Invention Challenges

As a kid, it's fun to learn about <a href=>America's citizen-inventors</a>, from telegraph inventor Samuel Morse, who was also known for painting portraits, to telephone inventor and deaf education advocate Alexander Graham Bell. But these guys can make inventing seem like an old, dead, 19th-century pursuit. <p> It's not so. Over the past few years, federally-run prize competitions have let everyday Americans submit their ideas to major government agencies. The competitions take aim at major national needs, such as lowering health care costs, developing clean energy and analyzing massive datasets. Some agencies, <a href=>especially NASA</a>, have developed and used those ideas in their everyday operations. <p> Here are five open competitions culled from We've chosen some big-idea challenges here, but the site also has innumerable requests for posters, videos and smartphone apps, for those whose skills lie there.

Design a lighter, easier-to-use stretcher

You've seen stretchers in hospital shows and war movies. Can you improve on their design? The U.S. Air Force now uses a collapsible stretcher to hurry injured soldiers to safety, but the straps take too long to fasten. They're looking for a stretcher one person can operate, that's faster and easier than what they already have. USAF says it will prototype winning designs. <a href=>Go to challenge >></a>

Clean fuel for the U.S. Air Force

Total prizes: $20,000<p> Deadline: Mar. 12<p> The U.S. Air Force is looking for proposals for cleaning fuel that's been contaminated by environmental debris, water or firefighting chemicals, so that it can be reused. The cleaning method can't use fractionation or distillation methods. <a href=>Go to challenge >></a>

Write a business plan for your own clean energy startup

Total prizes: $2 million<p> Deadlines: Local, Feb. 28 at earliest<p> It seems like everybody has their own ideas about how to protect the world from greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the U.S.' dependency on foreign oil. But maybe yours is one of the best, most innovative in the nation. Write a business plan for a clean energy company and win initial funding for your idea. At least half the members of each submission team need to be students at accredited U.S. colleges and universities. <p> The competition is tiered, starting at a regional level before moving onto nationals. Find your region on the map, then <a href=>enter in your region here.</a>

Create a new medical device or technology

Prize: $10,000 in each of three categories<p> Deadline: May 26<p> Here's another one for students. The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering is looking for undergraduate ideas for new diagnostic or therapeutic devices, or a technology for medically underserved people. Submit results from tests of your prototype. <a href=>Go to challenge >></a>

Create a program to help disabled people read their health records online

First prize: $60,000, plus second and third prizes <p> Deadline: Jul. 24<p> Electronic health records can reduce errors and save money. Some systems, such as <a href=>Kaiser Permanente's</a>, let patients access their own records online with only a few clicks. But as more hospitals start using electronic systems, they'll need to make sure people with a visual, motor or other disability 19 percent of the U.S.' non-institutionalized populationcan read their records, too. This challenge asks for software that disabled Americans can install and use to help them access their health data. <a href=>Go to challenge >></a><p> <i>Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @<a href=>News_Innovation</a>, or on <a href=>Facebook</a>. </i><p> <li><a href=>Top 10 Life-Changing Inventions</a> <li><a href=>Air Force Offers Innovation Prizes in Budget-Cutting Era</a> <li><a href=>10 Inventions That Were Ahead of Their Time</a></li>

5 Innovation Challenges You Can Enter Now