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This Week's Challenge: Stop Cars In Their Tracks, Win $25,000

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OJ police chase

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Last week, we told you about the Connected Vehicle Challenge, a contest sponsored by the Department of Transportation that aims to find creative, useful applications of short range communications technology. The DOT isn't ponying up any money for the six finalists of that challenge, but they're offering winners the chance to pitch their ideas to developers, which could prove lucrative when all's said and done.

Now, there's another challenge we'd like to share -- this one from the Air Force -- and it comes with a cash prize of $25,000. Added bonus: the winner maintains ownership of the groundbreaking idea, meaning that he/she can still pitch it to developers. Interested?

The Vehicle Stopper challenge is pretty straightforward: the Air Force wants to devise a "means of stopping an uncooperative fleeing vehicle (small car or truck) without permanent damage to the vehicle or harming any of the occupants." Sounds simple, right? Except it has to meet three important criteria:

  • It must be viable, meaning it can't rely on technology that hasn't been invented yet or that doesn't exist on the majority of automobiles. 
  • It must be sustainable, meaning that it should be reusable.
  • It must be affordable, meaning that it has to be, well, cheap.

Here are some additional details from the challenge website:

  1. The system must be able to disable and stop a vehicle (Pre and Post-1972 car or small truck) that is fleeing a scene. The system must be deployable from 0 – 30 yards away from the vehicle and the vehicle must stop within visible range. Preferably the vehicle would stop in a very short distance after deployment. This will include the “delivery system” for deployment. 
  2. The system should not cause permanent harm to any passengers in the vehicle and not cause extensive or irreversible damage to the vehicle. A small amount of vehicle damage would be acceptable as long as it was easily repaired with relatively low costs (e.g. replacing the spark plugs would be acceptable, but rebuilding or major engine repair would not). 
  3. The system should be deployable by a single person and preferably be portable. 
  4. The system should require minimal set-up time and support. It shall not require equipment to be positioned before the vehicle flees. 
  5. The proposed system should offer the Seeker client “freedom to practice” or be available for potential licensing.  There should be no third party patent art preventing the use of specific equipment and materials for their commercial application.

Low-tech variations on the road spike are perfectly acceptable, but the holy grail of the challenge is perhaps something like the stolen vehicle slowdown feature offered through OnStar (which is obviously limited to GM vehicles equipped with OnStar service).

Here's the best part of the challenge: you don't have to actually build a device or software, just describe it. If you win, you grant the Air Force the non-exclusive rights to develop your idea, so you can continue talking to developers to deploy it on a larger or different scale.

Don't have a solution just yet? Talk to your fellow tinkerers, because the contest is open to teams as well as individuals. Bounce around some ideas with like-minded folk, and share your skill sets (though if you win, you'll have to share the booty, too).

The challenge deadline is May 2 -- three weeks from today. Head to InnoCentive.com to register and get the ball rolling. Good luck!

[InnoCentive]
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