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  4. Feature Article: Tapping the Nation’s Competitive Spirit for Innovative Solutions

Feature Article: Tapping the Nation’s Competitive Spirit for Innovative Solutions

Release Date: December 14, 2021

The Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is using a time-tested approach to find innovative technology solutions: prize competitions.

Prize competitions have been used countless times by the U.S. government since its founding nearly 250 years ago. Many people might not know that two of the most recognizable U.S. building designs were selected from prize competition submissions: The White House, designed by James Hoban in 1792, and the U.S. Capitol, designed by William Thornton in 1793. In fact, many of the nation’s landmarks and memorials, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Korean War Veterans Memorial located in Washington, DC, were results of prize competitions.

“The U.S. government has used prize competitions since the 1700s. Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses them to encourage the general public and citizen-scientists to help us identify new ideas and technologies,” explained Kathleen Kenyon, S&T’s lead for prize challenges and competitions. “Many inventions and innovations—both past and present—were the direct result of inventive ideas submitted by everyday citizens responding to government-sponsored prize competitions.”

Prize competitions are flexible and allow DHS to solicit the development of various ideas and technologies. In comparison to many other funding mechanisms offered by the federal government, prize competitions are quicker with fewer constraints. Each competition is unique.

“Like many federal agencies, DHS uses prize challenges to motivate stakeholders to get involved in the solution-development process and award them for their ideas. S&T serves a vital role in this process by creating, supporting, and providing management oversight of all prize competitions sponsored by DHS and its agencies,” said Kenyon. “Through partnerships with involved DHS agencies and the challenges, we identify new innovations that help make our homeland safe and secure. People want to share their ideas, but mistakenly think that working with the government can be confusing or time consuming. Prize competitions make it easier for our citizens to share their innovative ideas.”

S&T works with other DHS agencies to develop competitions that impact DHS’s mission. In the past, these prize competitions have led to the creation and implementation of some truly innovative technologies and solutions. Now, a new competition is underway to identify much-needed solutions for a very ‘hot’ topic, focused on countering extreme heat from climate change.  

Countering Extreme Heat with Cool Technology

Extreme heat is the nation’s leading cause of weather-related deaths and significantly impacts the U.S. every year. Environmental Protection Agency research shows that heat-related deaths have become a regular phenomenon across the U.S. and are expected to increase as global temperatures continue to rise due to climate change.

To combat this public health crisis, S&T, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), recently announced a new prize competition, the Cooling Solutions Challenge. This open competition is the first in a series of prize competitions focused on DHS initiatives to strengthen the nation’s resilience to climate change.

The Challenge is designed to spur groundbreaking solutions to help better protect people—including first responders—during extreme heat events. S&T and FEMA are seeking solutions that are climate-friendly and focused on countering extreme heat conditions. Innovators are invited to develop scalable, durable, energy-efficient, climate-friendly technology solutions that will protect vulnerable populations (e.g., households without access to conventional cooling systems), first responders, and the public by keeping them cool and reducing their susceptibility to heat-related illness and death during extreme heat events. The Challenge has two stages, and finalists will be announced in March 2022 and winners announced in May 2022. Prizes will be awarded from a prize pool of $195,000 and include non-monetary prizes such as mentoring, networking, and commercialization opportunities.

Cooling Solution Challenge Follows on the Heels of Several Recent Competitions

“S&T’s prize challenges and competitions really are an effective way to reach a wide range of citizen-innovators who can help solve our country’s most pressing problems,” said Kenyon. Prior to launching the Cooling Solutions Challenge, S&T led two other successful competitions over the past couple years.

In March 2020, S&T announced the grand-prize winner of the $25,000 Trusted User Interface (UI) for Digital Wallets Challenge, which sought a design concept for an easy-to-use, trusted UI for digital wallets that would improve the user experience (UX) for managing digital credentials. As DHS and other federal agencies move to digitize the issuance and storage of credentials, they are using blockchain and distributed technologies to verify credentials using open standards. The grand-prize winner proposed combining an effective end-user experience and shareable back-end functionality for the verifiable credential community. S&T posted the winning UI for the global community to use and rework the UX of digital wallets.

S&T’s recent Power of Passengers Challenge sought ideas that could enhance the Transportation Security Administration’s effectiveness and efficiency and improve passenger experiences. At the end of the competition in March 2021, the $215,000 prize was split among one grand prize winner and 10 focus-area winners. TSA is evaluating and piloting the solutions today and continuing to work with the Challenge winners.

“The creativity and ingenuity that DHS has witnessed and benefitted from is truly outstanding. I invite and highly encourage everyone with an idea relevant to a prize competition to participate. Your idea might be the innovative solution DHS is seeking!”

The deadline to submit proposals for the Cooling Solutions Challenge is February 24, 2022. For more information about this or previous competitions, visit our prize challenge website. For information about all U.S. government prize competitions, visit Challenge.gov.

For related media requests, please contact STMedia@hq.dhs.gov.

Last Updated: 12/14/2021
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