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X marks the spot: X Prize rewards COVID innovation

The X Prize, a global innovation contest, saw some exciting developments in COVID-19 testing.

Absconding with the Treasure by NC Wyeth

By Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto

Following a dashed trail of India ink back and forth on his faded treasure map, the Captain’s eyes suddenly widen, exclaiming “X marks the spot!” In a moment of Eureka, he pierces the Maltese cross with his dagger. At long last, they knew they were close. 

Well, on 16 March, I felt a bit like that Pirate, taking one more step toward the elusive goal as“X marked the spot” for the X Prize winners. This is a global contest where game-changing innovation is fueled. In the “open innovation” category for COVID testing, there were some exciting results.

For the last year, I’ve been pleading in this column for the need to elevate COVID-19 safety as a safe bubble of defence in the restoration of shared experiences. To futureproof attractions in a way that goes beyond vaccines, to a method of even sensing variants at the door. And furthermore, to do it cheaply, near instantly, and without swabs or chemicals. But its a tall order, like finding the Holy Grail.

Temperature screening at Disneyland Resort covid innovations x prize
Many parks are currently temperature screening on entry. Image courtesy of Disneyland Resort

COVID innovations

Many of you who have read my posts agree with this safe bubble concept of restoring the experience. But, when hearing that that technology is just around the corner, express your sceptical optimism with a resounding “yeah right.”

So, it was great to read that in addition to winners in RNA COVID testing, there were also winners in the category of “Open Innovation”.

Some forward-thinking firms are being rewarded for their progress in pursuing new means of testing. This includes terahertz digital scanning, in order to rapidly screen guests into a safer and eventually a mask free guest experience. It’s getting real folks.

The Incredible Hulk Coaster Universal
Could new innovations allow us to go back to mask-free shared experiences? Image courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort

To be transparent, our company, Sotto Studios, has an experience design alliance with one winner, Ram Global to productize their system into any entertainment venue.

However, there are several innovative firms and methods out there for an operator to consider. What I’m excited about is the fact that what we’ve been discussing over the last year is shaping up into something truly viable. And near market-ready, depending on who you talk to.

Operators this calendar year will hopefully be able to implement a terahertz scanning solution for COVID or have better testing choices, thanks to the X Prize initiative and the winning innovations.

Some will be better than others, as methods and needs vary. That is for you to decide and for them to prove.

COVID innovations could help visitors return to theme parks such as Disneyland, X prize
Visitors are keen to return to attractions. Image courtesy of Disneyland Resort

So, X really does mark the spot. Resources are being awarded to open innovations that have merit. Although we can’t touch what’s buried just yet, at least we have more confidence in the map and know there’s a chest in that open pit!

The winning X Prize teams in the “Open Innovation” track

I would encourage you to investigate and visit all of these winners sites. It thrills me to create new awareness around better testing innovations and especially terahertz as a means of scanning for and identifying more than COVID-19 and its variants.

I see this as a ringing endorsement and a reassuring step toward restoring safety at a much higher level at entertainment venues. Happy hunting and congratulations to all winners!

Top image, Absconding with the Treasure by NC Wyeth

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Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto

Eddie Sotto, former SVP of Concept Design at Disney Imagineering now runs SottoStudios, a turn-key entertainment design and experiential R&D firm. He also recently formed the group to address the need for COVID-19 variant screening.

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