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$10m Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE: 10 Finalist Teams Selected

XPRIZE   |   August 27, 2014    5:21 PM ET

By Jon Sung

It all began with over 300 pre-registered teams, which led to over 20 competing teams. And then there were 10. That's right. After considerable evaluation and deliberation, it's time to reveal the 10 finalists in the running for the $10M Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. These are the select few advancing in the global competition to create an affordable, portable, wireless, Star Trek-inspired scanning device that will monitor and diagnose medical conditions quickly, easily, and non-intrusively. The winning device will weigh no more than five pounds and will provide user-friendly assessment and monitoring of five vital signs and 15 different medical conditions including diabetes, pneumonia, and the bane of every parent's existence -- an ear infection.

Congratulations to everyone who made it this far: your creativity and commitment to innovation and inventiveness has been nothing short of inspiring.

And the 10 finalists from 7 countries are:

Aezon (Baltimore, MD)

"We check the news. We check the weather. We check our texts; we check our tweets. Our email. Facebook. Amidst this wealth of information, we don't check our bodies. With medical providers around the globe taxed for resources, we need to start taking charge of our own health." So says Team Aezon, founded in 2012 by students at Johns Hopkins University. Under the leadership of biomedical engineering major, Tatiana Rypinski, they've put together sensor prototypes and version 1.0 of their smartphone-based UI. Next up will be the addition and integration of more diagnostic systems, and the continued improvement of the user experience.


Team Aezon

CloudDX (Mississauga, Canada)

Attending physician, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, former astronaut candidate and Chief Medical Officer of Biosign Technologies, Dr. Sandeep "Sonny" Kohli certainly didn't start Team CloudDX out of boredom. A tight-knit group of programmers, software architects, and biomedical engineers, CloudDX is poised to take some of Biosign's existing solutions, including its Cloud Diagnostics™ tech and Pulsewave™ health monitor, and run with 'em. "Our software can already assist doctors to screen for hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart arrhythmia. So, competing for the XPRIZE takes us further down our technology road map -- we hope all the way to victory!"


CloudDX's health monitor

Danvantri (Chennai, India)

Team Danvantri derives its name from the god of Ayurvedic medicine who also serves as physician to the Hindu divine. Led by Sridharan Mani, Danvantri's members have over 200,000 man-hours of experience in IT and embedded systems. "We hope to create a platform for transforming healthcare, making health a part of individuals' daily lives, and helping everyone to stay healthy and fit independent of visits to clinics." Their current device, which incorporates all-in-one blood pressure, temperature, and pulse oximetry, is awaiting clinical trials; the next phase will see the integration of ECG and blood chemistry analysis, among other things.


Danvantri's AMI Vitals Fit

DMI (Cambridge, MA)

Though it's not strictly part of the requirements, Team DMI's rHEALTH sensor has already been tested in space. Dr. Eugene Chan, founder and president of the DNA Medicine Institute and holder of over 40 patents, may simply be thinking ahead. "We believe that fundamental change in medicine needs to be driven by advances in technology. In particular, we share the vision that consumers are the best advocates for their own health, and when empowered, will be able to take care of themselves in ways that we have yet to imagine. This will ultimately lead to lower healthcare costs, better care, and longer lives." The current version of the rHEALTH sensor is designed to assess hundreds of clinical tests using a single drop of blood or other bodily fluid.


DMI's rHEALTH sensor

Dynamical Biomarkers Group (Zhongli City, Taiwan)

The Dynamical Biomarkers Group hails from the Center for Dynamical Biomarkers and Translational Medicine at Taiwan's National Central University. Their leader, Chung-Kang Peng PhD, happens to be the NCU's Dean of Health Sciences and Technology, and has been working at the intersection of statistical physics and biology ever since grad school. Over the years, he and his collaborators have developed "several useful concepts and computational techniques, including the theory of physiologic complexity, and proposed the concept of dynamical biomarkers that can be utilized for disease diagnosis. These new approaches have a wide range of applications in multiple disciplines, such as mathematics, physics, economics, biology, and clinical medicine." Appropriately enough, the Dynamical Biomarkers Group includes a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, medical researchers, physicists, applied mathematicians, computer scientists, and engineers.


Team Dynamical Biomarkers Group

Final Frontier Medical Devices (Paoli, PA)

A surprisingly high percentage of patients in an emergency room aren't in imminent danger; they're just looking for a timely diagnosis and advice on what to do next, and they've got nowhere else to go. As an ER doc with a PhD in engineering, Dr. Basil Harris and his team, Final Frontier Medical Devices, is ready to do something about that. Their solution is called DxtER (pronounced "Dexter") and combines a handheld sensor array with a tablet-based user interface and AI diagnostic engine capable of analyzing data, requesting further input, and arriving at a diagnosis. "I'm an ER doc; what I do every day is make diagnoses. That is my job boiled down to its core. I figure out, or at least try my best to figure out, what a patient's symptoms mean and what has to be done. Our device is smart and simple, giving people the help and answers they need when they need them the most."

MESI Simplifying Diagnostics (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

Straight out of Ljubljana, Team MESI Simplifying diagnostics combines members from Gigodesign, DLabs, the Jozef Stefan Institute, the University of Ljubljana, and MESI to form a Slovenian health technology powerhouse. Team leader Jakob Susteric founded MESI two years ago with the goal of creating medical devices that were reliable and easy to use, soon delivering a solution for diagnosing peripheral arterial disease. "We are proud to be one of the most successful startup companies in Slovenia and to be the youngest company in the country that has received ISO9001 and ISO13485 certificates. But we are the most proud of our goal to simplify diagnostics and bring it to a primary healthcare level, when there is enough time to react."


MESI Simplifying diagnostics' prototype

SCANADU (Moffett Field, CA)

"Scanadu believes that our generation will be the last to know so little about our own health." Led by former MIT Media Lab sponsor and One Laptop Per Child exec Walter de Brouwer, Team Scanadu operates out of NASA's backyard in Moffett Field, nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley. The crowdfunding campaign for the Scanadu Scout broke Indiegogo's "most funded project" record at the time, and Scanadu has been featured in the New York Times, Wired, Forbes, and Fast Company among others -- many, many others. You've probably heard of Scanadu. 'Nuff said.


Team Scanadu

SCANurse (London, England)

Drawing on 20 years of experience working with pharma, biotech, healthcare, and diagnostic companies all around the world, Anil Vaidya founded Team SCANurse with the belief that "the time is right for a change in the way personal medical diagnoses are handled." Holder of a Master of Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers, Vaidya is current life science advisor to the office of the Mayor of London and has a unique understanding of how global partnerships can help bring his vision of the future of medical diagnostics to life.

zensor (Belfast, Northern Ireland)

Team zensor has been developing wireless, wearable, non-intrusive health monitors for a decade. Based at Intelesens in Belfast, Northern Ireland, zensor is led by chief technology officer Jim McLaughlin and has various partners in clinical diagnostics and cardiology. "Consumers have become more and more informed on their own health -- wearable fitness technology has established a firm niche -- however, to date, technology has not been capable of supporting true consumer healthcare needs. The zensor team is passionate about delivering cutting edge technology tested for both accuracy and safety to support this demand." Team zensor's current device incorporates ECG, motion, and respiration algorithms; their next version will measure blood oxygenation.

Congratulations, finalists! Now the real work begins. We're expecting the first prototypes by next March at the latest, after which we'll start the six-month consumer-testing phase. We'll be checking in from time to time right up until the final judging and validation. Then, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, we'll award the prize in early 2016. See you in sickbay! Remember, that's deck 12, section 28. Good luck!

Jon Sung is a contributing writer for XPRIZE and copywriting gun-for-hire to startups and ventures all over the San Francisco Bay area. When not wrangling words for business or pleasure, he serves as the first officer of the USS Loma Prieta, the hardest-partying Star Trek fan club in San Francisco.

STAR TREK, TRICORDER and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc. Used under license.

Want innovation? This is the answer

XPRIZE   |   June 9, 2014    4:19 PM ET

Vivek.jpgBy Vivek Wadhwa
Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.

In the 1920s, New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize to the first person to fly nonstop between New York and Paris. Several unsuccessful attempts were made before an American airmail pilot named Charles Lindbergh won the competition in 1927 with his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis.

Lindbergh's achievement made him a national hero and a global celebrity, but it also sparked the interest and investment that led to the modern aviation industry.

In 1996, inspired by Lindbergh's achievement, Peter Diamandis wanted to reach for the stars. He formed a new organization called the New Spirit of St. Louis and created a $10 million competition to reward the first privately financed team whose spacecraft would carry three people to 100 kilometers above the Earth's surface twice within two weeks.

Renamed the Ansari XPRIZE, in recognition of the family who donated the purse, pursuit of the prize motivated 26 teams to spend more than $100 million on research and development. On Oct. 4, 2004, the Mojave Aerospace Ventures team won the competition, launching a new era in competition and yielding the $2 billion commercial space industry that exists today.

Unlike traditional venture-capital firms, which back one idea, specific competitions inspire multiple solutions - often leading to new industries. Such competitions do this by setting a specific target that several teams strive toward.

Unlike traditional philanthropic organizations, which focus on specific projects and determined outcomes, competitions' large purses attract large amounts of operating capital, and teams wind up investing significantly more money than the prize offers, and consequently create responses with broader applicability.

Diamandis explains that such competitions, in setting an audacious but achievable target that experts vet, "offer credibility and 'air cover' for entrepreneurs, innovators, and inventors who want to pursue a path that would otherwise be considered too risky." (Disclosure: Diamandis is also founder of Singularity University, where I am a fellow). Competitions inspire entrepreneurs and philanthropists to attempt the impossible.

I recently joined about 100 engineers, scientists, thought leaders, and celebrities in Los Angeles to design such a competition. This "Visioneering" conference, hosted by the XPRIZE Foundation, brought together people such as innovation guru Bill Gross, Qualcomm executive chairman Paul Jacobs, businesswoman and investor Lynn Tilton, Indian industrialist Ratan Tata, and entertainment industry leaders, and Patricia Arquette.

The purpose of the gathering was to brainstorm what new and radical innovations can be created in the next few years that will positively affect humanity.

These ideas - which could spawn new industries and challenge the conventional wisdom of what is "impossible" --- will form the basis of the next XPRIZE competitions.

My brainstorming team, which included Tilton and Tata, proposed a prize to create affordable housing for the billions of people who lack decent shelter. The challenge: develop the tools and technology to build, in less than 24 hours, a home for a family using locally sourced materials for $1,000, providing them with the dignity and shelter that all human beings deserve.

It sounds like an impossible challenge, but so were transatlantic flight and building your own spacecraft.

In the end, our prize concept took second place. The wining idea was to develop radical, even controversial, alternative sources of energy. But some ideas that emerged from this event were so great that a few contestants said they would fund them personally.

There are other notable public competitions too. Richard Merkin, president and chief executive of Heritage Provider Network, for example, announced in 2011 the $3 million dollar Heritage Health Prize data-mining competition to decrease the $40 billion dollars spent in the U.S. on avoidable hospitalization costs. The challenge is to create an algorithm that predicts how many days a patient will spend in the hospital so that doctors can work with the patient to prevent that hospitalization in the first place. This prize in predictive modeling is larger than the Nobel Prize for Medicine and the Gates Health Prize, and offers six "milestone prizes" along the way. Merkin says that his goal is to "create an online global community of problem solvers dedicated to creating more cost effective, healthier outcomes." Useful competitions needn't be grand, though. Corporations can use more-achievable challenges and smaller prizes internally to spur out-of-the-box thinking.

The power of the crowd can also be harnessed for social causes. A startup named HeroX, which the XPRIZE Foundation spun off, created a platform upon which to design and launch such competitions on the Internet. It's modeled on popular crowdsourcing sites Kickstarter and Indiegogo. One of the first HeroX competitions is the ImagineX Challenge, a $10,000 prize for the best ideas to challenge their community.

The real genius in offering such prizes is that the possibilities truly are endless. We could have thousands of innovation prizes, addressing every challenge humanity faces - competitions that unleash the intellectual power and drive of entrepreneurs to create a better solution and a better world.

Wadhwa is a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University, director of Research at Duke University, and distinguished scholar at Singularity and Emory universities.

Visit XPRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Wearing Your Health on Your Sleeve

XPRIZE   |   February 11, 2014    1:19 PM ET

2013-07-09-Gioia_Messinger.jpg By Gioia Messinger
Gioia is Founder and CEO of LinkedObjects, Lecturer at U.C. San Diego's Rady School of Management, and Judge for the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE.

Digital health was prominently displayed at CES this year with lots of floor space dedicated to the industry and a cornucopia of health and fitness-focused wearable devices debuting in Las Vegas.

The declining costs of hardware components, the ubiquity of smartphones and the need for consumers to cut their medical costs is spurring innovation in many areas of digital health. Given these trends, the line between health and fitness devices is blurring. Every consumer electronics company from Sony to LG to Samsung is either getting into the game or thinking about it. But as activity tracking becomes increasingly more commoditized, health device makers need to step up their offerings and focus on disease management and improving outcomes. Patients/consumers want simple interfaces that not only engage them but also allow them to gain valuable insights into their health and well-being - not achieved by the current cadre of activity sensors.

Health device makers and wellness apps wanting to provide real value for their customers are moving beyond step counting and integrating into connected health services in the cloud. These services use a holistic approach to engage the provider and patient in managing compliance and, by extension, outcomes. Incorporating physicians, pharmacists, therapists and trainers as part of an integrated "care-team" allows for meaningful patient engagement easing their ability to stick with a routine and allowing patients to become "emotionally" accountable for using the app or device as directed by their care-team. For healthcare providers, this same integration made possible by ubiquitous connectivity allows them to think and engage beyond the practical aspects of care: the exam, laboratory test, or simple disease management.

The past year has proved that many pieces are in place (desire, policy, market demand, innovation, investment, etc.) for a radical transformation in healthcare. We're beginning to see many aspects of our health and wellness reimagined. There is now a growing community of stakeholders who understand that change is not only possible, but inevitable and, best of all, are taking action to see those changes come true.

The next step in this tectonic shift is leveraging a higher level of connectivity where data, devices and humans are optimally connected to enable good care decisions. The result: shifting the cost curve and encouraging accountability and behavioral changes beyond what's offered by today's consumer health devices. When that occurs, we know the revolution has truly taken hold.

Visit XPRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

Makers Are Radically Changing the World...Already

XPRIZE   |   February 5, 2014    2:57 PM ET

By Singularity University adjunct faculty Mark Hatch, who is CEO and Co-Founder of TechShop and author of the Maker Movement Manifesto: Rules for Innovation in the New World of Crafters, Hackers, and Tinkerers from McGraw-Hill.

Driven by the exponentially increasing power, ease of use and reduced costs of "making," along with a renewed interest in experiencing making, the Maker Movement is beginning to have a surprising impact in the US and around the world.


How, one might ask, does this Maker Movement, emerging out of the left coast, with its eclectic "Maker Faires," change the world in a meaningful way?

Though a more complex topic, the Maker Movement can be reduced to this simple reality: it is democratizing making. Sure, making includes simple electronics, quilting, all the handmade things one can buy on or download from and print on a home 3D printer ... but it also includes creating access to industrial manufacturing tools used to prototype and manufacture world class innovations.

As the CEO of TechShop and author of The Maker Movement Manifesto, I sit at the apex of activity that is not only creating interesting art, t-shirts, bracelets and other small personally produced items one might see at a typical swap meet, but I have seen the development of many new products that have begun to change the world. Each of them was started because of cheap access to the powerful tools of the industrial revolution combined with a platform (makerspace) designed to encourage their success.

Briefly, a very well equipped makerspace, like TechShop, has all the tools you need to make almost anything in the world. These include 3D printers, laser cutters, mills, lathes, computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines, a complete metal shop, wood shop, plastics and electronics labs, textiles lab and the space, training, and environment designed to enable you to make whatever you want.

Leveraging the technology driving CNC tools, robotics, and easy-to-use software like 123D Make from Autodesk, along with a renewed interest in hardware, an explosion of new hardware startup companies have become successful. Here are a handful I'm aware of that have either come out of TechShop or another makerspace.

Have you heard of Square? The little white fob you put on your smart phone or iPad to turn it into a credit card terminal? The original prototypes were all done at TechShop in Menlo Park, Calif. In fact, Jack Dorsey (of Twitter fame) and his partner, Jim McKelvey, were turned down by the VCs in the Silicon Valley until they had a functioning prototype. Square will do more than $15 billion in transactions in 2013. The business has over 400 employees and was valued in September of last year at $3.2 billion. Most importantly, Dorsey and McKelvey opened up the merchant banking system (the ability to take credit cards) to a huge underserved population of merchants and sole proprietors across the US.

Have you heard of Embrace? It is an infant incubator blanket on track to save 100,000 babies around the world in the next five years. Jane Chen and her team, as part of a student project at Stanford, used our location to do the design and fabrication work needed to prepare for commercialization. Embrace now counts GE as a distribution partner, and Jane was named a top social entrepreneur by the World Economic Forum.

Coming out of the 3D printing trend, Bre Petis launched MakerBot, a line of affordable desktop 3D printers, out of a hackerspace in New York. Five years ago, Bre was a junior high art teach in Seattle. Just recently, he sold MakerBot to Stratysas for over $400 million.

More examples? Clustered Systems launched the world's most efficient data-cooling center system and licensed it to Emerson Electronics; Solum has raised close to $20 million in VC funding with a system that will help reduce the amount of fertilizer farmers use (and was named a top five agricultural startup this year). BioLite launched an incredibly efficient wood-burning stove that won an industry award for reducing the amount of CO2 these types of stoves tend to emit. DripTech launched the world's cheapest drip irrigation system designed for poor arid parts of the world.

Any one of these innovations would be considered an amazing success. Combined, they demonstrate the hugely disruptive nature of democratizing access to tools, training and knowledge that is at the cornerstone of the Maker Movement.

The question is no longer, "Will the Maker Movement change the world?" Rather, "How will it change it next?" and "How do you want to change the world?"

Visit XPRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Fun With Genetic Engineering: Why Letting Students Tinker With Microorganisms Is Good For Education And Society

XPRIZE   |   January 14, 2014    1:22 PM ET


By Charles Gersbach, Assistant Professor, and Tom Katsouleas, Dean, Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering

Elaborate competitions to build the best robot or design cages to protect falling eggs have been a rite of passage for generations of engineering students. Today, there's a new contest with the same creativity and competitive spirit, but vastly more sophisticated projects--like mixing-and-matching bits of DNA to create new microorganisms that produce biofuels or costly medicines.


The International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition challenges student teams to use cutting-edge tools from the new field of synthetic biology to design, build, and test genetically engineered organisms. This fall, 133 teams of students from universities from around the world participated, producing an incredible array of projects. Some engineered microorganisms to produce medicines, clean up environmental contaminants, or act as biosensors for toxins or other chemicals. Others created genetically engineered living board games or transformed otherwise stinky bacteria to smell like wintergreen. Our own Duke University iGEM team focused on engineering gene circuits in yeast to better understand how cells make decisions, such as whether to replicate or respond to an environmental stimulus; the circuits can also be used in biomanufacturing.

If these examples surprise you, you're not alone. As the New York Times observed, "iGEM has been grooming an entire generation of the world's brightest scientific minds to embrace synthetic biology's vision -- without anyone really noticing, before the public debates and regulations that typically place checks on such risky and ethically controversial new technologies have even started." But we think this kind of hands-on experimentation and experience is precisely the way to prepare the next generation of leaders who can help society reap the benefits and manage the risks of synthetic biology--and other fields, for that matter.

At a time when the discussion of the future of college education is largely focused on online teaching and massive open online courses (MOOCs), it is critical to recognize the importance of hands-on education that can only be provided in a dynamic research environment. As Matt Baron, a biomedical engineering student and member of the Duke iGEM team, says: "If I had simply studied synthetic biology but not participated in the iGEM competition, I would not appreciate the practical implementation of the theoretical concepts--or how synthetic biology can be used to solve complex problems across seemingly unrelated fields such as medicine, agriculture, manufacturing and computing. More importantly, I would have lost the opportunity to take ownership over a project along with my team members." By encouraging freedom and independence in project design and exposing students to a new and exciting field as it is developing, the iGEM competition provides a quality of education that clearly cannot be replicated through online teaching, but is critical in educating the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The iGEM competition also teaches participants the importance of considering broader implications of advances in synthetic biology, such as the safety and security of the engineered systems and ethical issues concerning genetic manipulation. All projects are supervised by university faculty mentors, and the iGEM competition stresses environmental and societal responsibility as primary judging criteria. Our iGEM team worked with Duke faculty in the Schools of Law and Public Policy to develop a report on intellectual property and synthetic biology, addressing concerns involving patenting of gene sequences and subsequent effects on basic research and the biotechnology industry. These students are not just learning science and engineering--they're being trained in aspects of philosophy, policy and business.

But synthetic biology is not just an academic exercise. The number of synthetic biology companies has tripled over the last four years, from 61 to 192. The global synthetic biology market was estimated to be worth $2.1 billion in 2012 and is expected to expand to $16.7 billion by 2018. At this rate, the development of this nascent field is rapidly outpacing the release of new textbooks or other conventional educational models--whereas the iGEM competition adapts at the speed of student creativity, providing a new model for training that's already proving its worth. Many successful iGEM projects have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and several iGEM teams have even patented their inventions, creating opportunities to complement their science and engineering training with entrepreneurship experiences.

Educational paradigms must evolve to train the next generation of scientists and engineers, going beyond cultivating creativity and inventiveness to developing social consciousness and the mindset to face the grand challenges for the 21st century. The iGEM competition provides an excellent blueprint for how to achieve these goals by involving students not only in finding the right answers, but asking the right questions.

Visit XPRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

The Scary And Amazing Future Of Work

XPRIZE   |   December 3, 2013    2:28 PM ET

Vivek.jpgBy Vivek Wadhwa
Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.

Cubicles with low walls, open collaboration areas, desks and computers assigned as you show up for work. If you need to hold a private meeting or make a personal phone call, you reserve a conference room in advance. This is what the offices of some companies are like today--and what most companies will be like in the future. But that's nothing. There is much more change to come.


The nature of work itself is changing for knowledge workers. During this decade, location will cease to be a barrier; many types of work will done as micro-tasks; and we will be collaborating in new ways. Not only will our employers take our offices away, but they will also expect us to be at their beck and call--and live balanced and healthy lives according to corporate standards.

I know this isn't all great, but that is the future we are headed into--whether we like it or not.

Note how much has already changed. We check email as soon as we reach home, and sneak a peek at our inboxes along the way. We respond to calls, texts, and messages even while on vacation. At work, we use Cisco Telepresence or Skype to confer with colleagues all over the world. Some companies let employees work from home for one or two days a week; some let them live in remote locations.

A decade ago, we could not have imagined being always on, always connected, with work following us wherever we go.

For our grandparents, "work" was almost always in a factory or on a farm. Today, the farm and factory jobs are performed by a shrinking minority. There are still many jobs in the services sector that require physical work. But increasingly our workforce is performing tasks that are done with the mind--that require knowledge and skill. These knowledge jobs can be assisted by technology.

Accounting firms routinely outsource grunt work, as do lawyers, and as do doctors, for tasks such as medical transcription. Not long ago, small and midsized projects were outsourced through websites such as oDesk, Freelancer, and Elance--not just to India but also to remote workers in the U.S. and Europe. A micro-task economy is now flourishing on sites such as Amazon Mechanical Turk, Samasource, and CrowdFlower, in which smaller tasks are farmed out. Big and small tasks such as data handling, website development, design, and transcription are commonly done by workers in diverse locations.

Crowdsourcing is making it possible for work to be done simultaneously by many people--no matter where they are. It is becoming possible to solve big problems by using the power of the collective as I just have for Innovating Women--a book on how to enable more women to participate in the innovation economy.

While research entrepreneurship, I realized there was a serious problem: women were facing discrimination and exclusion in the technology industry. I wanted to write a book that inspired, motivated, and educated women to surmount the hurdles. But I am no expert in this field. And interviewing women and researching solutions would have taken me years. So I asked women all over the world to crowdcreate this book with me--by sharing their stories and ideas on how to fix the problem. We did this on a social-media-style website.

I was able to tap into the collective knowledge of more than 500 women. Within six weeks, we had gathered enough information and anecdotes to publish not one but several books. And we learned from each other.

Businesses are beginning to do this as well. Rather than locking workers in departmental silos, companies on the cutting edge are encouraging employees to start communicating with each other on internal social-media sites. What used to be the quarterly email from the CEO has become a torrent of information-sharing within companies--at all levels. Watch this transform into the same type of crowdsouring of ideas to solve problems as I did with Innovating Women. Companies will start designing and developing new products and services by engaging their entire employee base.

Telepresence robots are taking video conferencing to a new level. There are several products on the market, such as Beam by Suitable Technologies and Fellow Robots, that allow a screen mounted on a mobile platform to move around the office and experience what is happening in a more human way. Imagine walking into your boss's office while you are at home, stepping into a conference room to join a meeting, or chit-chatting with your peers around the water fountain.

Watch this video of a holographic talk I gave to entrepreneurs in Uruguay--from Stanford University. They literally beamed a live image of me to a stage in Montevideo. This was developed by a Uruguayan company, Holograam. There are also video-conferencing technologies in development such as Mezzanine by Oblong Industries which uses multiple screens and spatial user interfaces to allow people in different locations to collaborate and share electronic information in a science fiction-like setting. Mezzanine is being developed by John Underkoffler, chief computer visionary behind the 2002 film Minority Report.

We can expect Google Glass-type devices to bring the computer display to our body--so that we view the screen on our glasses and don't need to sit at a desk any more. I expect future versions to provide immersive 3D experiences which are more like the holodecks we saw in Start Trek. And who knows, we may well have holodecks that make it feel as though we are together--but that is getting too far into the future. During this decade, we'll have to settle for 2D interfaces and 3D simulations.

This is all exciting--and terrifying enough. But what worries me is the intrusion that companies will increasingly make into our lives and the burnout we will suffer from always being at the beck and call of our employers. I know from personal experience how hard it is to turn off email and disconnect from social media. This will only get worse for all of us as we become more connected.

And then there will be demands by our employers for us to better manage our lifestyles--so that they can reduce their health bills and get more out of us. Just as companies reward workers who join health clubs and stop smoking, we will see them making greater demands. They will be able to measure what we do because we will increasingly be wearing biometric-monitoring devices such as the Nike FuelBand and Fitbit Flex and our smartphones will be adding new sensors. The new generation of sensor-based devices will continually gather data about our movement, heart rate, weight, sleep, and other health-related matters and upload these to the cloud. Before giving you more sick leave, employers will probably demand that you improve your lifestyle and habits.

All of this may seem like science fiction, but it isn't. The future is happening faster than we think and changing important parts of our existence.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Visit XPRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

Between Mountain and Sea: Exploring Rio Through Imagery

XPRIZE   |   November 18, 2013    1:14 PM ET

By Joe Capra
Joe is a Los Angeles-based photographer and filmmaker, and winner of XPRIZE's 2012 "Why Do You Explore?" Video Contest for his piece Midnight Sun | Iceland.

After traveling to Iceland and Greenland, Rio de Janeiro was the next location on my list of places to Explore. I have always wanted to visit Rio, and with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics being hosted there I figured now was a great time to go. My video "RIO" is a compilation of some of the imagery I captured, employing a time lapse approach with 4K and 10K resolution footage. Most of the locations are within the city of Rio de Janeiro, but I also traveled to the famous Iguazú Falls, one of the New Seven Wonders of the world.

2013-11-18-Rio.JPG Recognized for inspiring musicians, landscapers and urbanists, Rio has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Joe Capra's time-lapse video captures the city's vibrancy with ultra-high resolution footage.

Rio de Janeiro, or as most people call it, "Rio", is the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, and is the second largest city of Brazil with a population of approximately 6.3 million people. Part of the city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, called "Rio de Janeiro: Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea". Rio is one of the most visited cities in the southern hemisphere and is known for its natural settings, carnival celebrations, samba, Bossa Nova, and "balneario" (resort) beaches such as Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. Some of Rio's most famous include the beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema, the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado mountain, also named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World; Sugarloaf mountain with its cable car; the Sambódromo, a permanent grandstand-lined parade avenue which is used during Carnival; and Maracanã Stadium, one of the world's largest football stadiums. No wonder the beautiful city of Rio De Janeiro was chosen to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. With so much amazing scenery, history, culture, and landmarks I had plenty of options for photography and exploration.

As mainly a nature and landscape photographer who loves exploring exotic locations, places where not many people travel to, Rio was a great change of pace for me. The hustle and bustle of a large city such as Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city in Brazil, was an incredibly enjoyable contrast to the previous locations I have been to. In Rio I was not only able to explore and photograph some amazingly beautiful land- and cityscapes, but I was also able to experience a new culture and lifestyle. Meeting new people, speaking with the locals, trying different foods, learning about the local history, visiting the Favelas, and just observing this amazing city and its people was one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences I could hope for. Overall, Rio was sort of exploration overload for me - in a great way.

These are experiences that will stay with me forever, and that's why exploration is so very important to me. Like I have said before, you do not have to travel the world to explore. There are so many amazing things to see and experience right in our own backyards, or just a short drive away. I hope my travels, videos, and photos can encourage people to get outside and explore. In my opinion there is nothing more valuable, and personally rewarding, than exploration. Looking forward to my next adventure: Antarctica in December, thanks to the XPRIZE video contest!

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This blog post is brought to you by Shell, our Exploration Prize Group sponsor.

Making Milestones to the Moon

XPRIZE   |   November 11, 2013    5:09 PM ET

2013-10-01-Diamandis.jpg By Alexandra Hall
Alexandra Hall, Senior Director, Google Lunar XPRIZE

The last decade has seen XPRIZE build upon the success of its first competition, the Ansari XPRIZE, which awarded $10 million for the first private suborbital spaceflight. Since then we have launched and awarded several competitions, learning a great deal about what makes for optimum prize design. We've learned that success is more likely if we continue to keep our eye on the entire ecosystem surrounding a prize, and stay flexible in addressing significant challenges to that ecosystem that may arise.


Case in point: In 2007 we launched the largest incentivized competition to date - the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. The concept was easy to explain: land on the Moon, move 500 meters and send back video, images and data. These requirements were designed to demonstrate the minimum useful capabilities a spacecraft would need for future uses in space exploration and scientific research.

Thirty teams signed up for this audacious challenge by the close of registration in 2010 -- three times as many as the initial concept study had suggested. Going back to the Moon had clearly struck a chord!

And this month, XPRIZE and Google announced a series of Milestone Prizes available to competing teams.

Why the Milestone Prizes, and why now?

We're keeping our eye on the ecosystem. Given the large investment needed to send a robot to the Moon, two elements of the Google Lunar XPRIZE ecosystem are critical: potential customers for the technology developed by teams, and investors to help create the businesses to leverage those markets. In both of these areas, much has changed since the Google Lunar XPRIZE was launched. The global economic downturn has reduced an already small pool of investors who are willing to take risks on pioneering new markets. This same downturn has also stagnated or reduced the budgets that governments -- usually an early future customer -- are willing to spend in space exploration.

So two years ago, XPRIZE began a dialogue with teams to better understand the challenges that they were facing and to determine what steps we might take to better nurture and support this prize ecosystem. As a result, we determined that we needed to find a way to recognize and support the teams that were making substantial technical progress toward the requirements of the competition.

And the concept of these Milestone Prizes was born.

Recognizing and rewarding these milestones will not only help the competing teams by allowing them to access financing at a critical point in their mission timeline, but it will also raise public excitement and support for the teams.

The milestones themselves contain certain developmental benchmarks for flight-ready hardware that teams must pass in order to meet the mission requirements and be ready to launch by the deadline of Dec. 31, 2015. These benchmarks require a showing (via actual testing and analysis) of robust hardware and software that will combat key technical risks in the areas of imaging, mobility and lander systems -- all three being necessary to achieve a successful Google Lunar XPRIZE mission.

If a team successfully accomplishes certain tasks within a proposed timeframe, it will win a Milestone Prize. The amounts are $250,000 for the Imaging Subsystem Milestone Prize (for up to 4 teams), $500,000 for the Mobility Subsystem Milestone Prize (for up to 4 teams), and $1 million for the Lander System Milestone Prize (for up to 3 teams), for a total purse of $6 million. The Milestone Prizes can be won through the end of September 2014.

We feel that 2014 could be a very exciting year for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, as these Milestone Prizes potentially recognize the significant achievements of our teams at several stages of the competition. While we cannot fix the global economic downturn, we can at least highlight the ways in which our teams are bringing us closer to a new, rewarding era of private lunar exploration. In short, taking us back to the Moon, for good.

Visit XPRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

This blog post is brought to you by Shell, our Exploration Prize Group sponsor.

Should Graduates Sell Their Souls To Goldman Or Save The World At Google?

XPRIZE   |   November 6, 2013    2:16 PM ET

Vivek.jpgBy Vivek Wadhwa and Robert J. Shiller
Vivek Wadhwa is the Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.
Robert J. Shiller is a Sterling Professor of Economics Yale University.

"When you study finance, you are studying how to make things happen, on a big scale, on a lasting scale...and that has to matter more than getting into Google and programming some little gimmick", said Robert Shiller in our debate at The Economist's Buttonwood Gathering on October 30 in New York City. Shiller argued that financial innovation is just as important as the innovation that Silicon Valley creates and that without finance we would not have an economy--or a technology industry.

Needless to say, I didn't agree.

When I was invited to represent the tech industry at the event, I thought that this position was a no-brainer. After all, how could anyone in his right mind argue that our best and brightest should go into finance and sell their souls to none other than Goldman Sachs--which played a major role in the recent financial meltdown? But then I learned that I would be debating a newly minted Nobel Laureate--the person who has long been warning about asset bubbles and the financial industry's ills. Robert Shiller is no shill for the finance industry; he is one of the most respected and credible economists in the world.

So I lost a lot of sleep in preparing for the event.

In the debate, I argued that collateralized debt obligations, credit-default swaps, and structured investment vehicles were the greatest innovations created by the financial industry in recent times--and that what these got us were subprime loans, the housing bubble, and the financial crisis. And, with high-frequency trading and other technology gimmicks that investment banks are increasingly using to skim money off the top of stock-trading systems, it is no wonder that investment bankers are called the modern-day robber barons.

On the other hand, look at what the technology industry--and Google--have brought us. We now have an ocean of knowledge freely available to us that we can search. We can watch videos of lectures by today's leading thinkers; connect via e-mail and social media with anyone, anywhere; work anywhere; and crowdsource solutions to problems. With the apps on our smartphones, we can transact commerce, perform medical tests, and find directions to where we want to go to. Soon, self-driving cars such as Google's will revolutionize transportation by allowing us to be productive while we commute; they will eliminate traffic jams and accidents; we won't need parking spots, because these cars can drop us where we want to go to and come back when we're ready; and we won't need traffic signals or speed limits. Technologies such as Google Loon will provide ultra-fast Internet connectivity everywhere we go. Advances in 3D printing will revolutionize manufacturing. Sensor-based apps will help us monitor and improve our health. Water-sanitization technologies will provide the world with abundant clean water.

Shiller argued that without financial innovation, none of these breakthroughs would be possible. He claimed that Google was no different from an investment bank, because it was buying companies and bankrolling their developments. He said that we can afford to live in houses because of a financial innovation called the mortgage, and that the insurance industry--another financial innovation--softens the blow of natural disasters. "Every human activity that matters has to be financed", he said.

Shiller's comments about Google's being like an investment bank and programming "little gimmicks" showed me that he doesn't fully understand what Google and the technology industry do. He also doesn't realize the power of digital currencies such as Paypal; the impact that crowdfunding will soon make; and that the cost of creating technologies is dropping exponentially--causing venture capital and finance to play now a smaller role in innovation than ever before.

During our meeting before the debate, I got to know Shiller. I developed a deep respect and admiration for his intellect and values. Yet debate co-moderator Greg Ferenstein and I had to give Shiller a crash course in social media and show him how to use Twitter. So I don't blame him for not getting it.

By the time we were done, Shiller did concede the importance of the tech industry. He said, "We need more engineers than we need finance people". But then he added, "We need finance people to provide the resources for them to do these things... It's not a choice between Google and Goldman; we need both".

Shiller's key argument was that that "Young graduates with a moral purpose and interest in the financial world should join Goldman". That, he is right about. What is often missing from the finance industry is a "moral purpose". This is what led to the asset bubbles and is why we see so much corruption on Wall Street; this is what we need to fix. So maybe a few graduates--but a few who have a moral purpose--should join Goldman.

But I don't think that Goldman and other investment banks should continue to get yet another free ride on the backs of taxpayers and society. They should pay a tax for the subsidies that go into public education--perhaps $200,000 for every engineering or science graduate they hire from American colleges. With the billions they skim from our financial system, they can surely afford that.

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This material published courtesy of Singularity University.

A New Age of Ocean Exploration May Just Save Us

XPRIZE   |   October 24, 2013    2:54 PM ET

2013-10-01-Diamandis.jpg By Dr. Peter H. Diamandis
Dr. Peter H. Diamandis is the Chairman & CEO of XPRIZE

A renewed golden age of exploration in the 21st century might just be the key to a healthy and valued planet. Although we've already ignited unprecedented advances into space, there is still so much of our planet left unexplored. For starters, we know remarkably little about the ocean covering the majority of our planet's surface: almost 95% of our ocean remains undiscovered. The time is right to reignite the discovery of new places and new knowledge here on Earth, as individuals are now empowered more than ever to do what was only possible by governments and large corporations.


Before humans explored frontiers beyond our atmosphere, they sought out frontiers here on our own planet. And the history of ocean exploration is one that reminds us that we have always longed to explore the unknown, and that innovative and ambitious explorers will push those horizons no matter what. Yet with reduced government spending, especially in comparison to space exploration, and the fact that the ocean is not owned by one specific entity, there is a void. What will catalyze ocean exploration? Who will steward the ocean and dive to its depths to uncover its mysteries?

There was a long-held notion that audacious exploration needed primary support from the government. When we launched the Ansari XPRIZE in 1996, many scoffed at the idea that private citizens, using private financing, could build innovative spacecraft that successfully launch into space. Their response to what we were attempting to achieve often makes me think of a quote, "Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not." — George Bernard Shaw. Our proof is the new market that developed with the Ansari XPRIZE; private space transport is now a $1.5 billion industry. It's clear that exploration in the 21st century is not just for government-supported programs anymore.

We must remember that for most of human history, exploration was driven primarily by private industry. It wasn't until the mid-20th century that most research and development was funded directly by large governmental grant programs. Even famous government-sponsored ocean explorations provide a history lesson we can use to ignite this new Age of Exploration. Consider the journeys of Christopher Columbus. Long before state sponsorship from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Columbus secured most of his financial backing from diverse private sources.

Which is why XPRIZE is in a unique position to not only galvanize the community of ocean innovators but also thought leaders, government agencies, industry, philanthropists and advocates in service of a bold vision for the future of the ocean, one that is healthy, valued, and understood. This is really just a return to previous patterns of success rather than a huge shift in how exploration is conducted.

With the challenges we currently face, environmentally and economically, we cannot leave exploration of our blue planet up to governments alone. Instead, quite the opposite: We need to crowdsource innovators from around the globe to take up the charge of discovering the secrets our ocean holds, while working to preserve it.

Consider the challenges facing the ocean: carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere has made the ocean 30% more acidic than it was just 200 years ago, with devastating consequences for corals, mollusks, fish, and entire ecosystems. Pollution from plastics to fertilizers creates massive "dead zones" and swirling gyres of garbage that further sicken the seas upon which the health of the planet depends. Unabated overfishing has shown that 90% of the big fish in the sea are now gone.

How can we turn back this tide of challenges affecting the health of our ocean unless we first value the ocean? And valuing it means not just taking a personal interest, but taking the time to understand the challenges and creating real incentives, particularly financial incentives, behind the sustainable use of our ocean.

By building industries that have a vested interest in the ocean, we stand a much better chance of protecting the health of the planet. This is the model of XPRIZE: to catalyze industries that not only build economies based on new frontiers, but industries that become the leaders in serving humanity's needs now and in the future.

There is a very real opportunity with our ocean to build these industries. Because they remain unexplored, there is tremendous value still ready to be discovered. Indeed, the opportunities for things like pharmaceuticals from deep-sea creatures bring us new biochemical discoveries from nearly every deep-sea mission. And with an estimated 91% of sea life still unknown, this gives us a literal ocean of opportunity to discover more.

By properly measuring and documenting the chemical and physical characteristics of our seas, we can initiate whole new industries in ocean services - the type of data-driven information and forecasting that can be used by every company dependent on the ocean, from tourism to trade to weather services.

I believe now is the critical time to ignite a new age of ocean exploration. At XPRIZE we recently launched our second ocean prize, the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE, to spur development of breakthroughs in pH measuring tools that explore the chemistry of our seas. And we are, for the first time, committing to launch three additional ocean prizes by 2020. Because we trust that by harnessing the power of innovation, and the dreams of explorers around the world, valuable new discoveries can help us achieve a healthy ocean.

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Enabling Sensing Devices in Your Hand, Not in the Lab

XPRIZE   |   October 9, 2013    4:50 PM ET

2013-10-09-Henry_Tirri_headshot.JPG By Henry Tirri
Henry Tirri is the Nokia Executive Vice President and CTO.

Access to health care is a fundamental right of people everywhere, and fulfilling this basic need is critical to creating stronger communities and helping everyone enjoy the same quality of life and reach their full potential. Mobile computing is opening the doors to vital information and services that have been tragically out of reach for many people, but our work is just beginning.

Enabling mobility for billions of people around the world, and helping them make sense of their health, thus has the potential to improve lives at unprecedented scales. We know that we can achieve this goal by working cooperatively with industry, science and medicine, and entrepreneurial innovators like the teams competing in the $2.25 million Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE.

We're tremendously excited to be partnering with XPRIZE for this competition, which is proving to be a vital spark in catalyzing this health care revolution. And after meeting with the all the finalists at last week's Challenge #1 awards ceremony, we couldn't be more thrilled with the results of the first competition.


Congratulations to the Nanobiosym Health RADAR team on its $525,000 Grand Prize award. Its device enables diagnostic testing in the palm of your hand, unlike today's technology that requires a full diagnostic laboratory. A drop of blood or saliva is placed on a nanochip and inserted into a mobile device. The user selects a particular disease strain from the software interface and then pushes the start button to begin. The device detects the presence (or absence) of that disease's pathogen in real-time, with gold standard accuracy.

Five $120,000 Distinguished Award winners also demonstrated game-changing technology. Alphabetically, they are:

  • Elfi-Tech - Using advanced optics in a device smaller than a penny, Team Elfi-Tech's device non-invasively measures skin blood flow, velocity, coagulation and vascular health.
  • InSilixa - Using blood, saliva or urine, Team InSilixa created a single CMOS chip that analyzes proteins and nucleic acids to detect diseases and health status.
  • MoboSens - Water and biofluids can be analyzed rapidly with Team MoboSens' smartphone-based sensor that reports on the presence of chemical contaminants and bacteria.
  • Owlstone - Using a "digital nose" sensor, Team Owlstone can detect the presence of chemicals in concentrations down to parts per trillion that identify disease from a user's breath or body fluids.
  • Silicon BioDevices - Using blood drawn from a small finger stick, Team Silicon BioDevices' sensor diagnoses and transmits results to mobile devices or electronic medical record (EMR) systems.

As you can see, the results not only demonstrate the opportunity we have to apply advanced technologies like sensors, new materials and cloud computing to have a meaningful impact around the world, but also showcase the immense talent and imagination of the participants.

We can't wait to see the ideas and innovations coming in the next round of the competition (Challenge #2 registration is open until February 12, 2014). We're excited to continue exploring new opportunities to better lives through advanced research and development in areas such as sensing and material technologies, web and cloud technologies and connectivity.

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Who knew that blood, sweat and tears could start a health care revolution?

XPRIZE   |   October 1, 2013    1:56 PM ET

2013-10-01-Diamandis.jpg By Dr. Peter H. Diamandis
Dr. Peter H. Diamandis is the Chairman & CEO of XPRIZE

The staid world of diagnostic testing is about to undergo a major disruption with huge advances in sensors and sensing technologies that live in or on our bodies, within our homes and offices, and even within our computers and networks.

Today we're witnessing a massive shift in who will collect and control diagnostic and other health information. For the first time, as people and patients, we will have control over what we measure, when we measure it, and who has access to our personal data. This is made possible by a new generation of revolutionary biosensors that contain the power of clinical lab instruments in packages that are light, small, wireless and highly efficient.


This is a new world of sensors: they can be body-attached, monitor our immediate personal environment, or even work as pure software apps that extrapolate data from our health records. Using simple, non-invasive methods to take samples of tiny amounts of blood, traces of skin tissue, breath droplets or an image of the inner eye are just some of the new methods emerging. It is exciting to consider that several of these multifunctional sensors, working in concert with powerful mobile handhelds, offer us extraordinary data collection and diagnostic tool sets that will put us in touch with our health in ways never imagined before.

These advances in health sensing, available any time and anywhere, are game changing. A continuous stream of personalized health data will transform how doctors interact with their patients to address and solve health challenges. More importantly, it puts patients at the center of the care process. Personalized data means that specific therapies or drugs will be more effectively delivered and controlled, allowing doctors to fine-tune treatments and watch incremental physiological changes as they occur. This technology will also disrupt the clinical diagnostics business by moving testing from specialized (and expensive) labs to pharmacies and then ultimately to our homes.

Sensors can keep people healthier and reduce emergency room visits - they can anticipate a health problem before it becomes a crisis that demands emergency care. Emergency room admissions are one of the single biggest cost drivers in health care services in North America. Sensors can dramatically impact those costs as part of a health care early warning system.

Vinod Khosla, founding CEO of Sun Microsystems and whose passion is the intersection of technology and medicine, recently commented that "in the next 10 years, data science and software will do more for medicine than all of the biological sciences together." Much has been said about how big data analytics will revolutionize health care, but where will all that the data come from? How do we qualify it and aggregate it for analytical processing?

It's not hard to imagine that health data, in an anonymized form, will become available on the cloud for medical research. Imagine the advances we could achieve by analyzing the health patterns of millions of people that are grouped by their specific conditions, treatments and perhaps even their genomes. This big data approach to health care is widely predicted, and its impact will be enormous. "The area I'm most excited about is the kind of technology, together with sensors and wearables, changing the practice of health care," Vinod noted in a recent interview at TechCrunch Disrupt SF. I could not agree more!

That is why we embarked on the $2.25 million Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE, consisting of two consecutive competitions to advance innovative sensing technologies that capture meaningful data about a consumer's health and surrounding environment. With this competition, XPRIZE opens the door to a new generation of clinical-grade health sensors that enables an overdue revolution in health care.

This week at the Health 2.0 Fall Conference, XPRIZE will be announcing the winners of the first competition. Registration for the second competition is open through February 2014 at
We hope that you will follow the Challenge and join us in this amazing journey to "Make Sense of Your Health."

Visit XPRIZE at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and get our Newsletter to stay informed.

Exponential Health Technology Bringing Personal "Check Engine Lights"

XPRIZE   |   September 25, 2013    5:27 PM ET

2013-09-25-Kraftheadshot.jpg By Daniel Kraft, M.D.
Daniel Kraft is a Stanford and Harvard-trained physician-scientist, inventor, entrepreneur and innovator. He is currently Executive Director of FutureMed, Medicine Track Chair of Singularity University, Founder and CEO of IntelliMedicine, and Scientific Advisory Board member for the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE.

It sometimes seems that the world is speeding up, and it's often hard to remember how quickly things are changing in our everyday lives. The relatively slow, expensive technologies of the 1970s and 80s are now essentially 'free' features that have dissolved into our exponentially more powerful devices. GPS with navigation directions, video and still cameras, online encyclopedias and the like would have separately cost over $500K 20-30 years ago. As inventor, futurist and Singularity University co-founder Ray Kurzweil likes to point out, a kid in Africa with a smartphone today has more access to information than the U.S. president did 15 years ago.

I recently found (via Twitter) this delightful and insightful story about a couple, both born in 1986, who have two young children. The couple, inspired by their son's propensity to play on an iPad instead of outside on a nice day, have chosen to revert their life to 1986 levels of technology. No cell phones, no Google, no email, no tweets, no SMS.... So now they read books, develop rolls of film, and look things up in Encyclopedia Britannica. Watching this family, we might wonder how we got through the day and communicated and coordinated with our friends and family. But we don't need to go back 27 years; even the changes in the last decade have been breathtaking, and have disrupted many businesses and ways of life (for better or worse). When was the last time you went to a travel agent, visited a physical bank, drove to pick up a VHS or DVD rental?

While much of our world has changed, many elements of our healthcare system seem stuck in the 1980s or before. Most important medical information is sent by FAX machine. Data is often siloed between clinics and hospitals down the street from each other. Blood pressures and blood glucose values are scribbled down in notebooks and rarely if it all shared with the patient's clinicians. Appointments are often difficulty to obtain, and sourced through multiple choice phone systems. And hard to decipher prescriptions are hand carried to pharmacies. Waiting rooms are still, well, waiting rooms, replete with old magazines and #2 pencil forms asking the same questions about allergies and addresses to be filled out ad infinitum.

But all of this - how we define and experience healthcare and the practice of medicine - is on the cusp of major change. In a decade from now it will look as quaint as the family living with 1986 technology. Indeed, this year, Electronic Medical Records finally surpassed the 50% mark in hospitals and many clinics.... Increasingly, physicians are able to email their patients, which can often help avoid problems or clarify treatment paths.... Walk into an Apple Store or a Best Buy and you will find 25+ 'connected health' type devices, which can measure everything from how many steps you take and stairs you climb to your weight, blood pressure, and even blood sugar and posture.... Smart phones (especially with the new capabilities in the iPhone 5S) are the supercomputers in our pockets (or increasingly on our wrists) with a billion times the performance/price ratio of an early 1970s machine. Smart mobile devices are increasingly becoming a dashboard for our health, whether that means tracking our exercise, diet, or medicine compliance, or phone cases that can capture and transmit your critical bio-data.


At FutureMed, a program I run out of Singularity University, we look at the trajectory of fast-moving technologies and how they can be leveraged, especially at their convergence to improve health and medicine. Health data companies like those vying for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE have emerged out of FutureMed, and are creating connected, smart and networked devices that will change how we manage home diagnosis, triage, and communications with our clinicians. Smart, cheaper and point-of-care sensors, such as those being developed for the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE, will further enable the 'Digital Checkup' from anywhere. The world of 'Quantified Self' and 'Quantified Health' will lead to a new generation of wearable technologies partnered with Artificial Intelligence that will help decipher and make this information actionable.

And this 'actionability' is key. We hear the term Big Data used in various contexts; when applied to health information it will likely be the smart integration of massive data sets from the 'Internet of things' with the small data about your activity, mood, and other information. When properly filtered, this data set can give insights on a macro level - population health - and micro - 'OnStar for the Body' with a personalized 'check engine light' to help identify individual problems before they further develop into expensive, difficult-to-treat or fatal conditions.

Bringing these disparate, fast-moving and often convergent technologies together to reshape the future of healthcare certainly has challenges, not the least of which are those from the regulatory and reimbursement worlds. But with some imagination and the desire to address challenges with many of the seemingly magical technologies increasingly at our disposal, we have the opportunity to dramatically shift healthcare from the VHS tape era into the 21st century.

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Billionaire's Failed Education Experiment Proves There's No Shortcut To Success

XPRIZE   |   September 13, 2013    1:30 PM ET

Vivek.jpgBy Vivek Wadhwa
Vice President of Academics and Innovation, Singularity University.


Frustrated that Silicon Valley's entrepreneurs "were not on focused on breakthrough technologies that will take civilization to the next level", Peter Thiel announced the Thiel Fellowship in September 2010. He paid children $100,000 not to complete their college education. His plan was to have them build world-changing companies instead of wasting their time at school and being burdened by "incredible amounts of debt".

In an article that I wrote when I first heard about this, I pleaded, "Friends don't let friends take education advice from Peter Thiel". The best path to success is not to drop out of college, but to complete it, I argued. Stanford Engineering Dean Jim Plummer said he expected that "Thiel's experiment will increase the probability of success for the students he selects because of the mentoring and the financial help they will receive".

Indeed, with all the connections and hand-holding that they receive, Plummer and I had both expected that the Thiel Fellows would achieve success exceeding that of other Stanford engineering graduates and dropouts--and of those who joined incubators such as Y-Combinator and TechStars. We thought that because the deck was stacked, there would be many wildly successful Thiel startups--"the extreme examples that we would look at in amazement".

But three years later, there don't seem to be any Thiel startups to be amazed at. The few successes lauded seem to be a mirage--or just plain silly. After all, is a "caffeine spray", which Thiel Fellow Ben Yu developed with venture capitalist Deven Soni, a world-changing innovation that will "take civilization to the next level"? I don't think so.

The best-known Thiel Fellow is Dale Stephens. What's his greatest achievement? It's that he got a book deal to talk about what he achieved by dropping out of school: getting a book deal. Stephens may have gained fame and fortune by persuading other children not to go to school, but it does not better the world.

The much hyped first exit of a Thiel company was the acquisition of GigLocator. This service was founded by James Proud, who supposedly sold it for a six-figure sum. GigLocator aggregated information about artists and the venues they play at. But is this any different from the simplistic Silicon Valley startups that Peter Thiel complains about? And on what basis does a company that was started in 2008--three years before Proud joined--represent a successful Thiel Foundation exit?

And then there was the disastrous Airy Labs. According to TechCrunch, it wasn't Thiel Fellow Andrew Hsu who ran the company--it was his father, mother, and brother. No surprise. How can a child with no basic education and no business experience be expected to manage 20 employees and millions of dollars?

That's not to say that there aren't a few interesting startups listed on the Thiel Foundation's website. SunSaluter, founded by Eden Full, built a prototype of a device that rotates solar panels to follow the sun. Paul Gu is credited with co-founding a website,, to help people crowd-fund their education or business--in return for a percentage of their future earnings or revenue. (Ironically, this values a person more highly for better education and pedigree.) And Laura Deming was lauded for working on the development of a cure for ageing.

But Eden Full is back at Princeton pursuing a Mechanical Engineering degree (she said to me by email that others are still working on her product). It turns out that Paul Gu didn't come up with the idea for Upstart but joined some ex-Google executives who had. And Laura Deming abandoned her research to instead become a venture capitalist.

There may be some great Thiel startups that I don't know about, in stealth mode. There certainly are a few still working on great things. And it may well be that some Thiel Fellows achieve success on their second or third attempts. I certainly hope that that is the case and that we get some world-changing innovations.

But it is certain that the survival rates of Thiel startups pale in comparison with those emerging from Y-Combinator and TechStars--both of which provide hand-holding and mentorship as the Thiel program does. Of the 129 companies that TechStars (which publishes its success rates), for instance, has accepted over the past three years--in the same timeframe as Thiel-- 98% are still in operation, and 69% were able to raise venture capital. Yes, we are comparing adults with teen college-dropouts, and that isn't a fair comparison. But wasn't the point that Peter Thiel was trying to make that he could incubate his own Mark Zuckerbergs by saving children from the tyranny of college?

Three years is a long time in the technology world, and there should have been several notable successes from the batches of 20-24 students that the Thiel Foundation admitted. If Thiel had delivered what he promised, these startups should have all been in the category of "world-changing"--and vast majority should still exist.

The reality is that a bachelors degree is an important foundation for success for most entrepreneurs. Yes, a few, such as Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Gates were able to achieve success after dropping out. But they surrounded themselves with very competent adults--and they were very lucky. All three have extolled the virtues of education and encouraged children to finish college. And their companies rarely hire college dropouts.

One good question that Peter Thiel often raises is whether you need to learn the things they teach you in college. My dean at Duke University, Tom Katsouleas, has a great answer. He tells the story of a high-school teacher who was confronted with the same question from his students: "Why do we need to learn this?" The teacher replied, "You don't. You need to learn to ask just one question." The piqued students implored him to tell what that was. His answer: "Would you like fries with that?"

Sadly, for the vast majority of college dropouts, the opportunities are sparse. They won't earn nearly as much as their friends who had the perseverance to finish what they had started. And if they do become entrepreneurs, the companies they start will be far less successful than those started by degree holders.

After three years, Peter Thiel's experiment is beginning to prove that there are no shortcuts to success.

Let me suggest an alternative experiment to Thiel: fund disadvantaged kids from non-elite schools Thiel Fellows such as Eden Full rave about the experience they had in the program. For them this is a nice detour from their courses at elite universities. They can always go back to Princeton and Harvard without having lost anything. Why not give the same opportunity to children who have no such opportunities? Brilliant but poor children for whom the experience of hanging out with Venture Capitalists and industry moguls in Silicon Valley could indeed be life changing. Or better still, provide these children with scholarships so that they can complete their higher education and then fund their startups. I expect that this will have a far greater impact and will motivate many others to think big and help solve the world's problems.

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This material published courtesy of Singularity University.