Competition Spurs Innovation

Competition spurs innovation like nothing else. It appears that a new golden age of engineering and science competition is upon us, with substantial monetary prizes going to the victors.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then competition must be the mother of innovation. The motivational power of monetary prizes in engineering competition is well proven, just look at the aerodynamic innovation in Formula 1 racing from 1967-2007 as an example.

Stanley in the 2005 DARPA Grand ChallengeStanley in the 2005 DARPA Grand ChallengeOfficial press photo released by the VW Press Department

In recent times we’ve seen a renaissance in various one-off science and engineering competitions offering substantial prizes. From the private sector we have the Ansari X-Prize, won by Burt Rutan in 2004 with his SpaceShipOne rocket plane, and the recent announcement in February, 2007 by Sir Richard Branson of $25M for anyone who can remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. From the US government we have the DARPA Grand Challenge, won in 2005 by Stanley, the autonomous Volkswagen Touareg from Stanford University. NASA and Northrop Grumman teamed to sponsor the 2006 Lunar Lander Challenge, which attracted one unsuccessful competitor: John Carmack's (of Doom and Quake video game fame) Armadillo Aerospace.

These types of competition are nothing new. Consider the Orteig Prize that Charles Lindbergh won in 1927 by flying solo across the Atlantic. Consider also John Harrison and his innovative clocks to aid mariners determine longitude in his pursuit of a prize offered by the British government in 1714, as told by Dava Sobel in her book Longitude. Let’s hope the winners of our present day prizes reap the rewards they deserve. While John Harrison's H4 clock clearly achieved the winning criteria for determining longitude, he never actually received the prize.

Given the enormity of these engineering challenges it's refreshing to see a large contingent of small companies, hobbyists and students amongst the competitors. Clearly a major obstacle for these competitors is access to engineering simulation software, given that physical testing is a budget buster. Daring to dream, and motivated by the same spirit as these competitors, we offer Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) software through Caedium and its add-ons for those with budgets substantially less than NASA’s!