NASA offers $15k for your wicked cool air traffic technology

NASA wants to develop a clean-slate, crowdsourced concept for future airspace operations


The airspace of the future could get messy, what with drones, aircraft and suborbital spacecraft -- and NASA wants the public’s help in developing technology that will help manage that mélange.

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The space agency this week announced a $15,000 public contest -- called the “Sky for All challenge” -- to develop technologies that could be part of what it calls “a clean-slate, revolutionary design and concept of operations for the airspace of the future.” The challenge opens Dec. 21, and participants may pre-register now. The deadline for submissions is Feb. 26, 2016 and is being administered by crowdsourcing site HeroX.

HeroX was co-founded in 2013 by XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis, challenge designer Emily Fowler and entrepreneur Christian Cotichini.

Among the elements NASA wants participants to consider is how to design a robust system that can scale up to full capacity under normal operations and scale back to equally safe reduced capacity under poor conditions, like bad weather. Ideas may also consider autonomous adaptation of the system, and protection from possible cyber security attacks, the space agency stated.

NASA is asking participants to ignore current transportation technology and constraints. Submissions should include a full description of the design, including safety features and an explanation of how the new air transportation system would interact with others forms of transportation, including ground and sea.

“Because of the complexity of designing a system that is expected to handle 10 million crewed and uncrewed aircraft in the skies, we are looking for innovative ideas from the public that enhance the work NASA researchers are doing right now,” said Natalia Alexandrov, lead of the Ab Initio Design for Autonomous Airspace Operations in a statement.

The Sky for All challenge is just the latest in a long line of crowdsourced contests NASA has driven over the years. Others have included a contest to build inventive CubeSats, robotics, high-speed computers and others.

NASA’s challenges are also part of a growing federal and public plan to use crowdsourcing as a way to garner as many ideas on how to solve difficult problems as possible.

+More on Network World: Expect more prize competitions to address tough IT, high-tech challenges+

The White House Office of Science and Technology in January celebrated the the fifth anniversary of the America Competes Act which in combination with has prompted more than 400 public-sector prize competitions which have doled out some $72 million in prizes over the past few years.   Agencies like NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as well as private entities like the X Prize Foundation have used competitions to address high-tech challenges for years with great success.

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