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September 27, 2010 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Google awards $10 million for “world changing” ideas.

Google has awarded 5 cash prizes in a competition seeking innovative ideas for improving the world.
$3 million to FIRST, a project running team competitions to inspire young people to go into science and technology careers.

$2 million to the Khan Academy, which provides free online teaching, with the money funding both new courses and translation of existing videos.

$2 million to Public.Resource.Org to bring more public documents online to make them more accessible.

$2 million to the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, which currently operates a graduate-level maths and science education center in South Africa, to fund further centers across Africa

$1 million for testing at Shweeb, a project aiming to produce a monorail system powered by the cycling power of the passengers.

posted by Babblesort (46 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's the source.
posted by beagle at 9:05 AM on September 27, 2010


The Shweeb video. God, that looks like fun.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:10 AM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh man, the Shweeb. DO WANT.
posted by kalimac at 9:13 AM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Why not just take the $1 million and set fire to it?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:16 AM on September 27, 2010 [13 favorites]


Call me unimaginative, but the fate of Shweeb is going to be a one-off tourist novelty where you pay $7 to spend 5 minutes riding a track that brings you right back to your startoff point.

I'd like to see it in cities, slung between buildings, getting traffic up off the streets, but I think I'm more likely to see a tourist novelty ride. :-/
posted by -harlequin- at 9:32 AM on September 27, 2010


Call me cynical, but the shweeb is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen. No way to turn off at a junction? No way to overtake the person in front if they just decide to stop pedalling /have a heart attack? Massive investment required for infrastructure? Sure, as a tourist novelty it’s probably fine, but “improving the world”? why the fuck are Google investing in it?
posted by silence at 9:35 AM on September 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


silence - the Schweeb FAQ suggests the pods can navigate junctions, push recalcitrant pods, etc. It makes it sound a bit less stupid.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:38 AM on September 27, 2010


Because it has all of the disadvantages of monorails COMBINED with all the disadvantages of bicycles!
posted by entropicamericana at 9:38 AM on September 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


That' $1M of image money. Imagine the smell in those things.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:38 AM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hear Schweeb is totally going to fix congestion in Seattle. They just need to provide good coffee and good music.
posted by hanoixan at 9:40 AM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why not just take the $1 million and set fire to it?
posted by entropicamericana


Eponydepressing (on various levels).

Crazy idea, I wish them the best, but I'm really intrigued to hear how they plan to clear blockages from slow travelers, or free-loaders in the Schweeb "trains"? And They're envisioning a new metropolis, one of high density residential towers with central business and employment zones. At best, I see this becoming a tourist attraction in some semi/faux-natural park system, where there is no real threat to the system if people drop junk to the land below.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:41 AM on September 27, 2010


I just haven't been able to get over the Shweeb thing. WTF! Right on their home page they say:

"integrating the unique properties of monorail and recumbent cycle technologies"

Because there's two wildly successful technologies the world demands more of.

Plus, let's not forget, this pretty much deselects the old and infirm. You know, the biggest section of public transit users?

Idiotic.
posted by lumpenprole at 9:42 AM on September 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


So I take it this isn't the thread for discussing the importance of education outreach in the developing world.

Huh. Ah well . . .

Shweeb? What, had someone already taken out a trademark on Shdork?
posted by gompa at 9:43 AM on September 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


World-changing ideas? Like the end of Planet of the Apes when he realizes the world he's on was really Earth all along? Or like New Planet of the Apes when Marky Mark realizes he's made present day America (and, by extension, the World) into the United Apes of America (get it?). Or can we change any world, and not just Earth?

(ah gots more jokes, like who changed Ego, the Living Planet when he was a baby? Wait, don't get the hook, I *urrkgk*)
posted by Eideteker at 9:44 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


>Why not just take the $1 million and set fire to it?
Because Bill Drummond did that in 1994 (well, he burnt £1m in fact). And you can see what happened here. Of course that was in the day when you could raise the money by writing a crappy single rather than having to involve Google.
posted by rongorongo at 9:47 AM on September 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Those Shweeb capsules look like solar ovens.
posted by exogenous at 9:54 AM on September 27, 2010


Blah blah blah Shweeb--the two million to PublicResource.org, especially in light of some of the rumblings we've been hearing about with privacy and cryptography and the like, is incredibly important. Making government documents more openly accessible (hello, Thomas!) is a good thing. I'm excited to see more support from Google on that.
posted by librarylis at 9:56 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I take it this isn't the thread for discussing the importance of education outreach in the developing world.

Like a Scweeb flying through your park, we'll move on to the other, more real projects soon enough. Like the ever-expanding awesomeness that is Archive.org, now with more public (US) resource material. Also, it makes me happy someone actually spent time making a city out of code books in 3-ring binders (though the comments are confusing).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:03 AM on September 27, 2010


Oh man, the Khan Academy soooo deserves that money. He should hire some more people to make videos in the same style.
posted by empath at 10:05 AM on September 27, 2010


I clapped out loud when I read that the Khan Acamedy is getting a lot of money. Sal deserves everything he can get
posted by wheelieman at 10:07 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


JINX
posted by wheelieman at 10:07 AM on September 27, 2010


Gonna go out on a limb here and say Khan > Schweeb.
posted by everichon at 10:11 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hear Schweeb is totally going to fix congestion in Seattle.

Well, it's likely to be more effective than the intelligently designed deep-bore tunnel.
posted by stet at 10:22 AM on September 27, 2010


Ah... FIRST gets $3 million, I seriously could not be happier. The 'I' is what I am most thankful for, the 'R' frankly is doing the best it can, thus deserves equivalent thanks.

What a great day.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 10:24 AM on September 27, 2010


Carl Malamud is one of my heros.
posted by gen at 10:33 AM on September 27, 2010


Well much as I want to hate the Schweeb, it looks like it's hella fun. And why can't you set it up so that the old and infirm can hitch rides with virile young stallions like me? I see no reason that can't be done. Finally, if your city has a working Schweeb, you will feel like you live in the future! How rad is that? Quite rad, indeed.
posted by Mister_A at 10:51 AM on September 27, 2010


Google is only after Schweeb because they want one for their employees. Duh!
posted by antgly at 11:10 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Three cheers for the Khan Academy which totally deserves the award. And I really hope someone at Google shouted "Khannnnnn!" when they announced the winners.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:10 AM on September 27, 2010


Yes, you almost have to yell that, octobersurprise.
posted by Mister_A at 11:14 AM on September 27, 2010


FIRST is a great program; I wish we had a teacher at the high school who actually, you know, *taught* running ours. Then maybe half of the parents wouldn't have up and started their own team to compete AGAINST him out of frustration and created a schism and, well, it wasn't pretty. Fun fact: Dean Kamen, the guy behind the Segway, also created FIRST.

I think the Shweeb sounds awesome. Please do go read the FAQs if you have not done so. They have plans for slow riders, scenic overlooks for people who tire out and need a rest, they have bumpers so that slower riders can be "pushed along" by faster riders, escalators are planned in case of steep ascents, etc. They disinfect and air them out at the station, the seats are adjustable, and they are planning 2-seaters. Really, it does sound like a good idea.

Khan is fabulous. Free education! What could be better?

Now I'm going to look into the other winners.
posted by misha at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was stoked to hear this news this morning and was surprised to find out that I'd call one of the winners a friend and another an acquaintance.

I got to meet and chat with Sal Khan a few months ago, after our meeting I bugged friends at various foundations to try and get him some money to keep doing what he does. He just up and quit his job as an investment banker like a year ago to make those free videos full time (and they're free, under Creative Commons licenses).
posted by mathowie at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2010


Ideas don't change the world. I'm sure tons of people had the idea "I'm going to make videos explaning stuff, and put them on the internet". Or "I think we need to get kids interested in science and technology" There is nothing revolutionary about those ideas. It's the execution that counts.

Now a combination monorail/bicycle. That is a little more unique.
posted by delmoi at 11:48 AM on September 27, 2010


How do you raise money for something that rhymes with 'dweeb'?
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:49 AM on September 27, 2010


How do you raise money for something that rhymes with 'dweeb'?

Google.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:58 AM on September 27, 2010


I was going to come in and criticise the American bias of the awards – Google is worldwide you know? Then I saw the Shweeb comes from my country, New Zealand. Hangs head in shame and exits thread.
posted by meech at 1:06 PM on September 27, 2010


Now a combination monorail/bicycle. That is a little more unique.

Eh, not really (YouTube link). I've also seen monorail versions of these "coasters", but I haven't any handy links.
posted by PsychoKick at 1:17 PM on September 27, 2010


Well, it's likely to be more effective than the intelligently designed deep-bore tunnel.

I'll take the Schweeb, or a tunnel or bike path or just a nice sidewalk, over the Viaduct any day of the week.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:20 PM on September 27, 2010


And why can't you set it up so that the old and infirm can hitch rides with virile young stallions like me?

I think that is called an "arrangement".
posted by benzenedream at 1:21 PM on September 27, 2010


I think the Shweeb sounds awesome. Please do go read the FAQs if you have not done so. They have plans for slow riders, scenic overlooks for people who tire out and need a rest, they have bumpers so that slower riders can be "pushed along" by faster riders

They even have a FAQ about 'won't people wearing skirts or kilts be worried about privacy/dignity' which is pretty cool.

But yeah, whoever mentioned tourism: the Shweeb is prototyped in Rotorua, which is about the most touristy part of New Zealand. And that's what this looks like to me - a novelty for the tourists. (If you look at the FAQ, it wouldn't scale: they're talking about carrying 1200 people/hour from a station. Which might be fine in NZ, but in big cities: London? You'd get 1200 people on a couple of tube trains: that many people would clear Canary Wharf every 10 minutes or so.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:51 PM on September 27, 2010


To be fair a bus network might have trouble handling Canary Wharf yet buses are used around the world for transporting people. Nothing is a universal solution; especially so in public transport.
posted by Mitheral at 2:08 PM on September 27, 2010


Schweeb looks like a hell of a fun time except if you're old, overly large, overly small, physically disabled, claustrophobic, agoraphobic, unfit or flatulent.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:37 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read the Schweeb faqs and there is one thing I definitely think is missing. These cars are fully enclosed fairings, yes? Transparent, yes? Exposed to the Sun, yes? How do they avoid turning into solar ovens if there is no powered air conditioning?
posted by localroger at 3:26 PM on September 27, 2010


And why can't you set it up so that the old and infirm can hitch rides with virile young stallions like me?

I think that is called an "arrangement".


No, it's called "lifting luggage." How soon we forget!
posted by me & my monkey at 3:33 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


To all you haters of the Schweeb; Didn't they say those things about the Chia pet?
posted by Increase at 4:43 PM on September 27, 2010


How do they avoid turning into solar ovens if there is no powered air conditioning?

I concurb. Here in Washington it's sweaty enough riding a normal bike during the six months summer - getting in one of these would feel like a death sentence. Those little ventilation holes are jokes.
posted by exogenous at 7:00 PM on September 27, 2010


Hey, you know what has better reach, depth, attainability, efficiency, and longevity than a monorail-mounted bike system? A bike that you ride in the streets!

I have to say, the selection of the Shweeb undermines the credibility of the whole project. When I saw the criteria I expected they would have selected human development projects, like the sort of thing the Gates Foundation is funding. They have essentially the same mandate, i.e. applying technology at points of maximum leverage to improve human livelihoods. Why is Gates funding childhood immunization, AIDS research, and fair-trade farming while Google is dicking around with monorails? And even though the other projects are worthy - education is always needed, and may have a multiplier effect - I don't think they are the worthiest, at least by these criteria.

Thinking about this a little bit more, I think the major difference is that Gates, like most of the big foundations, is engaged with international research and development agencies, like the universities, and the UN, and so on, and is thus able to leverage the expertise of the world's best who dedicate their lives to developing and implementing these "big ideas". This project is going rogue, cold-calling for ideas and voting them up web 2.0-style. But the world is not short of creative minds and big ideas in the energy, transportation, heath, environment, etc. realms. There are not many "big ideas" that have yet to be uncovered, somehow overlooked by the hundreds of thousands of scientists, researchers, development workers, etc, who live in these worlds. No transportation planner in any big city is going to hear about this monorail, smack his head and say "of course, all my problems are solved!" The problems are always in the implementation.

I have a bit of a problem with this, in fact. You can ask for a list of unconventional ideas, ways to improve the flow of information and improve people's livelihoods that are not likely to appear through traditional development programs, and you would get great ideas like the education and democracy-related projects they did choose to fund. That would be great. But if you start out by saying you want projects that will help the maximum number of people, well, people are already working on that. There is almost an arrogance to the way the project was framed. It brought this to mind. The whole thing just feels naive, and the results - especially Shweeb, which is really unforgivable - bear this out.

I am glad to see Google engaged in charitable work, and I hope they continue to do so, and that their processes improve. But I would rather they just gave the money to Gates. It would have gone further.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:28 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


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