What Do DVD Rentals and Airport Security Have In Common?

Both are provided by companies offering cash prizes in exchange for new business ideas. Just as Netflix announced plans to pay a $1 million prize to anyone who comes up with an algorithm for movie recommendations that is 10 percent more accurate than its own, airport security company Clear is now offering $500,000 to whoever comes up with the best new technology to speed up the security checkpoint process. The company, founded in 2005, is a membership service that promises subscribers the ability to fast-track through security in 13 major U.S. airports.

Clear founder and C.E.O. Steve Brill (who also founded American Lawyer magazine and CourtTV) told Freakonomics that the winner will be “the first party to come up with technology that we decide works, and the [Transportation Security Administration] approves, that shows speed improvement of at least 15 percent at the [airport security] lanes.” Once a winner is chosen, Verified Identity Pass, Clear’s parent company, plans to buy the technology for use as soon as it receives TSA approval.

The idea, said Brill, is to allow anyone with a good idea to bring it to fruition: “Going through airport security is one of the most frustrating experiences we all share, so we figured there must be lots of people out there with good ideas, who may be hesitant to try to sell their product to the government.” While the company has promoted the contest mostly to tech companies, Brill stressed that, “[the winner] could come from anywhere.”

Companies have been working for years to develop technology that will streamline the airport security process. GE, in conjunction with Clear, has been developing a platform that scans passengers’ shoes for explosives and metals while they’re standing on it, while X-ray makers are developing improved picture machines that would presumably enable X-ray readers to see laptops clearly while they’re still in their cases. But so far, nothing has emerged as the winner for increasing safety and efficiency, while waits and delays at airports just keep getting worse. Given the current state of affairs, it can’t hurt to solicit innovative ideas from the general public — at the very least, it could give frustrated passengers a way to pass the time while they wait.

If you’ve got the winning idea, you can submit it here.

(Hat tip: Frank Neu)

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  1. Joel says:

    Maybe the best idea between now and when actual efficient scanning technologies are deployed, they stop with the security theater which only makes people feel safer instead of making them safer.

    I wonder how much time is lost due to the restrictions on liquids now. My guess is a lot, for zero benefit.

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  2. Becky says:

    Does Clear really expect that $500,000 is enough of an incentive? If a individual or group has the knowledge and resources to develop, build and test that sort of technology, why not go into business for themselves, and make millions from government contracts for years to come?

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  3. Casey says:

    Let the airlines be responsible for their own security.

    The government(or better yet a private organization like Consumer Reports) could send people with knives, bombs, etc. through the airline’s security and if they pass, they get severe fines or suspension of service, plus the bad publicity.

    The free market would be much better at allocating resources to fighting terror than TSA. They would go out of business if they weren’t.

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  4. Luis says:

    You can do other things appart from improving technology.

    The main issue is the bottleneck problem: people have to take many things off and put them back on.

    1) bigger trays: so everything fits in one tray
    2) More efficient qeueing systems: What they should do is have several inputs-several outputs; part of the problem is people take time to put things back on (shoes, etc) and delay the rest of the people… The extreme is to have a “security lounge” where people don’t wait in line until they have everything on their one tray.
    3) more efficient machines (improve technology) so people don’t have to take everything off.

    I like the idea that airlines be responsible for their own security…

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  5. The_Man says:

    Casey, Becky, Joel,

    You may have missed:

    “Verified Identity Pass, Clear’s parent company, plans to buy the winning technology for use as soon as it receives TSA approval”

    Ergo, a winning submission must be a technology (something you can patent) not merely an idea.

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  6. Mike B. says:

    Becky (#2) has hit the nail on the head. I hate these pseudo-competitions. What they’re really saying is: “we want to get hundreds of you working on this project for free, then we’ll grossly underpay any of you talented enough to come up with a great, patentable idea.” 500K is a ridiculously small amount to pay a person who independently finances and creates a way to reduce airline security delays by 15+% across the board.

    You see this sort of chicanery all over the place. Magazine write-in competitions where you forfeit the IP rights to your article, college research challenges, etc.

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  7. Ram says:

    To Casey’s Comments

    Then we don’t need police either. Let every man/woman defend themselves. If they are not capable, then they dont deserve to live.

    Let transit systems be run by private players. If plying some routes isn’t financially feasible, then the people living in these routes don’t deserve to commute.

    Lets cancel the licensing for Doctors. Let everyone be given the opportunity to act as doctors. If somebody dies because of their prescription, then the free market will not reward them with future patients.

    I can go on….

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  8. Mitch says:

    Two lines: one for people who know how to get through security quickly (slip on shoes, cell phone/wallet/watch/etc. in your carryon and lap top out early) and another for people with kids, grandparents or lots of jewelry who slow things down for the rest of us. It’s ridiculous to have to get to an airport 2 hours early. I literally waste one day a year standing in line at the airport.

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