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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)