Crowdsourcing Route to Infrastructure

Contest Seeks Ideas to Update America's Aging Infrastructure

Jim Patrico
By  Jim Patrico , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
U.S. ports and harbors need updating to handle larger vessels and more traffic. This John Deere sugar cane harvester awaits export at the Port of New Orleans. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

PLATTSBURG, Mo. (DTN) -- On the theory that good ideas can come from many sources, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) earlier this year launched the Infrastructure Vision 2050 Challenge.

It's a crowdsourcing contest with a total of $150,000 in prizes and the goal of improving America's infrastructure in the long term to maintain economic competitiveness. Platform for the contest is the HeroX website, which sprang from the Ansari XPRIZE Foundation's successful efforts to crowdsource ideas for commercial space vehicles. The concept for SpaceShipOne flew out of that contest and the vehicle, reached the edge of space, becoming the first privately built spacecraft to perform this feat, twice within two weeks.

Top prize in that competition was $10 million. AEM doesn't have those resources. But, the organization would contend, its goal may be even more important than space travel.

"We are falling behind other nations," AEM president Dennis Slater told DTN/The Progressive Farmer. That could lead to American businesses, including farmers, losing ground in the battle for global customers.

The infrastructure bill Congress passed last fall was a step in the right direction, Slater said. "We are pleased with it because it gives some measure of market certainty." States will know what level of funding they will get for the near future and can plan for short-term infrastructure improvements. But the bill only guarantees funds for five years. "It didn't create a vision for the future," Slater said.

That's why AEM created Infrastructure Vision 2050.

AEM is interested in infrastructure because its members -- more than 850 companies that manufacture agricultural and construction equipment -- have a stake in the rapid delivery of goods. Congested roads, clogged waterways and old rail systems slow traffic that brings raw materials to factories and finished goods to buyers.

End goal of Infrastructure Vision 2050 is to present to the administration and Congress in 2017 a comprehensive long-term plan to improve America's ability to move people and goods in new ways.

Infrastructure Vision 2050 is a three-phase contest: Complain, Dream, Build. The first phase sought to identify the problems with America's infrastructure today. It ended this winter. The Dream Phase ends in May. It solicits "new thinking and solutions, especially from non-experts." The Build Phase is ongoing and "takes the second phase a step further and solicits plans to implement those solutions on a larger scale," according to contest rules.

"We are not even sure what we will come up with," Slater said. But by this time in 2017, "Our hope is we will [have] a lot of solutions that can be put forward."

The contest could generate talking points to take to the federal government and make the public more aware of the issue. A non-partisan grassroots movement could pressure Congress and the next administration to take action on a problem that has lingered for decades.

But first the movement will need direction. "You can't have a road map until you know where you are going," Slater said. That is what Infrastructure Vision 2050 is all about.

To follow the contest, go to: https://herox.com/…

Jim Patrico can be reached at jim.patrico@dtn.com

Follow Jim Patrico on Twitter @jimpatrico

(CZ/BAS)

Jim Patrico