Prize competitions have been a way to obtain crowdsourced solutions to technological problems for many decades. Charles Lindbergh’s first flight across the Atlantic in 1927 was the result of a prize competition that had a number of failed participants before his success. More recently the Ansari X Prize resulted in the first privately funded and operated space flight in 2004 by a company called Scaled Composites. Lindbergh’s flight led to transatlantic air travel. The Scale Composite’s feat is inspiring the nascent space tourism industry.
Prizes are now being used by both the private sector and the government to inspire groups of people to work on solutions to important technological challenges.
The X Prize Foundation, which was established to run the Ansari X Prize, has partnered with corporations such as Google to create a number of prize competitions. The most famous of these is the Google Lunar X Prize, which will reward a cash prize to the first team to place a rover on the lunar surface. It has funded a number of non-aerospace prizes as well, including the Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize to develop super-efficient vehicles and Wendy Schmitt Oil Cleanup X Challenge to devise quicker ways to clean up oil spills.
NASA has developed the Centennial Challenges to engage the public in developing certain cutting edge aerospace technologies. Past challenges included development of a power beam device, a more flexible astronaut glove, and a machine for mining lunar regolith.
DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has run a number of prize competitions. The most recent one involved development of a humanoid robot that could be used in hazardous combat situations.
-Courtney, Scott and Elizabeth