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Innovative ideas sought for new conservation tech prize

  • The non-profit Conservation X Labs has launched a competition aimed at encouraging teams with diverse skillsets to propose novel technology solutions to conservation challenges.
  • The competition offers prizes of $3,500 to 20 finalists — who will compete for a grand prize of $20,000 — based on the proposed solutions’ novelty, sustainability, and feasibility.
  • Applicants must submit their proposals by June 30, 2018, and winners will be announced in July.

Transforming a new idea into a working product or service takes time, money, and know-how, and the process can be intimidating for beginning inventors.

The non-profit Conservation X Labs (CXL) has launched a competition for technology solutions to conservation challenges to encourage novice inventors to present their ideas to a makerspace community. Winning proposals will receive funding for the teams to create a first draft (i.e. prototype) of their conservation solution and a chance to receive help from others.

The competition offers prizes of $3,500 as seed grants to 20 finalists, who can then compete for a grand prize of $20,000.

The nature conservation community is as eager to harness tech developments as those other sectors. However, the need for conservation tech to be affordable, easy to use, and, if deployed in the field, rugged, as well as effective in addressing problems often created by well-funded private companies may discourage tech developers from working in the conservation arena.

Camera traps have increasingly been used to monitor nocturnal or cryptic wildlife, such as this jaguar roaming the rainforest, or intruders into natural areas. As technologies such as remote cameras become easier to use, more rugged, and more affordable, their potential audience increases. Image credit: AREAS Project-WWF

As a result, public competitions have become key opportunities for groups seeking support for projects designed to reduce wildlife crime or apply artificial intelligence to complex environmental problems.

CXL’s aim for the competition is to encourage teams to submit novel or creative, outside-the-box ideas that they want to translate into prototypes, such as hardware and software products, even if the team has never previously developed such a product.

The competition recognizes that conservation faces challenges that increasingly require interdisciplinary collaboration.

In the tech world, for example, astrophysicists and wildlife biologists can team up to apply artificial intelligence algorithms for finding stars to detect heat signatures of animals on the ground. And nature reserve managers can work with a parking revenue collection company to develop an app that streamlines patrolling and retains more tourist dollars.

“We need to attract new entrants and participants into the field of conservation that can offer tangible solutions and address the drivers of human-induced extinction, said Conservation X Labs CEO Dr. Alex Dehgan. “We need new skills and expertise — like engineering, coding, design, behavioral economics, storytelling.”

Diverse teams can bring different values, skillsets, and experiences to the creation of new conservation technologies. Image credit: Sue Palminteri

To enter the CXL Tech Prize competition, applicants should submit a proposal for their solution to a specific conservation problem or challenge. Submissions should identify a specific include an initial description and design (image, drawing, or computer-aided design) of the proposed tech solution. Teams who want to make substantial modifications to existing prototypes are also eligible.

Competition participants can propose a tech solution either to any of CXL’s 10 grand challenges for ocean conservation – including aquaculture, marine debris, over-fishing, ocean acidification and nutrient runoff – or to an open, “Blue Sky” category. Proposals is either category are due June 30, 2018 and must describe:

Applicants submit their proposals through CXL’s Digital Makerspace, its online tech community platform that enables members to help each other, and each team member must register on the Digital Makerspace.

The Digital Makerspace aims to be a multidisciplinary online tech community that competition participants can consult for ideas and advice. Image credit: George Powell

“Participants can make idea submissions to the competition on the Digital Makerspace, and can also collaborate with others on the site before, after, and during the competition to continue to improve their idea and build a real prototype,” said Cassie Hoffman, CXL’s Director of Field Operations.

Judges will evaluate each proposed solution by whether it is:

  1. Novel in its approach to the specific challenge
  2. Transformative or impactful in addressing the specific challenge
  3. Financially sustainable and scalable
  4. Ecologically sustainable
  5. Socially responsible
  6. Feasible / realistic

Multidisciplinary teams that broaden the conservation community and can channel various skillsets receive bonus points.

To enter this initial competition, individuals or teams must register and submit their proposals by June 30, 2018. Conservation X Labs will announce winners in July.

The group plans to run additional rounds of the prize – “most likely again in Fall of 2018 and in Spring of 2019,” Hoffman told Mongabay.