Gov. Newsom Announces New X Prize for Fighting Wildfires

Gov. Gavin Newsom (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

With fire season approaching, Governor Gavin Newsom is looking for new ideas and technologies to stop the growing scourge of wildfires. And those ideas — if they work — could be worth millions of dollars thanks to a new X Prize.

Governor Newsom joined X Prize founder and chairman Peter Diamandis at the Near Future conference in San Diego yesterday to announce a contest looking for innovative technologies to detect and put out fires before they get too big. The contest will be sponsored by the X Prize Foundation, best known for awarding multi-million dollar prizes to new private space exploration technologies — like the Moonshot award for a lunar orbit.

Like the other X Prize contests, this firefighting award will be funded entirely through private money, said Newsom. The winner could get anywhere from $5 to $20 million, depending on the eventual rules of the contest. Whatever technology comes out of it, though, will only be adopted by the state if it works.

"Government, taxpayers don't pay a penny unless they come forward with a solution," he said.

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Newsom stressed the need to do something about the increasingly intense wildfires, saying 139 lives were lost last year during California's deadliest fire season. While he commended firefighters and emergency responders, he also noted firefighting technology has not advanced in years — and it's time for new solutions.

"It's like 'What the hell are we going to do?' And we're just a few weeks away from entering another fire season," he said.

"We haven't pushed the boundaries of innovation and technology," he said.

Diamandis said the benefit of these prizes is that they draw the best minds from around the world to a problem, even if the sounds crazy or is something no one's thought of before.

"The concept is a fire detection and extinction X Prize. Can we find it and put it out before it grows? How it gets put out — Is it drones? Is it water cannons? Who knows?" he said.

Unfortunately, the prize may not help Californians this year. Diamandis said it'll take about 100 days to draw up the rules of the contest and to find a sponsor. The goal is to then launch the contest and test products next fire season.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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