XPRIZE announces a $10M contest for remotely-controlled robotic avatars

XPRIZE announced today that it’s teaming up with Japanese airline All Nippon Airways on a new $10 million competition.

XPRIZE founder and chairman Peter Diamandis said the ANA team was interested in an XPRIZE around “reinventing travel,” which eventually turned into a prize for developing technology that would actually eliminate the need to physically travel in some situations.

The idea is that instead of jumping on a plane, people could use goggles, ear phones and haptic suit to connect with a humanoid robot somewhere across the globe, and through that robot, interact with people and the environment.

Diamandis said this could be particularly helpful after disasters (he pointed to Fukushima as an example), where experts might have difficulty reaching dangerous or remote locations: “When time is of the essence, you want to be able to transmit senses and motor skills. … We see an extremely powerful future in which you can bring an expert from any place on the planet.”

I also brought up the question of the internet connectivity needed to connect with and control these robots, but Diamandis said that as new 5G infrastructure rolls out, that won’t be an issue.

Teams will be able to register for the competition through October 31 of this year, with awarding of the $8 million grand prize in October 2021 (there will be two $1 million prizes awarded at milestone competitions before that). Diamandis emphasized that XPRIZE is looking for teams from around the world, and that it’s also accepting feedback on the competition guidelines.

And while ANA is sponsoring the prize, Diamandis said the winning team will retain control of its intellectual property. For the airline, the benefit is to get a “front row seat” to the development of this new technology.

“It’s very rare for a company in any place on the planet to ask the question: How could our industry get disrupted?” Diamandis said. “It’s one of the most advanced, mature forms of thinking.”