X Prize Offers £6 Million Bounty for Building Robot Avatars for Humans by 2021

By Sidney Fussell on at

From Power Rangers to Pacific Rim, we’ve always had the same dream: controlling a badass robot and saving the world. Now’s the time.

The X Prize Foundation (stylised as “XPRIZE”) is a nonprofit helmed by Peter Diamandis that funds technological grand challenges. Since the inaugural 1996 competition, challenge themes have included adult literacy, AI, women’s safety, and suborbital spaceflight. Co-sponsored by All Nippon Airways, the newly announced four-year challenge is a $8 million (£6 million) prize for creating human-controlled robot avatars “that will enable us to remotely see, hear, touch and interact with physical environments and other people.”

Diamandis says the time has come for technology to allow people to help each other across long distances. According to the current draft of the competition guidelines, avatars should be able to pick up objects as small as a playing card or as heavy as debris and work perfectly controlled by an operator 100 kilometres (or about 62 miles) away for participants to win the prize.

“Our ability to physically experience another geographic location, or to provide on-the-ground assistance where needed, is limited by cost and the simple availability of time,” said Diamandis in a press release. “The ANA Avatar XPRIZE can enable creation of an audacious alternative that could bypass these limitations allowing us to more rapidly and efficiently distribute skill and hands-on expertise to distant geographic locations where they are needed, bridging the gap between distance, time and cultures.”

A few of the ideas floated by X Prize are incredible. Strap into a suit and help your elderly parents in the garden or with taking a dog for a walk. Alternatively, pitch in with disaster relief thousands of miles away.

Under the current guidelines, submitted bots will be judged based on the five senses. Operators should have full range of vision and depth perception when controlling the avatars. Their voices should be clearly audible to people interacting with the avatars and the operators should be able to hear ambient noises. Applications are also judged based on set up time and how long the robots can operate without a charge. One of the most interesting judging criteria is “touch.” Operators should be able to lift and carry heavy objects distances up to 3 kilometers (or about 1.8 miles), recognise the temperature of the objects they touch, and sensors should tell them where on the avatars they’re being touched.

There are smaller $1 million (£716,000) milestone prizes in April 2020 and April 2021 (winning or losing the smaller prizes doesn’t disqualify teams from the big one), with the $8 million grand prize awarded in October 2021. Register to compete here. [Fast Co]

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