A long and grueling competition was finally settled today as the X-Prize foundation split a $10 million purse between three teams out of 111 competing to create a safe and effective 100MPGe car. The competition has been in full swing for the last few months, as an increasing number of vehicles have been eliminated from the running for any number of reasons. The final three have been judged to excel in maneuverability, cost-effectiveness, and other important categories, while maintaining at least a 100MPGe fuel economy rate.
The overall winner was the entry from Edison2, whose owner notes that the car took over 100 people, and more than their $5m share of the prize, to develop. Critically to this kind of competition, though, any team was allowed to compete regardless of pedigree or funding, and the industry has likely been watching the proceedings closely, keeping an eye out for tiny companies or teams with potential.
One of those companies, I would like to add as a personal note, was one composed mostly of students from Western Washington University and led in part by my step-brother, Eric Leonhardt. Their Viking 45 gas-electric hybrid (second row, on the right above) made it all the way to the finals. I just wanted to congratulate the WWU team and teams like it; this is a fantastic application of public money and of students’ time.
The X-Prize Foundation did videos of many of the teams; here are WWU’s and Edison2’s:
If the 100MPG target seems a little low to you (as it does to me), that’s because it’s intentionally so. Some of the cars in the competition were averaging much higher than that, but the point of the competition wasn’t efficiency but effectiveness and efficiency. Hence real highway acceleration tests, safety and handling evaluation, and so on. Perhaps the next prize will raise the bar, but the amount of innovation created by this competition over the last few years (the teams were given 30 months to develop and build their vehicle) shows that there’s a lot to improve no matter what area you focus on.
To me, this whole competition (and others like it) strike me as just a phenomenally efficient method of driving innovation — real innovation, not the stuff PR people talk about. When the underpinnings of an industry are threatened by progress, it makes sense to look outside that industry for inspiration. These teams were guided by a desire to make something amazing; the prize was just a cherry on top. The car industry is crippled by inertia, and events like this are a great way of getting the lead out.