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​Photo fromAir Force Research Laboratory

Air Force Offering Prizes for Ideas

04/14/2011 -The U.S. Air Force Research Lab is asking for problem-solving help from the public and is sweetening the deal by offering cash incentives. The newly launched Open Innovation Pavilion solicits solutions to some tough challenges facing the Air Force. The program is a partnership with the Wright Brothers Institute.

There are four problems the Air Force is looking to solve,according to the White House's Web site:TheDesign and Simulation of an Accurate Shooter-Locator competition challenges innovators to develop a method to detect small arms fire within a fraction of a second and accurately pinpoint its source;TheHumanitarian Air Drop challenge seeks novel ways to drop humanitarian supplies into populated areas without danger of falling debris to the people below;TheVehicle Stopper challenge seeks a viable, sustainable, and affordable means of stopping an uncooperative fleeing vehicle without permanent damage to the vehicle or harm to any of its passengers; andTheRemote Human Demographic Characterization challenge seeks a system that can determine the approximate age and gender of small groups of people at a distance. 

Wired highlights the need for an answer to the fourth challenge:  identifying whether people are men, women, and children, or more specifically, combatants or non-combatants. Wired cites a recent U.S. drone attack on civilians in Afghanistan, a non-dangerous group that included children, as reportedby the Los Angeles Times.  

From Wired:

So if the problem is real, why is the Air Force offering only $20,000 to solve it? Probably because right now it’s a problem that is so hard, the Air Force is just hoping for ideas.

Once it has a few that sound plausible it will take it to the Lockheeds and Northrops and Raytheons of the world to build out. Check back next year and there might be a $1 million challenge or a $10 million challenge — but that might be for a demonstration system a little more complicated than what you can build on your new Commodore 64.

The White House release states that this is only the latest in the Obama administration's efforts to provide prizes to spur innovation.  Among the other programs are NASA's series of science challenges. All of these initiatives can be found