Solve Covid-19 Testing Crisis, Earn $ 5 Million


Davis believes that the inclusion of young people is a strength of the competitions. “I have great confidence in young people,” he says, “because they always ask questions that no one else will look into.” He adds, laughing: “Let’s face it, I’m 77 years old. I think my real creative days were back when I was in my 30s and 20s. ” And he agrees that it’s right to be skeptical of big business innovation. “They have their own R&D teams,” he says. “They have their bureaucrats, they have their decision-makers and their politicians. And they have people who are going in predictable directions. “

If a cobbled together group of lay people working on Covid-19 testing in their spare time ended up winning, they would continue a tradition that dates back to John Harrison, who won the Longitude Prize centuries ago. Harrison was a carpenter and government officials were reluctant to recognize his accomplishments. “They were appalled that a merchant solved the problem, and they did their best to extort money from him,” Best says. “But, finally, he received it.”

Anyone who solves the problem of rapid Covid-19 testing will be hailed as a hero. And even those entrants who don’t have much of a chance of winning the contest could still have a lot to gain from it. “A lot of people enter knowing they won’t win,” Kay says. “It doesn’t matter because they can get free publicity, they can get free participation, access resources, [they] can get participation in this community. “

For a young person, the experience and connections could jumpstart a career in technology development. Kay points out that the autonomous vehicle research community may be able to trace its origins to the Darpa Grand Challenge, which required teams to build a robotic car capable of traveling up to 150 miles without human intervention. “The result of the competition may not necessarily be new technology, but probably the creation of a new community around the topic,” he says.

And this community doesn’t just include those who directly participate in the contest. “Basically,” says Kay, the prize contests “are a big promotional effort.” By presenting this competition, Xprize and OpenCovidScreen are drawing coverage and attention to the problem of rapid testing. (After all, this article wouldn’t exist without it.) One of the main goals of the project, says Huber, is “to get smart people around the world to have a clear articulation of, what’s the biggest problem. effective to solve? ” – of course, this advantage depends on Xprize and OpenCovidScreen having accurately identified this highest leverage problem. In fact, Xprize today announced another related challenge: the Covid-19 CT Scan Collaborative, which will award $ 1.8 million to teams capable of devising methods of using CT scans to fight Covid-19.

Contest hosts also benefit. “When an organization launches a competition, it is sort of positioning itself as an innovator,” says Kay. Or, as Best says, “When you give an award, you tell the whole world that you are someone who has a certain status and who is able to judge what is better or worse in that particular industry. Thus, you get a certain prestige by awarding the prize. “

Huber’s hope is not necessarily that the winning team will solve the testing problem once and for all. Instead, he believes the competition will do the most good if it promotes a diverse set of approaches. The need for testing is so great, he says, that one solution is not enough. But many teams pursuing a variety of ideas can, on the whole, make a big difference.

This strategy has some unusual modesty for contests. And whether or not their winner is able to find a solution to the current testing bottleneck, Ansari believes that Xprize still has a role to play in the fight against pandemics, tackling the big challenges of the degradation of the world. the environment and poverty that the competition has historically addressed. . “We hope to solve these big, hairy and daring problems,” she says. “And I hope that will completely eliminate pandemics in the future.”

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