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Automotive X Prize April 8, 2007

Posted by Brian Angliss in Energy & the Environment, technology.

A few years ago, a group was formed to give a prize to the first commercial, non-governmental team to get into space twice in a single week using the same vehicle and carrying at least three people (or the mass equivlalent). This prize was the Ansari X Prize, and the $10 million prize was awarded to Mojave Aerospace Ventures and Scaled Composites LLC, builders of SpaceShipOne. The goal of the X Prize foundation was to use prize money to get smart, out-of-the-box thinkers to dream up wild ideas that could be applied to reduce the cost of human space flight. While it hasn’t done this yet, there are a lot of indications that it will, since the Ansari X Prize has spawned off Spaceport America in New Mexico and Virgin Galactic, a budding space tourism subsidiary of Virgin Atlantic.

The X Prize Foundation’s mission is “To bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity,” and they plan to do so with a series of X Prizes along the lines of the Ansari X Prize for space flight. The X Prize Foundation has just offered its third X Prize: the Automotive X Prize.

In a nutshell, the automotive X Prize is an award of $10 million to the first team who successfully designs and builds a commercially viable, mass producable vehicle that gets better than 100 miles per gallon of gasoline and also releases no more than 200 g of carbon dioxide per mile. Oh, and the car also has to win long one or two long-distance road races to be held in 2009. So we’re talking amazing gas mileage, low pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, and performance, and all of it manufactured/manufacturable on standard automotive assembly lines. Sure, anyone can make a single custom, hand-made car that will do all this (probably made from high-strength aircraft aluminum and carbon composites), but doing it cheaply enough that the vehicle can compete with the best of Detroit, Japan, and Europe and win, well, that’s a whole lot harder.

I applaud the X Prize Foundation for their focus on automotive development. And I’m looking forward to seeing what else they come up with in the fields of energy and education (two areas in which they’re considering future X Prizes). We need groups like the X Prize Foundation to shake up areas like automotive development, energy policy, and education with solutions that are disruptively innovative. And the fact it’s a prize means that there will be multiple options by the end, and even the second and third place winners are likely to generate excellent products and ideas that are themselves tremendously useful.

Good luck to all the future contestants for the automative X Prize. The world will be better for your success.



1. drslammy - April 9, 2007

On the commercially viable point, I wish they’d be a tad more specific than this: “Vehicle cost at a production rate of 10,000 units per year must be within levels that the market is likely to bear.”

Of course, the fact that they’re not more specific probably means they’re open to a wider range of possibilities.

2. angliss - April 9, 2007

And at this point the rules are in draft format. They’re in a public comment period at the moment, so if you (or anyone else) wants to give them feedback on how they could improve their rules, they’ve got a handy online form you can fill out and do so.

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