The Maritime X Prize — a proposal to spark immediate innovation
We need to level up US maritime capabilities before it's too late. Here's how.
Let’s face it. The US maritime system is in terrible shape. It’s:
Worse, the US faces a global maritime challenge far more challenging than anything since WW2.
We now live in a world of contested logistics.
Given our current situation, incremental improvements within the current regulatory models won’t fix the problem.
We need a bold solution.
Space Launch as a Model
A decade ago, we were in a similar situation with space launch. Our launch capability was small, (very) expensive, and old as well. Worse, we were facing aggressive competition from new entrants like China.
The situation is entirely different today.
We’ve seen a massive reduction in cost per launch (1/10th of what it cost in 2010), with a similar drop in cost expected in coming years.
~$10k per pound (2010) > ~$1k per pound (today) > ~$100 per pound (soon)
With the development of reusable launch vehicles, we’re now launching rockets twice a week (many times what it was in 2010), with a significant increase to come.
Radically lower costs, revolutionary spacecraft design, and accelerating launch rates have made the US the undisputed leader in space launch, so much so that all other efforts pale in comparison.
This revolutionary change began with reimagining what was possible with the Ansari X prize. The 2004 prize offered $10m (significant at the time) to any group that built a craft that:
Carried three people
To 100 Km above the Earth's surface
Twice within two weeks
Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites won the prize in an effort funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It ignited a private launch industry featuring innovative entrepreneurial companies that completely revolutionized space-launch.
The Maritime X Prize
A similar opportunity exists today in maritime transportation; all we need to do is ignite it. Optimally, the prize should encourage a radical rethinking of maritime transport, including its form factor, materials, power plant, and crewing. The award should also be large enough to attract many entrants and encourage bold thinking. If successful, the outcome of this prize would be;
The development of a US-based shipbuilding industry that is so advanced that it puts all international competitors out of business (think SpaceX).
A large and growing US-flagged maritime transportation fleet that radically outperforms all competitors on key metrics.
The advanced skills, capabilities, and capacity in maritime building would allow the US to revolutionize and grow its Navy and operate more freely in contested waterways.
With this as a goal, let’s build some metrics to frame the effort. Here are a few metrics to consider.
Land to Land Cost ($ per km per ton). It's likely the key metric.
Energy efficiency (energy cost per ton, CO2 per ton to attract environmental support).
Land to Land speed (time per km per ton).
Let's craft a prize with this frame and the overall goal in mind. Here’s one potential candidate to get us thinking:
Transport 20 containers from a small port to another small port 1,000 and 5,000 miles away. Onload/offload delays will be factored in. Goal: fastest average time.
Navigate and operate autonomously from dock to dock, optimally, without a crew (cost reduction, improved risk tolerance in a contested environment).
Compete based on efficiency and cleanliness. Goal: lowest average energy cost per ton and CO2 per ton.
With so much riding on the ability of US maritime capabilities, we don’t have time to wait. Let’s get moving on this right now. We need to do the following:
Find people within the technology community, shipbuilding industry, and US Navy willing to back this effort. The goal is to find people who want to see the US become the epicenter of maritime ship building and operation (as a service).
Set the metrics for the prize and raise the funds to incentivize participants.
Build a community of participants that includes firms and individuals willing to turn these technologies into companies capable of realizing the potential demonstrated in the contest.
Can you help with this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section or get in touch at [email protected]
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