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 http://eBay.com/cameron.

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, http://procurement.jsc.nasa.gov/ildd/

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