Public to choose challenge for modern Longitude prize

A £10m technology prize to solve ‘one of the greatest issues of our time’ as been launched today in London.

The Longitude Prize 2014, inspired by the 18th century competition to find a way of determining a ship’s position at sea, will ask the British public to choose one of six challenges and award the fund to winning solution put forward within five years.

Finding a way to give paralysed people better freedom of movement, inventing a cheap desalination technology, and developing a rapid, easy-to-use and accurate infection test to improve use of antibiotics and help prevent drug-resistance are among the challenges.

’Three hundred years ago the Longitude Act stimulated invention and drew out hidden talent,’ said Martin Rees, chair of the Longitude Committee and Astronomer Royal, in a statement.

‘But today there are many areas where progress is still needed. That’s why we’ve decided that the theme of Longitude Prize 2014 should be selected in response to a public vote. We can all play a part, so I encourage people to tell us what their number one challenge is.’

The six challenges are:

  • Flight – design and build an aeroplane that is as close to zero carbon as possible and capable of flying from London to Edinburgh, at comparable speed to today’s aircraft;
  • Food – invent the next big food innovation, helping to ensure a future where everyone has enough nutritious, affordable and environmentally sustainable food;
  • Antibiotics – create a cost-effective, accurate, rapid, and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will allow health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time;
  • Paralysis – invent a solution that gives paralysed people close to the same freedom of movement that most of us enjoy;
  • Water – alleviate the growing pressure on the planet’s fresh water by creating a cheap, environmentally sustainable desalination technology;
  • Dementia – develop intelligent, affordable integrated technologies that revolutionise care for people with dementia, enabling them to live independent lives.

The original Longitude prize was established by a 1714 act of Parliament and awarded in 1765 to clockmaker John Harrison for his invention of a chronometer (clock) accurate enough to record time at a fixed position while at sea, enabling ships’ crews to determine their own position.

The new challenges are of a much broader nature and reflect the need to address the world’s rising and ageing population without putting unsustainable pressure on the environment, said Rees.

Further details of the challenges and the prize will be broadcast on the 50th anniversary episode of Horizon on BBC Two on 22 May, after which the public will be able to vote online at

The £10m prize is funded by the government through the Technology Strategy Board and the charity NESTA (formerly the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), which is running the competition.