Prizes for innovation not a new concept, but still effective

Freedom Newspapers

Many Americans believe the only conceivable way for this country to develop viable independent energy sources is through government intervention — alternative-fuel mandates, fuel efficiency mandates, public transportation construction.

But we would prefer to look to the creativity of the free market. What better way to unlock that creativity than to make a competition of it, and that’s just what the X Prize Foundation is doing.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based foundation has introduced a contest centered on automotive fuel efficiency, offering a $25 million prize to anyone who can produce a commercially viable car that can get 100 miles per gallon.

The X Prize Foundation is probably best known for an earlier contest that awarded $10 million to aircraft designer Burt Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for being the first private team to fly into space in a vehicle of their own design.

That contest greatly advanced public discussion about private space-exploration efforts, as well as the efforts themselves. Similarly, the new contest will focus attention on free-market solutions and encourage entrepreneurs large and small to tackle the oil dependency problem, which puts the United States at the mercy of oil-producing nations and organizations like OPEC.

Even though many of the major aeronautics industries did not participate in the first X Prize contest, we hope the major automotive companies enter this competition.
A contest may sound like an odd way to attack a problem, but the truth is, this type of contest is nothing new. Monetary incentives have led to improvements in everything from refrigerator technology to man-powered flight.

As early as 1714, the British Parliament put out the call for a way to accurately calculate longitude, and proposals poured in. In 1919, Raymond Orteig offered $25,000 to the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane, leading to Charles Lindbergh’s flight and worldwide fame and fortune. The Foresight Institute last year awarded $250,000 to two California Institute of Technology researchers, the first scientists to design and build two particular nanotechnology devices.

The X Prize Foundation’s contest will generate new ideas in the area of fuel efficiency as well as highlight already-established technology. This contest also has the potential to give rise to some lesser-known automotive innovators who may be on the threshold of the next generation of green vehicles. Either way, the best answers are in the private sector, and the X Prize Foundation has the right idea in rewarding greener technology.