The people behind the X Prize that kick-started personal space travel are planning prizes in a variety of non-space fields, from automobile technology and genome research to nanotechnology and education.
The goal is to cut through red tape, jump-start progress and allow genius to shine.
In 2004, a $10 million X Prize purse was won by back-to-back flights of a piloted SpaceShipOne rocket plane from Mojave, Calif., to the edge of space.
Now the X Prize Foundation, a nonprofit education organization based in Santa Monica, Calif., is setting it sights on other frontiers, Peter Diamandis, the foundation's chief executive and founder, told LiveScience.com.
The new challenges are being shaped with the help of high-profile additions to the X Prize board of trustees: Larry Page, Google co-founder and chief executive officer; and genomic research pioneer Craig Venter, former president of Celera Genomics Group, which competed with the federal government to decode the human genome.
"In the genomics world, we are supporting Craig Venter's original vision of getting an ability to have gene sequencing occur for the masses," Diamandis explained. "While we have a single genome sequenced, the real benefits for humanity come when there are tens of thousands of genomes sequenced and the computing power available today can correlate certain sequences with certain diseases or drug interactions."
According to a report in Friday's Wall Street Journal, the X Prize Foundation plans to offer a $5 million to $20 million prize to the first team that completely decodes the DNA of 100 or more people in a matter of weeks.
For the automotive prize, the focus is on breakthroughs in areas such as miles per gallon and manufacturing.
"Why do we still drive cars that use an internal combustion engine and only get 30 miles per gallon? I think that we'll see some amazing achievements in this area," Diamandis predicted. Further details on this automotive prize are forthcoming, he added, when the prize is fully formulated.
And what's the logic behind prizes to propel advancement?
"There is a tremendous economy of scale when you can manage multiple prizes though a single organization … since after a prize is announced, there is a lot of waiting and coaching until the teams start making attempts," Diamandis said.
The bottom-line forecast from Diamandis: Stand by for an upshot in progress.
"We are in for an amazing period of human breakthroughs in the decades ahead. Prizes are just one of the mechanisms for enabling this ... for cutting through the bureaucracies and allowing brilliant innovators and geniuses to shine," he concluded.
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