The University Network

XPRIZE Looking For University Groups To Create Robotic Avatar, Win Millions


XPRIZE Foundation is looking for university groups to join its $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE before the September 30 deadline. 

To win the grand prize, teams must create a robotic avatar capable of transporting a human’s “sense, actions, and presence to a remote location in real time.”

Instead of relying on a plane or a car, people could use this technology to “virtually travel” anywhere in the world — to assist in disaster relief, visit family, or even complete an emergency surgery.

For example, through this technology, an expert surgeon in India could put on virtual reality (VR) goggles, a haptic suit and some headphones, and use an avatar to conduct surgery in Paris.

Or, as Peter Diamandis, founder of XPRIZE Foundation, suggested, if a nuclear plant is experiencing a meltdown, an expert could use an avatar to go in and turn the right knobs and shut it down. 

Think of it like Skype or Facetime — but instead of only being able to see and hear, users will also be able to use this technology to touch and interact with their surroundings. 

The competition, which is funded by All Nippon Airways (ANA), is open to anyone. However, typically, teams come from universities, startups or small to mid-sized companies, according to the XPRIZE website

For university groups, or any team, this competition is a great opportunity to create new technology capable of shaping our future. And although ANA is sponsoring the prize, teams will still retain rights to their intellectual property, Diamandis told TechCrunch

University groups can consist of any subset of individuals, but typically, they are led by a professor, said JoJo Bahnam, XPRIZE’s Vice President of Partnerships.

And in past XPRIZE competitions, university teams have seen great success. 

For example, TeamTao, from Newcastle University in the UK, was a finalist in the $7 million Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, in which teams competed to create a device capable of mapping hundreds of miles of sea floor. 

CERT, a team from the University of Toronto, is currently a finalist in the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, in which teams were challenged to find a way to convert CO2 into usable products — things like plastics, concrete, biofuel, animal food, alcohol and more. 

And as one may assume, these competitions are often as tight as a horse race. So, teams that don’t win still gain recognition from the public, industry experts and potential investors. 

For example, Astrobotic — a spinoff of Carnegie Mellon University — bowed out of the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE in 2016, which required teams to land a craft on the moon and send back high-definition imagery, video and data from the landing site and from as far as 500 meters away. However, CMU and Astrobotic were recently recognized and awarded a $5.6 million contract from NASA, so their team could build a rover capable of landing on the moon as soon as 2021.

In reality, XPRIZE offers monetary prizes as a motivator, but the ultimate mission of these competitions is to inspire and develop innovation. 

The idea for the ANA Avatar XPRIZE arose when ANA came to XPRIZE asking: “What might disrupt the airline industry? Can we actually use quantum teleportation to move people from location to location instead of getting into an airplane and flying some place?”

This question sparked the interest of Diamandis, and was soon morphed into the ANA Avatar XPRIZE. But, instead of physical teleportation, XPRIZE scientists suggested focusing on virtual teleportation, a seemingly more achievable feat.  

The winner of the ANA Avatar XPRIZE will not be announced until April 2022. Leading up to then, teams will gradually be knocked out through a series of tests. 

An $8 million Grand Prize will be awarded to the winning team, and up to 20 teams selected to proceed to the final round will share $2 million in prizes.