Insight into long life is one of the new prize’s goals.
In 2006, the Genomics X Prize competition was announced: $10 million for sequencing 100 human genomes in 10 days for $10,000 apiece, to be kicked off in 2013. The idea was to spur innovation in technology by asking the (currently) impossible, the hallmark of the X Prize Foundation.
But while sequencing has gotten cheap, it hasn’t gotten all that much faster in the last five years, and none of the eight teams who signed up have ever gotten to the point where such a short time span could be feasible. So, Archon and Medco, the two companies funding the competition, have revamped the requirements. This week they’ve announced the new, improved Genomics X prize: $10 million for sequencing 100 human genomes in 30 days—but for $1,000 apiece. (Currently, getting your genome sequenced commercially runs about $5000 at the cheapest.) The new version of the competition, which will kick off on January 3, 2013, also has clearer standards for judging: the genomes have to be 98 percent complete and have no more than one error per million nucleotides.
In Washington D.C. today, the X-Prize foundation doled out $10 million in prize money for the Automotive X-Prize, its competition begun in 2008 to build cars that break 100 miles per gallon (or equivalent) and still resemble usable commercial vehicles. They raced at Michigan International Speedway; they underwent inspection by Consumer Reports and the Department of Energy. This morning’s winnings were divvied up among three teams:
1. Edison 2’s “Very Light Car”
Runs on: E85 ethanol
So named for weighing just more than 800 pounds—featherweight for a car—the vehicle from Edison 2 of Charlottesville, Virginia, took home the biggest slice of the prize money by winning the “mainstream” category.
In the “Mainstream” class, which offered the biggest cash prize, vehicles were required to have four wheels, seat four people and have a driving range of at least 200 miles. In other words, they had to offer the bare basics of a typical car [CNN].
The Very Light Car stayed light because it didn’t offer much more than that, though lead leader Oliver Kuttner says they did manage to squeeze in heater and basic ventilation.
This weekend in watery Venice, Italy, MIT scientists will demonstrate a creation called Seaswarm, a fleet of autonomous swimming bots intended to skim the water’s surface; each bot would drag a sort of mesh net to collect the crude sitting there. According to their creators, the machines will be able to find oil on their own and talk to one another to compute the most efficient way to tidy it up.
The Seaswarm robots, which were developed by a team from MIT’s Senseable City Lab, look like a treadmill conveyor belt that’s been attached to an ice cooler. The conveyor belt piece of the system floats on the surface of the ocean. As it turns, the belt propels the robot forward and lifts oil off the water with the help of a nanomaterial that’s engineered to attract oil and repel water [CNN].
The X Prize Foundation says this week that it’s considering the creation of a multimillion-dollar prize for the solution to cleaning the BP oil spill. This is the same organization that put together awards of $10 million or more for private spacecraft and high mileage cars. The foundation’s Frances Beland announced the idea at an oil spill conference in Washington, D.C.
Beland said the foundation wanted to come up with a prize to find a solution to capping the well but found it was unable to obtain enough data to design such a challenge, so it opted to focus on the cleanup. “We’re going to launch a prize for cleanup, and we’re going to kick ass,” he said, to applause. Beland said 35,000 solutions to the Gulf crisis have been proposed to BP, the government and other organizations, including the X Prize Foundation [CNN].
The Northrop Grumman Lunar Landing Contest, a competition designed to get private space companies more involved in helping replace NASA’s aging fleet, just began its second phase on Saturday with three teams vying for a $1 million prize.
Scorpius, a 1,900-pound, rocket-powered craft, built by Armadillo Aerospace, ascended 50 meters (164 feet) into the air, flew over to land on a simulated rocky lunar surface 50 meters (164 feet) away, and then rose and flew back to land where it started. The flight included a requirement of at least 180 seconds of flying time [SPACE.com].
The successful landing puts Armadillo in a comfortable position as it waits to see if the other teams can complete the takeoffs and landings. If they can’t, Armadillo will walk home with the cash. The team also won the $350,000 phase 1 competition, a similar mock landing that only required 90 seconds of flight time.
The competition is part of the X Prize Foundation, which funds projects that benefit humanity and has already forked over $10 million to achieve a privately funded manned spaceflight. Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of the foundation, called Saturday’s flight “a stepping stone toward suborbital tourism, rocket racing and landing on the moon” [Dallas Observer]. The two other teams are scheduled to attempt the phase 2 landing in October.
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Image: Armadillo Aerospace
The future, according to author and technological soothsayer Ray Kurzweil, is going to be awesome. In his books, he maps out a future for humanity in which we live forever, supported by a fleet of cleverer-than-human artificial intelligences who solve such trivial problems as hunger and disease, while simultaneously creating ever more intelligent computer minds, racing technological progress forward according to his Law of Accelerated Returns [Telegraph]. Now, Kurzweil is opening a new school, Singularity University, that will gather smart people together and encourage them to bring that future to pass.
Kurzweil dreamed up the school with Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X Prize Foundation, and got backing from Google and NASA; it will be housed on the NASA Ames base in California. The university takes its name from Kurzweil’s recent book, The Singularity Is Near, in which he argues that exponential advances in technology will shortly transform human life beyond all recognition…. This is Kurzweil’s own take on the widespread science-fiction use of the term “singularity” to refer to the day when artificial “intelligence” and/or processing power surpasses that of the human race’s collective brains. Sci-fi writer Vernor Vinge probably did most to hijack the word “singularity” from its use in physics to describe the breakdown of normal principles near a black hole [The Register].
One of the teams competing for the $20 million top prize in the Google Lunar X Prize has announced its plans for an ambitious series of moon missions, beginning with a proposed trip to the historic Apollo 11 landing site. The team, Astrobotic Technology Inc., wants to send a rover to Tranquility Base in May 2010 to see how the relics left behind by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have weathered over the 40 years.
The proposal has sparked a debate over whether new rovers can be trusted to not disturb the hallowed ground. Astrobotic Tech says its rover will land far from the Apollo 11 site and will be able to recognize and circumvent footprints and artifacts on the lunar surface, but not everyone shares this optimism. [Space policy expert] John Logsdon … believes the team should first perform trial runs on Earth. “I’d like to see them demonstrate their ability to do a precision landing someplace else before they try it next to the Apollo 11 site,” Logsdon says. “You wouldn’t have to be very far off to come down on top of the flag or something dramatic like that” [Seed].
Space startup company Armadillo Aerospace won the $350,000 prize on Friday in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, proving that a private company has the know-how to build a craft capable of ferrying supplies or astronauts around the lunar surface. At the X Prize event in New Mexico, Armadillo’s craft won the Level One Challenge when it successfully lifted off and climbed vertically 160 feet, scooted sideways in the air for more than 90 seconds and touched down on a landing pad; finally, the craft had to refuel and make the return journey.
The challenge is meant to encourage private space companies to literally aim for the moon with their technology, and X Prize officials called Armadillo’s triumph a validation of that approach. Peter Diamandis, X Prize Foundation CEO, said: “The incredible legacy of Armadillo is their ability to fly over and over again in a low-cost fashion. They actually build the vehicle, fly it, see what happens, and make the repairs. They can iterate multiple times in a couple of days…. It’s really the garage rocket scientist approach to low-cost reliable vehicles. I think it’s something that the larger companies and the government should be learning from” [SPACE.com].