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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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‘Seat 14C’ tales imagine 20-year time warp

Time warp for Seat 14C
The short stories of “Seat 14C” imagine that an ANA Boeing 777 jet has passed through a wrinkle in spacetime. (Illustration for XPRIZE / Seat 14C)

Imagine you’re a passenger on a jet that mysteriously time warps to the year 2037: That’s what a team of world-class science-fiction writers did for “Seat 14C,” a project created by XPRIZE and Japan’s ANA airline.

Now you can imagine as well, and your tale may well earn you a trip to Tokyo for two.

But wait … there’s more: The winner of the “Seat 14C” contest also earns an honorary seat on the XPRIZE Science Fiction Advisory Council, alongside such greats as Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale), Paolo Bacigalupi (“The Windup Girl”) and Seattle author Nancy Kress (“Beggars in Spain”).

Those writers are among the more than two dozen contributors to the online “Seat 14C” short-story anthology, all focused on technological visions for 2037.

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XPRIZE recruits all-star science fiction team

Future airplanes
Artwork shows what airplanes could look like in the 2035 time frame. (NASA / Boeing Illustration)

The non-profit XPRIZE foundation has recruited an all-star lineup of science fiction masters, including Seattle authors, to help create a series of fictional “road maps” for future innovations – and the first project, focusing on air travel, is already waiting in the wings.

Sixty-four creative types from nine countries around the world – including writers, directors and producers – have joined the XPRIZE Science Fiction Advisory Council.

Marquee names include Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Andy Weir, who wrote “The Martian” and the upcoming “Artemis” novel about lunar settlement; and Darren Aronofsky, the director of “Pi,” “The Fountain” and “Black Swan.”

At least a half-dozen of the advisers live in the Seattle area.

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IBM Watson AI XPRIZE offers $5 million

Image: IBM Watson
IBM’s Watson AI software is best-known for winning at “Jeopardy!” in 2011. (Credit: IBM)

The latest multimillion-dollar tech challenge – known as the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE – will be aimed at encouraging collaboration between humans and artificial intelligence software to solve the world’s big problems. But it’s not yet clear who will sign up for the $5 million competition, in part because IBM’s Watson program is already one of the contestants in a much bigger, multibillion-dollar AI race.

The Feb. 17 announcement, made at the TED2016 conference in Vancouver, B.C., adds artificial intelligence to an XPRIZE list that also spotlights ocean discovery, moon exploration, carbon recycling, medical diagnostic devices, educational software and much, much more.

“Our hope is that the teams will show how we can apply AI to the world’s great challenges,” Stephanie Wander, who’s on the prize development team for California-based XPRIZE, told GeekWire. “That would be the cat’s meow.”

A lot of the details surrounding the competition still have to be worked out. The complete rules and guidelines are to be made available in mid-May, just before IBM’s World of Watson conference. Teams can already pre-register.

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$7 million contest boosts ocean discovery

Image: Submersible
An artist’s conception shows a submersible vehicle mapping the ocean depths. (Credit: XPRIZE)

The latest high-tech competition from XPRIZE is offering $7 million to promote new ways to map our planet’s final frontier: the depths of the ocean.

“Our oceans cover two-thirds of our planet’s surface and are a crucial global source of food, energy, economic security, and even the air we breathe, yet 95 percent of the deep sea remains a mystery to us,” Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE chairman and CEO, said in a news release. “In fact, we have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our own seafloor.”

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is meant to accelerate innovation in deep-sea mapping. Diamandis unveiled the three-year competition today during the American Geophysical Society’s fall meeting in San Francisco. He was joined on stage by representatives of the contest’s sponsors, Shell and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The teams that enter the contest will have to complete a series of tasks, including making a map of the seafloor, producing high-resolution images of a specific object, and identifying archaeological, biological or geological features. The technologies have to work at depths of up to 4,000 meters (2.5 miles).

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