Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

The Obameter

Offer prizes for advances in consumer technology


"Will expand the use of prizes for revolutionary technical achievements that can benefit society, and funds for joint industry/government rapid-to-the-consumer technology advances."


Updates

Challenge.gov doles out prize money for myriad ideas

For the primary source on this promise -- and the opportunity to make a few bucks -- look no further than Challenge.gov.

The Obama administration launched the website in 2010, calling it "the first online listing of incentive prizes offered or supported by federal agencies.” In September, the White House noted when the site reached a milestone: the 200th challenge posted.

Some examples of challenges include developing ways to block illegal robocalls (prize: $50,000), mobile tools for helping people plan for their financial future ($25,000, already awarded) and a broad solicitation to "build applications for the faster, smarter Internet of the future” that "take advantage of next-generation networks up to 250 times faster than today.”

The challenges extend beyond the scope of consumer technology, seeking ideas for everything from reconstructing shredded documents for the Department of Defense to making aging federal office buildings energy efficient. Several challenges solicit apps, logos and online videos to raise awareness about issues such as bullying, voting and various health risks. In addition to cash, the winners receive other non-monetary incentives such as meetings with industry experts, access to federal agency resources such as data, tools and testing facilities. Winners are also featured in ads and social media.

President Barack Obama promised to expand the use of innovation prizes, and he has. The White House says more than 16,000 "citizen solvers” have participated in the competitions through Challenge.gov, and many more have done so on other platforms such as federal agency websites, stand-alone competition websites and in-person events. We rate this a Promise Kept.

Sources:

WhiteHouse.gov, "Challenge.gov: Two Years and 200 Prizes Later,” Sept. 5, 2012

Challenge.gov

States News Service, "Dave McClure, Associate Administrator for Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, testifies on federal agency use of web 2.0 technologies,” July 22, 2010, via Nexis

Email interview with Cristin Dorgelo, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dec. 4, 2012

Continuing existing programs and seeking new ones

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to expand the use of prizes to promote advancement in the field of consumer technology. According to the White House, prizes have several important advantages over traditional grants and contracts: attracting small entrepreneurial firms, paying only for results, and establishing goals and objectives without having to designate the best path beforehand.

Our research shows that several government departments are adopting the prize model. The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, launched the L Prize competition in 2009. According to the agency Web site, "L Prize is the first government-sponsored technology competition designed to spur lighting manufacturers to develop high-quality, high-efficiency solid-state lighting products to replace the common light bulb." The winner will receive fame -- and a $10 million cash prize.

Similarly, on July 31, 2009, NASA announced the CAFE Green Flight Challenge, which offers up to $1.65 million to the team that can successfully develop an aircraft that exceeds an equivalent fuel-efficiency of 200 passenger miles per gallon.

It's important to note, however, that neither of these competitions are entirely new. L Prize, for example, was authorized by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law by former President George Bush. NASA has likewise held similar competitions in 2007 and 2008. This is important, because President Obama specifically promised to expand the use of prizes, not just continue with the trend.

That said, it still appears that President Obama is making some progress. In a June 17, 2009 blog post, Thomas Kalil, the deputy director for policy with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote that "the Open Government Initiative is interested in exploring how the government might partner with foundations, nonprofits, philanthropists, and the private sector to support additional high-impact prizes, and to harness the power and reach of 'innovation marketplaces' to achieve important goals." Kalil called on the public to visit the OSTP blog and to leave comments with suggestions as to which prizes the government should sponsor.

With the continuation of previously held competitions by various government departments, and with a public announcement that the federal government is looking for ideas for additional prizes, we rate this one In the Works.

Sources:

The White House, Prices as Incentives for Public-Private Partnerships, June 17, 2009.

NASA, Green Flight Competition, Accessed Jan. 11, 2010.

U.S. Department of Energy, L-Prize, Accessed Jan. 11, 2010.