Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lindbergh vs. Nungesser

There is an article in today's paper about a French historian who believes a French aviator, Charles Nungesser, actually beat Charles Lindbergh in crossing the Atlantic. The attempt took place two weeks before Lindbergh's flight but Nungesser went missing and was presumed to have crashed on the ocean. The historian just uncovered some coast guard records that point to him having crashed on the mainland of the US - thus having beaten Lindberg, even if he died in the process... The reason they were all trying at the same time is that there was a prize of $25,000 (1919 dollars) for the first one to accomplish the crossing.

I mentioned to the boys that prizes such as this one (and the X Prize, the Netflix challenge, Darpa's challenges, etc.) have spurred great innovations. I asked them why they thought that prizes were a good approach. P said that the competitive nature of prizes got people trying really hard. A said that the prize sponsor only had to pay for success, as opposed to taking the risk of funding someone who might fail. I agreed these were key factors and added a third one: a prize of $25K might generate a combined investment by all the participants of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Prize money has a multiplicative effect.

I asked the boys for suggestion on the W Prize. A prize they would compete on which C & I would fund. Nothing viable came out but I think there might be something there...

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