X Prize chief tells Abu Dhabi Crown Prince majlis how group helps to inspire innovation
ABU DHABI // The entrepreneur who helped bring about the world's first private manned spaceflight was guest speaker at the Crown Prince's majlis tonight.
Dr Peter Diamandis spoke of the remarkable feat at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
As the chairman and chief executive of the X Prize Foundation, he told the audience how he helped bring into being the first non-government piloted spaceship by offering a US$10 million (Dh36.7m) prize to anyone who could build it.
He did not actually have the money when he offered it in 1996, but by September of 2004 the funds had been raised and the winning craft, SpaceShipOne, had blasted off into space 16 times, carrying its pilots more than 100 kilometres from Earth.
"Let me start by talking about what I am passionate about," Dr Diamandis told the majlis. "In the 1960s I was passionate about outer space. The idea that anything is possible."
People were initially sceptical about his idea of trusting engineers to build a reliable spaceship in response to a competition - but it worked. Thousands made up the 26 teams who entered the challenge.
Dr Diamandis said that history had proven repeatedly that incentives "lead to great innovations".
He pointed to the former French leader Napoleon, who after losing men to starvation offered a prize to anyone who could devise a cheap method of preserving food, leading to the invention of canned goods.
The American aviator Charles Lindbergh - one of Dr Diamandis's biggest inspirations - flew from New York to Paris for a $25,000 prize in 1927, proving for the first time that a transatlantic flight was possible.
"He inspired so many people after he crossed," he said. "This set me out to ask questions: where are the world's biggest problems?
"No challenge cannot be solved. It is a magical time to be alive. Anything is possible."
Dr Diamandis expanded the X Prize to seek solutions for other global issues, and today it offers rewards in the fields of exploration, life sciences, energy and environment, and education and global development.
"We are working on developing a hand-held diagnostic device that any mother or father can speak to and have a cough or saliva analysed," Dr Diamandis said. "The diagnosis will be better than that of a board of certified doctors."
So far they have received 300 entries from 37 countries, he said.
"We expect to announce a winner in the next three years," he added.
The organisation's future goal is to hold an X Prize for literacy software that can be used on any phone or tablet, a programme for autism, one for childhood obesity, and a way to mine asteroids for natural resources.
"I think of abundance in my work," Dr Diamandis said. "Earth is a crumb in a supermarket of resources."