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Incentive for All: NASA Shows Us the Sky is the Limit in Crowdsourcing

NASA anticipates over 10 million aircraft traveling through American airspace daily within the next 20 years, as one possible future. In the pursuit of a clean-slate, revolutionary design for how sky traffic will be managed, NASA has organized the Sky for All Challenge using the HeroX platform. I am a pilot myself and I look forward to the new developments in aviation technology.

Today’s air traffic control (ATC) system is cumbersome, outdated, and will benefit greatly from autonomy. Just as an example, when ATC radios my instructions, I need to write them down, repeat the instructions back to ATC, word for word. If I don’t restate the instructions precisely, we go thru the process again. Then I need to manually and accurately input the settings into the airplane’s avionics.


Visualization of current air traffic congestion.

This entire system is full of protocols that are about as old as air travel itself. In the future, safety measures will simply have ATC upload the instructions directly into my plane’s avionics. As our skies begin to fill with automated flying systems, this approach to efficiency and safety is the only way we can manage the upcoming proliferation of sky traffic, piloted and automated. Over the next couple of decades, the number of airborne systems, both human-piloted and autonomous drones will increase airborne traffic 10x to 100x. We’ll have drones mapping crops and construction sites and delivering packages, and larger drones providing autonomous point-to-point passenger traffic. The only way ATC is going to handle such an increase in air traffic will be to take humans out of the loop and use Artificial Intelligence to control the volume of and optimize safety for all involved. That’s part of why I’m so excited that NASA has chosen to run an incentive competition with HeroX to figure out how to re-invent ATC before the problem has even started.

HeroX is a platform that empowers and assists organizations, companies, and individuals in the design, funding, and promotion of incentive prize competitions -- something that certainly didn't exist when I launched the first XPRIZE competition (the $10M Ansari XPRIZE for Space Flight some 20 years ago.) There were a number of historical precedents that inspired me; the Orteig Prize, the Kremer Prize, and the Longitude Prize, among others.

In the two decades since, both incentive prizes and space flight have become increasingly part of the public sphere. Burt Rutan and Paul Allen and their XPRIZE winning vehicle SpaceShipOne, ignited a renewed passion for private spaceflight industry, while at the same time, NASA implemented the incentive prize format with their Centennial Challenges program. The launch of HeroX itself was the result of a surge of people inspired to conduct their own XPRIZEs of regional significance to them; and as we've continued to demonstrate this process, as well as the power of incentive prizes, the demand has grown rapidly.

Today, in a world of Kickstarter campaigns and unprecedented connectivity, the power of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding has gained enough recognition to become part of public consciousness. It works, and it allows almost anyone to make a difference. Any person with Internet access can now launch an incentive prize competition that will have global reach, and could potentially transform an industry. This is the reason that Christian Cotichini (CEO) and I started HeroX as a spin-off of XPRIZE two years ago. Sky For Allis just the beginning.

Top image credit: Corto Maltese
Second image credit: WikiMedia Commons

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