Posts Tagged ‘engineering challenge’

Engineer, inspire thyself: Oil Cleanup XChallenge announced!

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Preface: This blog is brought with passion both for the oil clean up, and the summer of blog, my effort to blog severally and variously across my websites in Summer 2010!

While politicians rushed to capitalize on the BP oil spill, someone finally decided to do something practical about it. After the BP oil spill, when everyone was merrily (they were almost celebrating the disaster as a media opportunity), reporting about how it was bigger than the Valdez spill of 1989.

All the time, one was left to wonder why no one brought up the fact that for 21 years, practically nothing was done to prepare for future oil spills. As BP and the Government scrambled to find solutions, it looked like things were only going to get worse and that was about all that was to be expected…

Along came the “Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge”! Finally, someone is belling the cat – rather enabling you to do so, for a whopping $1 million USD!

X Challenge and the XPrize Foundation The XPrize foundation is a non-profit organization, billing itself as an educational organization motivated to provide radical breakthroughs. From space to oil spills, I should say they have had an amazing propensity to push for radical breakthroughs.

In the improbable likelihood that this is the first time you are hearing about them, take a peek:

The X Challenge for oil clean up will go from August 2010 through August 2011, and the project that can demonstrate most effectiveness in cleaning up spills will take home $1 million USD. The second and thrid prizes are not too shabby either!

Clean up Brainstorm

Ideas, though dime a dozen, have been aplenty for the oil cleanup. There have been ideas for unique skimmers, using human hair and many many other ideas that a quick internet search can throw up. Many of these ideas are worth a second look,and I am sure you can come up with several ideas yourself!

Yet, as even a mediocre engineer would recognize, you can’t simply shoot from the hip unless you are in a choreographed “Gun Smoke” or “Bonanza”. In real life, great ideas need to be “reduced to practice”, that is, great implementation through trial and error, prototyping and such. Keep those ideas coming, keep noting them down and more importantly, keep thinking about how you would go about implementing them.

Team work is key

Ideas also do not occur in vacuum. Edison might impress you otherwise, but he has been known to routinely steal ideas (not bad, if not done with vengeance). This is why I like the XPrize and the associated challenges. They inherently promote teamwork. Do not underestimate the amount of effort, the variation in thought and the exercise in building such a challenge would take.

This is why you should look to put together a great team. You will need designers, engineers, artists, physicists, and of course, more importantly chemists to start with..

Each thought has it’s own roots – a physicist, at least the classic one, will talk about the differences in density for oil and water. A great civil/water engineer will tell you about the possibilities to distill and/or use techniques such as reverse osmosis. A designer will get you grounded on scale, an artist will remind you to build something effective, and simultaneously appealing.

Looking beyond the contest

When you think of your team for the oil clean up challenge, I want you to explore the possibility that you may not be among the top 3. No, I am not being the pessimist you think I am – as an entrepreneur, I have always thought there is a need for at least a rudimentary form of pragmatism. Just rudimentary will do, I know :).

Think about recruiting at least one or two folks who might think about commercializing your ideas, filing the IP and such. The contest’s point is not to serve simply as a boost for the winners. As a somewhat successful and unsuccessful alum of many business plan contests, I can say with certainty that, you most definitely should get in the habit of looking past these contests.

Going on the record

Since I am posting on the challenge, I thought I would go on the record about my own willingness to participate in the contest. I have always thought about the XPRIZE contests and I have wanted to be part of at least one of the teams. But, I have always found myself busy, and now find myself much busier than I have always been.

However, if you come across this blog and are looking for someone who can help you out, I bring with me the following skills – previous participation in business plan contests, great ability to facilitate successful brainstorming sessions, intellectual property creation, business planning, strategy, mechanical engineering design, CAD and design analysis and great amounts of energy in general. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you could use any of my skills.

I wish you great success in your efforts as you go through the Oil Cleanup X Challenge!


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