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Cosmic Science

XPRIZE organizes $5M challenge for COVID-19 tests

The nonprofit XPRIZE foundation has assembled a high-powered coalition to take on a high-priority problem: developing high-quality screening tests for COVID-19 that are low-cost and easy to use with a fast turnaround time.

The $5 million XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing competition is the latest project from the folks who created multimillion-dollar contests for privately financed spaceships, super-efficient cars and real-life equivalents of Star Trek’s medical tricorders.

Among those voicing support for the testing development effort are:

  • OpenCovidScreen, a nonprofit group that numbers researchers from such institutions as the University of Washington and business leaders from such companies as Illumina among its advisers and collaborators. OpenCovidScreen’s partners include ThermoFisher Scientific, Google, Amazon and Ancestry.com. The group’s president and co-founder is Jeff Huber, a former Google executive and co-founder of Grail, a cancer detection startup.
  • A $50 million fund known as the COVID Apollo Project, backed by investors including RA Capital, Bain Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Redmile Group and Samsara Biocapital.
  • Healthcare companies including Anthem, Blue Shield of California, BlueCross / BlueShield of South Carolina and Cambia Health Solutions.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said in a statement that he looks forward to “seeing the breakthroughs that arise from this challenge and the countless lives that will be saved as a result.”

Teams can compete in one of four categories, focusing on at-home tests, point-of-care tests, distributed lab tests or high-throughput lab tests. They’ll be asked to develop new tests that produce results within 12 hours of collecting a sample, using minimally invasive procedures.

Winning teams will be required to deploy and conduct a minimum of 500 tests per week at a live testing site within 60 days, and have the potential to scale up their solutions to thousands of tests per week.

Cost of the test should be less than $15, including all materials, with avenues for reducing costs as production is scaled up.

Currently, the cost of COVID-19 testing can range from less than $100 to more than $1,000, depending on healthcare circumstances. What’s more, the turnaround time for test results can extend past a week, due to shortages in supplies and staffing.

“Fast, affordable, and accessible testing is crucial to containing the COVID-19 pandemic and safely reopening schools, businesses and other vital institutions around the world,” XPRIZE CEO Anousheh Ansari said. “XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing is inspiring the best entrepreneurial and scientific teams to come together to work towards rapid, affordable Covid-19 testing at scale, and ultimately, getting the world up and running again.”

Teams must register by Aug. 31, and the XPRIZE timeline calls for tests to be deployed in a pilot round that runs from Nov. 2, 2020, to Jan. 22, 2021. Winners are to be announced by the end of next January, with scaled-up production planned during the months that follow.

The reaction to today’s announcement was mostly positive. “THIS is what we need right now,” Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist at the Federation of American Scientists, said in a tweet.

However, the Food and Drug Administration is likely to have the final word on any tests that come out of the competition. And even without the contest, progress is being made on rapid-turnaround COVID-19 tests. There’s a chance that this XPRIZE will be rendered unnecessary before it reaches its climax. It wouldn’t be the first time.

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GeekWire

XPRIZE offers $5M for job training innovations

The nonprofit organization known as XPRIZE has been in charge of tech competitions focusing on far-out frontiers such as space travel and computerized avatars, but its latest contest hits closer to home: XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling is offering $5 million in prizes for innovations that could revolutionize job training for under-resourced communities.

The 30-month competition, sponsored by a nonprofit venture philanthropy organization called New Profit, kicks off today — just as the national emergency declared due to the coronavirus outbreak is passing the 100-day mark.

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XPRIZE creates Code Games challenge for kids

Game screenshot
The Code Games challenge provides incentives for kids to create video games that play on the themes of exploration, the environment and equity. (Endless Network / E-Line Media / XPRIZE Graphic)

XPRIZE’s latest program to incentivize innovation is going after a new demographic: young people between the ages of 10 and 18 who are up for developing video games that play on the themes of exploration, the environment and social equity.

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ANA Avatar XPRIZE teams go to the next level

Avatar at work
The ANA Avatar XPRIZE aims to encourage the development of devices that will allow travelers to experience remote locales virtually. (ANA Avatar XPRIZE via YouTube)

Seventy-seven teams from 19 countries around the globe have qualified to participate in the $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE competition, which aims to promote the development of robotic systems that let travelers connect with far-flung locales virtually.

The roster of competitors includes 27 teams from the United States, ranging from Boston University’s Robotics and Ambient Intelligence Labs to Virtual Vegas.

There are teams from international robotic hot spots such as Japan and South Korea as well as from emerging tech frontiers such as Brazil and Jordan.

“The incredible geographical diversity represented by the 77 teams moving forward will provide the unique perspectives necessary to develop transformative avatar technology capable of transcending physical limitations and expanding the capacity of humankind itself,” David Locke, prize director at the Los Angeles-based XPRIZE founation, said today in a news release.

With Japan’s All Nippon Airways as the title sponsor, the ANA Avatar XPRIZE will challenge teams to come up with physical, non-autonomous robotic avatar systems that enable a human operator to see, hear and interact with a remote environment in real time.

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Global Learning XPRIZE gives $10M to tech teams

Global Learning XPRIZE ceremony
Tech billionaire Elon Musk, at center, awards an XPRIZE trophy to KitKit School creators Sooinn Lee and Gunho Lee, with XPRIZE executives Peter Diamandis, Anousheh Ansari and Emily Church in on the picture. (XPRIZE via YouTube)

Two educational companies shared the $10 million top award in the Global Learning XPRIZE, a contest backed by Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla.

Musk provided a total of $15 million in prize money for the project, which is designed to boost open-source educational software. The $10 million grand prize was shared by KitKit School and Onebillion.

The two teams and three other finalists each received $1 million in 2017 to develop their projects.

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Spaceflier Anousheh Ansari named CEO of XPRIZE

Anousheh Ansari and Peter Diamandis
Anousheh Ansari, the newly named CEO of XPRIZE, comes on stage with co-founder Peter Diamandis at an XPRIZE Visioneering Summit in Los Angeles. (XPRIZE via Twitter)

In 2004, Iranian-American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari helped fund the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight. In 2006, she traveled to the International Space Station, becoming the first Muslim woman to go into orbit. Now she’s playing a leading role in the XPRIZE saga once again as the California-based foundation’s CEO.

Ansari’s ascension to executive leadership was announced today during the annual XPRIZE Visioneering Summit in Los Angeles, where 10 teams are vying for a chance to have their ideas turned into multimillion-dollar technological challenges.

“As I take on the helm at XPRIZE, I feel the same exhilaration as I did the day I was sitting in my capsule atop of my Russian Soyuz rocket – waiting impatiently to be launched into the infinity of the universe that I had dreamed about as a child, and in nervous anticipation of the enormous possibilities in front of me,” Ansari, 52, said in a news release.

Ansari takes over from XPRIZE co-founder Peter Diamandis, who’ll continue in his role as executive chairman.

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Saffron nears finish line for Women’s Safety XPRIZE

Saffron device
Saffron’s emergency alert device is about the size of a half-dollar, and designed to be clipped onto a bra or a waistband. (Saffron Photo)

Students representing the Global Innovation Exchange are nearing the finish line in a competition to create wearable sensors that can send wireless alerts in threatening situations — even if the person wearing the sensor is bound and gagged.

The $1 million Naveen & Anu Jain Women’s Safety XPRIZE — backed by Seattle-area entrepreneur Naveen Jain and his wife, Anu Jain — focuses on the issues of sexual harassment and violence against women.

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$10 million Avatar XPRIZE to boost telepresence

XPRIZE android
The ANA Avatar XPRIZE aims to promote the development of real-life avatars. (XPRIZE Illustration)

All Nippon Airways is sponsoring a $10 million, four-year competition to spur the development of real-life avatars that could provide telepresence over a span of dozens of miles.

Registration opens today for the ANA Avatar XPRIZE, with XPRIZE founder and executive chairman Peter Diamandis presiding over a high-profile kickoff at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.

In a news release, Diamandis explained that our ability to experience faraway locales, or provide on-the-ground assistance where needed, is typically limited by cost and time constraints.

“The ANA Avatar XPRIZE can enable creation of an audacious alternative that could bypass these limitations, allowing us to more rapidly and efficiently distribute skill and hands-on expertise to distant geographic locations where they are needed, bridging the gap between distance, time and cultures,” he said.

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XPRIZE confirms no one will win moon race

Moon rover
A prototype moon rover makes an appearance at the 2007 kickoff of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. (XPRIZE Photo)

The organizers for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition acknowledged today that the award for a commercially funded lunar landing will go unwon, despite a decade’s worth of work.

But the California-based XPRIZE foundation’s top executives said they were looking for ways to keep a spotlight on the contest, even after Google’s prize money goes away on March 31.

“This may include finding a new title sponsor to provide a prize purse following in the footsteps of Google’s generosity, or continuing the Lunar XPRIZE as a non-cash competition where we will follow and promote the teams and help celebrate their achievements,” executive chairman Peter Diamandis and CEO Marcus Shingles said in their statement.

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Moon ambitions get a reality check — and a boost

Blue Moon lander
An artist’s conception shows Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander. (Blue Origin Illustration)

Who’s going to the moon? The prospects are looking dimmer for any commercial lunar landings in the short term — but Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture today used a milestone in space history to spotlight its longer-term lunar aspirations.

The bad news is that none of the remaining five contenders for the Google Lunar X Prize is likely to get to the moon in time to win a $20 million award in March.

Google has repeatedly extended the deadline for doing a lunar landing, but CNBC quoted the company as saying there’d be no more extensions beyond March 31.

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