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US to offer plethora of prize competitions to solve tough problems

Bill authorizes Feds to use prize competitions to solve complicated problems

By Layer 8 on Wed, 12/22/10 - 4:59pm.

Got a complicated problem? Hold a prize competition to solve it.  That's the basic idea behind the America Competes Act renewed by Congress this week.

The Competes act now gives every department and agency the authority to conduct prize competitions, according to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.   Prizes and challenges have an excellent track record of accelerating problem-solving by tapping America's top talent and best expertise.

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According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy blog: "Whether it's developing new products that will be manufactured in America, or getting and using energy more sustainably, or improving health care with better therapies and better use of information technology, or providing better protection for our troops abroad and our citizens at home, innovation will be key to our success."

The prize competition idea follows on some very successful challenge programs offered by the X Prize Foundation and the government's own Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Challenge.gov site. 

For example, in direct response to the Gulf oil disaster this past summer, the X Prize Foundation announced a $1.4 Million competition for advanced technology to help clean up devastating oil spills.

And in its first 3 months, Challenge.gov featured 57 challenges from 27 agencies across the Executive Branch, generating novel solutions for childhood obesity, advanced vehicle technologies, financing for small businesses, Type One Diabetes, and many other national priorities, the blog states.

Prizes are indeed hot.  The blog notes a recent McKinsey report that said:  Catalyzed by new crowd sourcing technologies, investments in prize competitions have increased significantly in recent years.  According to the study, more than 60 prizes of at least $100,000 each made their debuts from 2000 to 2007, representing almost $250 million in new prize money.

The $45 billion Competes act also continues the budgets of  three key research offices: the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation, the blog states. The act also authorizes ongoing support for ARPA-E, the energy-research program modeled after the DARPA.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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