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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Singapore's X-Prize

   It seems that some time ago the government of Singapore put its toe in the water over X-Prizes.
Jan 24, 2007


Singapore Tuesday launched a contest to build a robot that can operate autonomously in urban warfare conditions, moving in and out of buildings to search and destroy targets like a human soldier. The country's Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) said on its website it is offering one million Singapore dollars (652,000 US) to the developers of such a robot that completes a stipulated task in the fastest time.

DSTA said individuals, companies, universities and research institutes are welcome to participate in the contest, dubbed TechX Challenge. Foreigners must to collaborate with local partners to join the contest....
The robot DSTA wants "must, on its own, be able to navigate both indoors and outdoors in an urban landscape and accomplish a set of assigned tasks within a stipulated time," he said.
This robot must be able to negotiate a staircase and use the elevator to dash from one floor to another even without the aid of satellite navigation which may not be available indoors.
Designing a robot that would be able to use an elevator, for example, will be a technological challenge, as not all elevators are designed similarly.

    Do tell. $625,000 for what amounts to one of Asimov's positronic robots, except without the aversion to killing looks a bit optimistic to me. Compare this with the US DARPA prize of $3 million for the far simpler task, though still very difficult, of driving, which they admited would have cost $100 million if done by the government.

   Sure enough nobody won.
Six teams, mostly sponsored by local schools and universities, battled all-nighters, malfunctioning cameras and total system failures in a competition that required fairly complex robotic maneuvers--navigating around outdoor obstacles, entering a building, climbing stairs, operating an elevator, touching targets and then returning outside--for a cash prize of about $700,000. But after one too many bots found itself stuck behind a trash can or confused by orange traffic cones before hundreds of fans here this weekend, Singapore's Defense Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) decided to split a smaller purse with about $7000 for each finalist.

    But then nobody else, working on traditional government grants has come close to positronic robots either. Not even come far away from them. And it does seem to have made some advances and engendered considerable interest in technology at a cost of $42 (£26 K).

   This reminds me of the Bigelow prize where this hotel magnate offered a prize of $50 million (1/10th of what Jerry Pournelle said would work and about 1/10,000th of what NASA has spent). He also put it up as a limited time prize which is clearly going to discourage many. In that case the suspicion is that it was put up far more to achieve publicity for his space hotel ideas, than for anybody actually winning.

   I suspect the same applies to the Singapore proposal.

    However they demonstrate that prizes are not magic and to work you must offer between 3% and 1% of what normal government grant giving process would require rather than 0.01% at least we have established an effective range.

   And we have demonstrated that even prizes that don't get won and therefore cost close to nothing still produce an impressive amount of interest and ideas.

    However we all have mixed motivations so it must also be assumed that Singapore at least understand X-Prizes and may do it more seriously next time.

UPDATE
Singapore have announced another $1milion TechX Prize 2013
allow the competing teams to address some of the challenges faced during urban operations. The competition will consist of several challenging tasks which simulate an urban operation scenario. The tasks include outdoor navigation, static and dynamic obstacle avoidance, autonomous staircase climbing, static target detection and engagement, and robotic co-operation (if applicable). Each team shall enter one robot or a team of no more than five robots...


DSTA will award One Million Singapore Dollars (SGD $1,000,000.00) to the Team whose robot(s) achieves the highest score beyond the set threshold, and within the maximum allowable time of 120 minutes.
  This seems much more realistic than the last one. "Address some of the challenges" & "beyond the set threshold" are much more practical than "must on its own be able negotiate a staircase and use the elevator to dash from one floor to another .... a technological challenge, as not all elevators are designed similarly" and a specific definable "threshold" which "will" result in an award is proper.

  Singapore now seems to be dipping most of its foot in the X-Prise paradigm.

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