How XPRIZE Plans To Use Competition To Solve California’s Wildfire Crisis

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

How XPRIZE Plans To Use Competition To Solve California’s Wildfire Crisis
XPRIZE

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In 2021, the Associated Press reported that California purchased a dozen new Sikorsky Firehawk helicopters—at $24 million a piece. The helicopters can operate at night, store 1,000 gallons of water, refill the tank in under a minute and carry 13 firefighters. But considering in 2022, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection detected 7,490 wildfires throughout the state that burned over 362,000 acres from Los Angeles county all the way to the Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s still not enough.


Enter XPRIZE, a Culver City-based organization that’s using competition to spur innovation in wildfire mitigation technology. Their latest is XPRIZE Wildfire, a four year competition centered around advancing technologies to help detect and combat wildfires.

“Not enough of our best people are focused on solving hard, impactful problems like wildfires,” defense technology startup Anduril founder Palmer Luckey said. “Most engineers who are equipped to solve today's most dangerous problems are working at big technology companies on sexier products with better economic incentives and higher profit margins than most industries.”

The former Oculus VR co-founder is the first registrant to join XPRIZE Wildfire in hopes of winning the $11 million prize awarded to the most innovative team.

“Anduril has been working on anti-wildfire technology since the start of the company because I have long believed that very small amounts of money can be used to deploy new technology that ends this once and for all,” said Luckey. “The level of government involvement on this prize shows that other people finally agree!”

Established companies and teams as young as high school students can register. Early registration fee costs $500 and $1000 during the regular registration period.

To date, there are 37 teams registered with participants from all over the globe including Australia, Canada and London.

Though the initial fund for the prize money was raised by a handful of companies including PG&E, Lockheed Martin and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, XPRIZE has also opened the fund to the public to contribute.

“We've received some funds so far,”Program Director Andrea Santy told dot.LA. “That is hopefully going to continue through the end of the prize. The funds that are raised will go towards the winners and really is to be able to help incentivize the teams.”

While the prize money is enticing, Luckey said that wasn’t his biggest motivator to register.

“I own a huge 60 Blackhawk that does mostly CalFire missions,” Luckey said. “I outfitted it with an internal carriage tank that carries about 8,000 pounds of water.”

And though he believes there’s no alternative to dropping that much water on a blazing wildfire, he says, “it cannot be the backbone of every response.” In part because Blackhawk helicopters can cost upwards of $40 million and require a ton of manpower.

For its part, XPRIZE has been in the competition development business for 30 years. They’ve built competitions around space exploration, biodiversity and conservation and health. But the latest will be their first foray into wildfire detection.

The wildfire competition is split into two different tracks. The first is the space based detection track and will require teams to build a solution that will be able to detect all the fires in areas as large as some states and countries in under a minute. In addition, as part of this first track, Santy said another requirement teams need to account for is their technology needs to have the ability to transfer the data it gathers to firefighters at two ground stations within 10 minutes. Teams who opt for this track will have 22 months to complete their product.

“While detection has improved over the past decade, there's still a lot of it that's not as accurate as we need it,” Santy said. “The scale isn't as close to the resolution and so we want to be able to identify these fires in real time.”

The second option is the autonomous wildfire response track. For this one, teams have 10 minutes to suppress a high-risk fire in a 1000 km2 area autonomously, whether that’s using drones or robotics.

“There are multiple rounds of verification and testing,” Santy told dot.LA. “And so we [her team] want to make sure that we've got all of that mapped out and have everything scheduled. So that's a lot of what we're doing and safety is our top priority for this prize.”

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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.


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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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