with the commercial space industry. We're approaching an era when space will finally become open and accessible for everyone, and it's exciting to see private and public sectors complement each other."

William Pomerantz, Senior Director for Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation, notes that “this NASA announcement will allow for public private partnerships that will maximize the results we’ll see from this new era of lunar exploration. From the start, we’ve worked with NASA to ensure that the technologies and systems that emerge from the Google Lunar X PRIZE will be complementary to NASA’s own efforts, rather than competing with them.”

A section of the Google Lunar X PRIZE rules that requires teams to be mainly privately funded likely will not interfere with teams that choose to pursue this opportunity. We’ve always drawn a distinction in our rules and in our rhetoric between arrangements where governments are financiers of teams versus those where governments are the customers of teams. Simple funding arrangements are probably not sustainable over long periods of time, but healthy customer-provider relationships are, and our rules reflect that difference. Indeed, the idea of private firms selling services to government space agencies, among other customers, was expressly the concept behind the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

The contract awards will be managed by NASA’s Lunar Lander Project Office. For more information, visit NASA’s website for the program,

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

At X PRIZE, We Make Headlines

The X PRIZE Communications Team is proud of the coverage the Foundation has received these past few months. We can’t take all the credit ourselves, though. C. Fox Communications, our public relations agency of record for the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE (PIAXP), has been the driving force (pun intended) in securing fantastic features for the Auto PRIZE. Have you seen the September cover of Popular Mechanics? Or how about our CEO, Peter Diamandis, who stopped by The Rachel Maddow Show to talk all things cars and PIAXP?

Of course, some of our competitions generate buzz on their own. The most recent example of this is the $1.4 Million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE. This CHALLENGE was announced on July 29 and, since then, has been featured in places like ABC News, BBC News, Christian Science Monitor, Fast Company, the Huffington Post, MSNBC & Popular Science, not to mention a live broadcast interview on CNN with Peter Diamandis & Wendy Schmidt (thanks to our PR consultants, not to mention Mother & Son team, Diane & Ian Murphy). We have loved the response that our 6th major competition has received, and we’re just busy trying to track it all down and archive it for our files!

As amazing as our individual PRIZEs and CHALLENGEs are, the Foundation as a whole also receives media attention. I mean, the X PRIZE story is a fascinating one. So, naturally, there are journalists who want to spotlight the Foundation in its entirety, and we love that! It’s even better when our story reaches overseas and is featured internationally. This happened in the August issue of the German edition of GQ (see below). Ja! Spannend! (Thank you Google translation).

So there you have it! A brief overview of our most recent media coverage. We hope that you caught one – or two or three – of these stories in the news. I know it’s exciting for me when I receive a call or text from a friend saying they saw X PRIZE here and there. It just means that the X PRIZE word is growing – and we can’t help but be ok with that ;)

By: Valerie Arias, Associate, Communications

Monday, July 26, 2010

Archon Genomics X PRIZE Powers Into Phase II: Genomics Technologies Progressing Towards Prize Vision

The summer of 2010 is heating up in the Archon Genomics X PRIZE office. The hottest news is the Archon Genomics X Prize “Validation Protocol,” used to assess a competitor’s ability to achieve the accuracy and completeness requirements of the prize, is nearing completion. By September 2010, we will make this document available for professional and public comment—our goal is to build a consensus-driven process that will be embraced by the genomics industry. Keep checking the AGXP Home Page for updates on how you can contribute.

Why is this Validation Protocol important? Two reasons: (1) To win the largest medical prize in history, teams must successfully sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days for less than $10,000 per genome; therefore, a method must be established to declare a winner without controversy, and (2) the genomics industry currently lacks a benchmark for assessing the quality of whole genome sequences; therefore, our goal is to offer our Validation Protocol as the “Gold Standard” for assessing overall accuracy and completeness of whole genome sequences.

Long-Term Impact: This Validation Protocol is a necessary step towards the creation a new era of personalized, predictive and preventive medicine—eventually transforming medical care from reactive to proactive.

Upcoming Events: Plans are underway for the Archon Genomics X PRIZE Team Summit to be held in January 2011. The Summit will bring together members of the Archon Genomics X PRIZE Scientific and Ethics Advisory Boards, industry leaders, as well as the competing Teams; each one working to win the $10 Million Archon Genomics X PRIZE.

As of this writing, competing Teams are as follows:

ZS Genetics
Personal Genome X-Team
454 Life Sciences
(Stealth Team to be announced in Fall 2010)

You will be hearing much more about the Archon Genomics X PRIZE soon. Stay connected as we enter Phase II and lay the foundation for Teams to begin competing. Bookmark the Archon Genomics X Prize home page to stay in the loop as we prepare to make history.

By: Grant Campany, Senior Director, Archon Genomics X PRIZE

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Making the Impossible Possible One Prize at a Time

By now, most people have read the press release about our tech-star studded May Benefit , “A Radical Benefit for Humanity, Making the Impossible Possible One Prize at a Time,” but I’m here to tell you about all the fun and excitement that happened behind the scenes.

A few days before the main event, virtually the entire X PRIZE staff schlepped ourselves up to San Francisco and set up office in the board room of the Taj Campton Place (Ratan Tata, an X PRIZE board member, owns the hotel chain so, needless to say, we were all excited about our stay). Though the majority of the staff flew into the city, one team member packed up an SUV full of supplies and made the six-hour trek, with her dog as copilot. Once everyone had settled in, it was time to work, work, work, finalize details, review the seating chart, address any last minute changes, etc. However, once the sun went down it was time to let a little loose and socialize over dinner and drinks with coworkers and intellects from the Visioneering meeting (which was held in conjunction with our benefit). Of course, it is not your typical cocktail conversation with X PRIZErs! Topics of conversation included education in America versus India and spinal cord regeneration. Stimulating conversation and engaging people…who could ask for anything more? Three hours of sleep and two espressos later, it was time to do it all over again!

The day of the event was incredibly busy, not to mention freezing (sidenote – if you are ever in San Francisco in May, bring your coat)! When the big day finally arrived, it was time for the real action to begin at Lucasfilms. The café was transformed into our ball room, which featured wooden X’s as our center pieces and plasma TVs on every wall. Our robots, which featured virtual guests like Google’s Sergey Brin, began to arrive (thanks to Scott Hassan at Willow Garage), banners were positioned and then the guests started to trickle in. I’ll let the press release pick up from here about what happened at the event but I will add that Debbie & Mitch Menaged out bid all the others for my favorite auction item… a Chihuly glass sculpture.

What’s next you ask? We are doing it all over again but this time we’re taking the show to New York. So, NYC, get ready for the second X PRIZE “Radical Benefit for Humanity” because we’ll be seeing you November 6th!

By: Lindsey Burris, Executive Assistant, Alliances

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The X PRIZE Design Process...EXPOSED

In our last blog, we introduced you to the Prize Development department, X PRIZE and X CHALLENGE competitions and the four Prize Groups that the X PRIZE Foundation organizes incentive competition within. This time, however, we are going to go a little deeper; this time, we are going to unveil one of the secrets that have helped the X PRIZE Foundation become a world-wide leader in organizing, implementing and operating radically transformative incentive competitions.

What, you may ask, can such a secret be?? Does the X PRIZE Foundation have some sort of classified, “hush-hush” formula that they are using to usurp the competition??

Well, in a word, yes- it is called the X PRIZE Design Process.

THE X PRIZE Design Process is a creative and analytical methodology that gathers input from many sources and experts, both internal and external to the X PRIZE Foundation. These experts include innovators, industry leaders, academia and the X PRIZE Labs. This diversified approach to idea generation and feedback is instrumental to the early adoption of our concepts, grass-roots support and the development of conversational capital assets that are needed for the successful design and launch of an X PRIZE.

There are five major phases to the Prize Design Process:

1) Definition Phase- During this phase, we discuss and analyze the Grand Challenge that the potential X PRIZE competition will solve. A Grand Challenge is a problem that significantly impacts the welfare or future progress of humanity. Every X PRIZE and X CHALLENGE competition is designed to solve these Grand Challenges by giving birth to a new capability or industry, or rejuvenate or reform an existing industry in a way that has long-lasting benefit and impact to humanity.

2) Initiation Phase- In this stage, the Prize Development team works to create a list of prize concepts that could address the stated Grand Challenge.

3) Ideation Phase- Here we identify and study the underlying market failures that the prize seeks to address, focusing on the technological, market, behavioral and policy sectors that could be impacted by the prize. We also evaluate and rank each prize construct against a set of specially developed X PRIZE criteria.

4) Design Phase- During this phase, we draft competition guidelines and establish the success criteria, including detailed team and sponsor business opportunities.

5) Planning Phase- The last (but definitely not least!) phase of the Prize Design process is where we get down to business, developing an Operations plan, Sponsorship plan, Marketing and Communication plan and Legal and Finance plan to ensure the effective and successful launch and operation of the newly designed X PRIZE or X CHALLENGE competition!

If you are thinking that the X PRIZE Design Process sounds like an intense and dedicated effort that involves the commitment and expertise of some of the best minds across the nation, you are right! Completing phases one through five can take up to 8 months and each time the Prize Development team implements the Prize Design Process we focus one hundred percent of our efforts on creating an exciting, memorable and monumental competition unlike anything else that has ever been done before. If we were to strive for anything less, we would not be designing X PRIZES! The Prize Design Process is our secret weapon, never failing to help guide us towards achieving our goal of implementing revolution through competition.

By: Taryn Williams, Executive Coordinator, Prize Development

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

PIAXP Shakes Things Up With Shakedown

The Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE (PIAXP) is in full swing, and we are very excited to see who will come out on top in this race to the finish line. There are four stages of the PRIZE – Shakedown, Knockout, Finals, and Validation.

From April 26 to May 7, we held Shakedown – which is exactly what it sounds like. All of the cars and competitors got a chance to “shake out” the bugs and go through a series of tests in order to get them ready for the Knockout Qualifying stage. Shakedown consisted of safety inspections and on-track dynamic safety evaluations, including braking speed, lane change ability, acceleration and refueling/recharging time, and more.

Of the 24 participants, 22 (representing 27 vehicles) will return for the pivotal Knockout stage on June 20th.

Mainstream Class Teams: Mainstream Class vehicles must carry four or more passengers, have four or more wheels and offer a 200-mile range.

Passed: American HyPower, Centennial, Colorado (Gasoline, Hydrogen) • BITW Technologies, Palmyra, Indiana (Biodiesel) • Edison2, Lynchburg, Virginia (E85) • Liberty Motors Group, Botkins, Ohio (Gasoline) • West Philly Hybrid X (EVX), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Gasoline)

Conditional pass: Cornell 100+ MPG Team, Ithaca, New York (Biodiesel) • Illuminati Motor Works, Virden, Illinois (Electric)

Probationary pass: Enginer, Troy, Michigan (Gasoline + Steam) • Global-E, Mandeville, Louisiana (Gasoline & Electric)

Eliminated: APET-X, Hong Kong, China (Electric)• Envera, Mill Valley, California (Gasoline) • Team FourSight, Morgantown, West Virginia (Biodiesel) • WIKISPEED, Seattle, Washington (Gasoline)

Alternative Class Teams: Alternative Class vehicles must carry two or more passengers and allow for a 100-mile range.

Side-by-side seating:

Passed: amp, Blue Ash, Ohio (Electric) • Aptera Motors, Vista, California (Electric) • Edison2, Lynchburg, Virginia (E85) • OptaMotive, San Jose, California (Electric) • RaceAbout Association, Helsinki, Finland (Electric)• Tata Motors Limited, Coventry, United Kingdom (Electric) • Team EVX, Dallas, Texas (Electric) • West Philly Hybrid X (EVX), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Biodiesel) • ZAP, Santa Rosa, California (Electric)

Conditional pass: Team EVI, Mooresville, North Carolina (Electric)

Probationary pass: Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington (Gasoline)

Tandem seating:

Passed: Edison2, Lynchburg, Virginia (E85) • Spira, Banglamung, Chonburi, Thailand (Gasoline) • Tango (Commuter Cars), Spokane, Washington (Electric) • X-Tracer Team Switzerland, Uster, Switzerland (Electric)

Conditional pass: FVT Racing, Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada (Gasoline) Deferred for later testing June 16-18, due to Volcano-related travel delays:• K-Way MOTUS, Turin, Italy (Gasoline) • TW4XP, Rosenthal, Germany (Electric)

Eliminated: Envera, Mill Valley, California (Gasoline)• Team FourSight, Morgantown, West Virginia (Electric)

“This was not meant to be easy; if it were, it would have already been done.” - Senior Director Eric Cahill

Check out the full press release here and all the info you need on our website, here.

Best of luck to all of our teams!

By: Heather MacMillan, Web Producer, PIAXP

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CISCO Named As Sponsor of X PRIZE Energy & Enviornment Prize Group


The X PRIZE Foundation is pleased to announce that Cisco has been named the exclusive Presenting Sponsor of the Foundation’s Energy & Environment Prize Group, which aims to incentivize a new era of clean, renewable and cost-effective energy. The goal of the partnership is to generate breakthroughs in climate change, water resource management, energy distribution and storage, clean energy, and energy efficiency/use.

“Cisco strives to help people work, live, play and learn in a more environmentally sustainable way,” stated Robert K. Weiss, President & Vice Chair, X PRIZE Foundation. “Together, we’ll drive innovation through the design and execution of large-scale competitions to address environmental and energy challenges. By tapping into the ‘human network,’ this partnership will be a force for positive change across the globe.”

As a global company focused on innovation, Cisco is making incredible strides in developing technologies that are designed to help curb—and which ultimately may help reverse—the current climate trend. Also, as part of the Energy & Environment Prize Group, Cisco will be the Category Sponsor of the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE.

By: Stephanie Schneider, Associate, Partnerships

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sorry for the silence...

Hi all!

We realize that you have been hearing crickets from us these past few weeks, so we thought it was time to pop in and say hello. Everyone at the Foundation has been bogged down these past few weeks with a variety of huge events including the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE Shakedown Stage (we're moving closer to our winning teams!) ; our Foundation Poker Tournament (where one lucky winner walked away with a Tesla Roadster); and, of course, our upcoming "Radical Benefit of Humanity" that is being held this Saturday, May 15 at Lucasfilm, Letterman Arts Center, The Presidio of San Francisco.

We apologize for our silence, but once things calm down over here X PRIZE headquarters, we plan on returning to our regularly scheduled "NeXt PRIZE" blog programming :)

Until next time!

By: Valerie Arias, Associate, Communications

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

MoonBots: A Google Lunar X PRIZE LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Challenge Officially Launched at the 2010 FIRST World Championship

The X PRIZE Foundation, Google Inc., LEGO Systems, National Instruments, and WIRED’s GeekDad announced “MoonBots: A Google Lunar X PRIZE LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Challenge” at the 2010 FIRST World Championship last week in Atlanta, Georgia. The new contest will challenge small teams comprised of children and adults to design, program, and construct robots that perform simulated lunar missions similar to those required to win the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, a private race to the Moon designed to enable commercial exploration of space while engaging the global public. It is the hope of these partnering organizations that the MoonBots Challenge will help stimulate the learning of robotics and enhance team building skills while exciting youth and their families about their potential roles in the new Moon race.

During the 2010 FIRST Championship, a hands-on MoonBots exhibit was showcased for the general public to learn about the competition. It was very well received by both youth and adults. Participants of FIRST LEGO League (FLL) also had a great appreciation for the challenge. FLL is a global program created to get children excited about science and technology that engages them to explore their problem solving and engineering skills. Each year, these youth work in teams to build robots. They also put together a strategic plan to invent a solution to a real world problem. Many FLL team members and mentors relayed to X PRIZE staff that MoonBots is an exciting challenge to get involved in during the summer month’s down time because they can continue to build their engineering skills when their teams do not typically meet.

Listed below are some pictures of FLL team members at the MoonBots Launch:

All partners are thrilled that FLL teams want to register their teams in the MoonBots Challenge. In addition, MoonBots partners want to emphasize that this challenge is open to the general public and to youth organizations throughout the world. Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, 4-H and parent-child teams are all encouraged to register.

Here are some pictures of the general public building and playing with LEGO MINDSTORMS:

MoonBots Challenge Phase Information
Phase I: April 15, 2010- May 15, 2010
Using free software, youth-adult teams will create a design for a robot they think could explore a LEGO lunar surface and mirror the mission requirements of the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Each team must also create an original video essay that discusses their thoughts about lunar exploration, including their expectations for the most important discovery to be made by future missions conducted by Google Lunar X PRIZE teams and government lunar missions. Twenty teams will be selected to compete in the next phase of the Challenge—each of those twenty teams will receive a LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT 2.0 kit, enough LEGO bricks to build their replica lunar surface, and two-year subscriptions to WIRED Magazine for each team member!

Phase II: June 21, 2010- August 14, 2010
The twenty finalists selected at the end of Phase I will put their designs to the test, using the provided LEGO components to make their digital designs become reality. Teams will be challenged to build a lunar surface out of LEGO materials and complete simulated mission tasks such as discovering Water Ice, discovering Helium 3, surviving the lunar night and taking pictures of heritage artifacts on the Moon. At the contest’s exciting conclusion, each team will have one shot to meet the MoonBots Challenge during a timed webcast monitored by our judges. A panel of celebrity and expert judges will select our three overall winners, each of whom will receive exciting prizes.

1st Place Prize- Trip for the team and family members to visit LEGO Headquarters in Denmark and a 2011 FIRST FRC/FTC Registration Fees + Kits

2nd Place- iPOD Touch to each team member and a 2011 FIRST FRC/FTC Registration Fees + Kits

3rd Place- 2011 FIRST FRC/FTC Registration Fees + Kits

We hope you'll join us in promoting the MoonBots Challenge to your friends, colleagues and families. To learn more about the already existing registered teams and/or the competition itself, please visit the MoonBots website at

The X PRIZE Foundation wants to give a sincere thank you to our partners; LEGO, Google, National Instruments, WIRED and Geek Dad for making this MoonBots Challenge happen!

By: Chanda Gonzales, Manager, Education, Google Lunar X PRIZE

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All that is Video

Creative Services is one of the busiest departments here at X PRIZE. You like our website? They manage it. What about our videos? Yep, they produce them. And what about our one-of-a-kind X PRIZE signature events? Well, that’s them, too.

Right now, our video team is busy producing 29 different videos for the Foundation as well as our upcoming events. Can't wait for their big debut? Check out our YouTube Channel. With nearly 200 videos to view, you're sure to get your X PRIZE video fix in no time.

By: Valerie Arias, Associate, Communications

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Different Kind of X PRIZE Press

The communications department is one of the most exciting areas here at X PRIZE (ok, call me biased), but it’s true. It’s not just about securing the best media placement (although that is the "bread and butter" of the communications world), but Michael (my trusty manager) and myself spend our days fielding inquiries from reporters, creating press releases and media alerts, developing our monthly newsletter and of course, keeping up with X PRIZE and our Board of Trustees in the news. Much of our work is dedicated to the Foundation and our prizes, but every now and again comes a time when a grand affair steps onto the scene. I can only be talking about the upcoming X PRIZE “Radical Benefit for Humanity” in May.

What makes this exciting for us PR folk, is that we get to showcase the Foundation in a different light. It’s a different story to tell. Not only do we get to highlight our amazing Board of Trustees and Vision Circle Members, our Alliances department is already working hard to secure a mix of “Who’s Who” in the business, philanthropy, science, entrepreneurial, etc. sector. Coverage of this event (oh, and coverage there will be) will make a splash across the social scene, from event calendars to society pages. It’s a new angle that we get to promote on X PRIZE’s behalf, and, well, it’s always fun to mix things up.

So, these next couple of months we’ll be working closely with our PR team (shout out to Tom and Natalie at Kirvin Doak Communications) to ensure that people are reading about the X PRIZE “Glam” (it does come out every once and while). It’s time to get excited about the most important soiree of the year - ok, called me biased, again ;)

By: Valerie Arias, Associate, Communications

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Save the Date - X PRIZE to Host Second Radical Benefit for Humanity

You may have seen the teaser in CNET last week but we’re here to make the official announcement, that, yes, it’s confirmed!!!

The X PRIZE is hosting a second “Radical Benefit for Humanity” on May 15, 2010 in San Francisco. Thanks to friend Richard Kerris, CTO of Lucasfilm, the benefit will be held at the Letterman Digital Arts Center of the Presidio of San Francisco, which boasts amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts. All we need is great weather so we can enjoy the views!

Yes, Yoda and XPF Chairman/CEO, Peter Diamandis, along with Event Co-Chairs Larry Page, Sergey Brin and James Cameron, will welcome guests like the X PRIZE Board of Trustees and Honorary Committee Members including Arianna Huffington, Ratan Tata, Elon Musk, Chad Hurley, Reid Hoffman, Adeo Ressi, the Honorable Gavin Newsom, Zem Joaquin and Ingrid Vanderveldt.

Given that the last event was a fabulous success we’re hoping to raise money for the Foundation by selling tables and by hosting a live auction, all while having a FANTASTIC time, of course.

For the latest news and updates on the event, check out the event website!

For more information on Table Sales, please contact Meghan Murphy (

A few photos from the first X PRIZE "Radical Benefit for Humanity" in 2007.

XPF Chairman/CEO, Peter Diamandis, with Actor Robin Williams

XPF Board Member, Anousheh Ansari, takes the stage

Sir Richard Branson talks with Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt

Foundation mission: "To Provide Radical Breakthroughs for the Benefit of Humanity"

By: Meghan Murphy, Director, Alliances

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

PRIZE Development - Where It All Begins...

When most people hear the X PRIZE moniker, it is usually in reference to a competition that has already been launched and/or won; the Ansari X PRIZE, the Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE, the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, the Google Lunar X PRIZE- each has served to transcend boundaries and spur innovation across industries and around the world. However, while the novelty and fascination that surrounds these competitions is well-deserved and undeniable, none of these X PRIZES would be where they are today if it were not for one single, common denominator- the Prize Development department.

Here in Prize Development, our primary goal is to develop the neXt PRIZE competition that will capture the imagination of the public, generate innovation, and speed the development of radical breakthroughs that will serve to change the ways in which we see ourselves and how we live on this planet. Over the next couple of months, I will offer you a “behind-the-scene” glimpse into the daily life of the Prize Development team and the processes that we use to create, design, and operate the X PRIZE competitions that serve to create worldwide change.

This week, I would like to introduce you to the two types of X PRIZE competitions that the Prize Development team designs: the X PRIZE and the X CHALLENGE.

An X PRIZE is a $10 million+ award given to the first team to achieve a specific goal, set by the X PRIZE Foundation, which has the potential to benefit humanity. Rather than awarding money to honor past achievements or directly funding research, an X PRIZE incites innovation by tapping into our competitive and entrepreneurial spirits.

An X CHALLENGE, on the other hand, is a prize of up to $2.5M, awarded for solving a well-defined technical problem that has no clear path to a solution or is perceived as difficult. Unlike an X PRIZE, which seeks to stimulate or catalyze an entire market (including the social and regulatory aspects of that market), an X CHALLENGE seeks to produce a breakthrough technological or behavioral solution to a specific market need.

Both the X PRIZE and the X CHALLENGE can be developed in one of four different Prize Groups: Exploration, Energy & Environment, Education & Global Development, and Life Sciences.

The vision of the Exploration Prize Group is to expand the use of space, the ocean and other unexplored frontiers in order to improve life on Earth and extend life beyond the confines of land. We believe we can achieve these objectives by researching space and Earth’s oceans; accessing and conserving their resources; catalyzing private, non-governmental activity; and tapping into our innate wonder about the Earth, the Universe and our place within each.

Energy and Environment
The Energy and Environment Prize Group includes the development of prizes that will end our addiction to oil and stem the harmful effects of climate change. We are looking for breakthroughs in clean fuels, renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, carbon reduction, and sustainable housing.

Education and Global Development
The X PRIZE Foundation is researching prizes structured around entrepreneurial solutions to global poverty. The focus is to find methods that catalyze profit-generating firms both in terms of financial as well as human development metrics that address major development challenges in agriculture, capital, education, health and water. The goal of these competitions would be to highlight the most scalable enterprises that create wealth and uplift the widest set of stakeholders from poverty.

Life Sciences
The Life Sciences Prize Group will focus on creating competitions that will stimulate innovative breakthroughs in molecular biology, stem cell research, bionics; organogenesis, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence in order to improve health care and extend healthy living.

The Prize Development team is dedicated to designing new X PRIZES within each of the four Prize Groups that will focus on pushing the limits of what is currently possible and accelerating the rate of positive change. Stay tuned for the next Prize Development blog, which will explain the method to the madness of our time-tested and competitor approved Prize Design Process.

By: Taryn Williams, Executive Coordinator, Prize Development

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE Cruises into 2010

With the competition end date just MONTHS away, the $10 Million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE is really heating up! PIAXP kicked off what promises to be an exciting 2010 with a big splash at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month. We enjoyed a prominent footprint, with five competition vehicles on display (Edison 2, Team EVI, SABA Motors, SSI Racing and ZAP) on the main floor of Cobo Hall in a new section dubbed “Electric Avenue” (and, yes, for those of you wondering, the song “Electric Avenue” was consistently played throughout each day).

We also held a Press Conference, in which we announced the official competition schedule, as well as key partnerships with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the Department of Energy (DOE) and Michigan International Speedway (MIS), the chosen venue for the on-track competition challenges that begin in April. X PRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis was on-hand to field questions, and we also received words of support from Michigan Lt. Governor John Cherry as well as a personal visit to the booth by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. PIAXP Senior Director Eric Cahill also presented on behalf of the competition to the Automotive Communities Program meeting hosted by the Center for Automotive Research.

This is just one of the many highlights we have experienced over the past several months and we look forward to future success as we gear up to commence the competition at the Michigan International Speedway on April 26! If you are in the Michigan area, please make sure to join us on April 29, for our Competition Opener and Welcome at the State Capital in Lansing. This will be the first in a series of our public events.

We hope to see you there! In the meantime, please feel free to join us on Facebook, LinkedIn or follow us on Twitter to keep appraised on current events on the competition as they unfold.

Team vehicles on display at NAIAS



Saba Motors



By: David Locke, Associate, Prize Operations

Monday, February 8, 2010

Moon 2.0 and the New Era of Space Exploration

By William Pomerantz

Today would have been the 182nd birthday of one of the greatest dreamers of all time: Jules Verne. In one of his best and most famous novels, De la Terre à la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon), Verne imagined a fantastical expedition to our celestial neighbor aboard a bullet-shaped capsule called the Colombiad. Like in so many other things, Verne proved prescient, and his foresight was honored just over a century after the publication of that book by the crew of the Apollo 11 mission, who chose to name the roughly-bullet-shaped Command / Service Module that carried the first real-life human explorers to the Moon the Colombia.

To Verne's eager audiences in the mid 1800s, the idea of any Moon mission must have seemed like the remotest of possibilities; after all, rocket pioneers like Goddard, Von Braun, Tsiolkovsky, and Korelev wouldn't be born for several more decades. By the time Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins were blasting off for that historic mission, scientists and engineers had proven some of Verne's technical ideas wrong, even as they were verifying the core concept. But the social and financial aspects of Verne's dream went largely untested during the Apollo era.

Fast forward another forty years, and it seems that another part of Verne's vision is coming true; for in the Verne's story, the Colombiad was not built by taxpayer dollars like the Apollo program. instead, it was the result of a privately funded effort.

In these early days of the 21st century, we are now beginning a new era of lunar exploration. "Moon 2.0" certainly owes an enormous debt to the heroes and the technical accomplishments of the American and Soviet missions of the 1960s and 1970s, but it also carries its own new twist. Whereas the first era of lunar exploration was dominated by two state-funded, nationalistic civil programs, Moon 2.0 is instead based a new standard of sustained participatory exploration and the fundamental contributions of new players, new goals, and even new economic markets.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is our contribution to this new era of lunar exploration. Announced in late 2007, the Google Lunar X PRIZE is designed to jump-start Moon 2.0 by providing an undeniable incentive for a new generation of engineers and spacecraft. This $30 million dollar competition has already inspired 20 teams to try to become the first private organization to land a rover on the Moon, move safely around the lunar surface, and return high definition video and photographs to eager audiences here on Earth. These teams are the definition of diversity: they are headquartered in 11 nations, have team members actively working in nearly 70 countries on 6 continents, and they rely on the ingenuity of inventors and leaders of all ages, races, and creeds. It is proving that the heroes of Verne's novel have no shortage of modern day counter parts.

Last week was an exciting one for fans of Moon 2.0. On Monday and Tuesday, the Google Lunar X PRIZE Team Summit brought in groups from Canada, Romania, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Russia, and the Isle of Man to discuss each group's on-going efforts. The event was generously hosted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the joint NASA / CalTech research facility that is home to some of the most impressive planetary exploration missions in history, from America's first satellite through the rovers currently exploring the surface of Mars. A quick highlight reel of the Team Summit can be found here:

While the Google Lunar X PRIZE Teams were meeting in Pasadena, some major developments were afoot for NASA's Moon plans. The release of the President's budget request for fiscal year 2011 showed some major changes are in store for civil space exploration in the USA. Although the changes are still pending Congressional action, the President's request made clear the fact that commercial industry has a big role to play in ensuring that space exploration continues. This is certainly true for suborbital spaceflight, such as the capabilities being developed by the veterans of the Ansari X PRIZE and the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge, and is becoming more and more true for travel to Low Earth Orbit, thanks to the efforts of companies like SpaceX and Orbital Sciences. In an era of tightening government budgets, increasing private capacity, a competing national priorities, the full involvement of privately funded players in space exploration will continue to expand whenever private industry can provide a necessary or unique capability--something that the X PRIZE Foundation and our Google Lunar X PRIZE teams fundamentally believes extends to exploration of the surface of the Moon. You can read more about this in post our fearless leader, X PRIZE Founder Dr. Peter Diamandis, contributed to the Huffington Post.

Although throughout the Team Summit, a key fact was continually underscored: unlike the first era of lunar exploration, Moon 2.0 is not an "us versus them" proposition. The private companies, non-profits, and universities competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE understand that they live in symbiosis with civil space agencies and government funded efforts not only in the USA, but across the world. NASA leaders and engineers in turn recognize that NASA's own missions are made more powerful and more affordable by a robust private industry. When private partners and government programs around the world work together in a viable space exploration ecosystem, the result is not just a few solitary missions, but a sustainable program that allows us to achieve the best science and the best material returns.

We hope you'll join us in supporting this new era of space exploration. If you live in a nation that has active or planned government-funded lunar exploration--a list that currently includes the USA, the member nations of the European Space Agency, Russia, India, China, and Japan--lend your voice in support of those programs. Regardless of your nationality, take the time to support the privately funded teams competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, or start your own team. We're in for quite a ride; and we hope you'll stick with us as we get this new era of lunar exploration off the ground!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The X PRIZE Foundation Website Gets a Redesign

The X PRIZE Foundation’s website had maintained a design that was created in September of 2006 and after a much needed facelift, we finally launched a re-design a few weeks ago. In this post I’ll provide some details about the process and share some resources we used.

First a little background. I’m Mark Krynsky and I joined the Foundation as a contractor in April of 2007 to migrate several of their static websites to be built atop a CMS platform to make them more dynamic and easier for staff to publish content. In addition to that we would launch a new website for the Google Lunar X PRIZE announcement in September of 2007 on this platform. After considering several options including commercial off the shelf systems and a custom built one, we chose an open source CMS called Drupal. It was a very challenging project that I could write a whole separate post on but we successfully launched all the sites.

So although we overhauled the backend of the main site, the design stayed the same. I continued doing contract work for the website and in October of 2008 I joined the Foundation as Manager of Web Production. We continued to add on new pieces of content and functionality but the site began to look Frankensteinish so we started planning a re-design. We created an internal survey, started documenting content and functionality to add, and had several meetings to discuss this. We quickly realized that our new vision would require a very large undertaking. So with limited resources available, and wanting to do something quickly we took a new smaller iterative approach.

In mid November of 2009 we decided to focus on re-designing our home page and several other design changes but maintain the current navigation, pages, and other content for the most part. Our goal was to incorporate some of the higher impact changes requested from the feedback we received that could be completed in a short timeframe. We fast tracked this with hopes of launching it in January 2010.

The process involved creating a simple document outlining the content of the new page along with a graphic mockup. After a few rounds of reviewing, a design concept was agreed upon. At the heart of the new redesign was a new featured stories section. We researched several tools to implement it and selected the Frontpage Slideshow which offers some great options along with a module for Drupal integration.

The rest of the design consisted of creating cleaner ways of displaying existing content and highlighting some new areas such as our PRIZE groups and videos from our in-house production team's YouTube channel.

click image to visit the new X PRIZE Foundation Website

We launched the new redesign on time and on a very small budget. The Frontpage Slideshow module was only $30 and besides the in house content and assets created, I worked with just one developer on this project. I've always been very mindful of leveraging free or low cost services and open source software for web projects. This has become especially important now that I'm at a non-profit trying to maximize a tight budget.

We have many more changes planned for the website over the coming months. I look forward to sharing more insight on what goes on behind the scenes of our web production department and share more details on the tools and services that bring our sites to life.