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Gates Foundation offers $100k for 'next-gen condom'

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation believes that if condoms actually felt better to use, global health could improve substantially.

How would you make a better condom? Impatient Optimists

We're not quite sure what a next-generation condom would look like (gesture control? a tiny touch screen?), but we may find out sooner rather than later if the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation succeeds in its new quest.

The foundation is seeking new ideas that improve on condom design, which it describes as having seen "very little technological improvement in the last 50 years." The winning proposal gets a cool $100,000, and could potentially earn more in additional funding.

The foundation suggests that if a redesigned condom could enhance a sexual experience and not detract from it, more men would use one, therefore reducing disease transmission, unwanted pregnancies, and so on. The request also seeks ideas "that increase ease-of-use for male and female condoms, for example better packaging or designs that are easier to properly apply. In addition, attributes that address and overcome cultural barriers are also desired."

According to Grand Challenges in Global Health -- the Gates' Web site that regularly hosts similar competitions in health and science -- the condom must be inexpensive to produce and prevent pregnancy and HIV infection. The group even calls for ideas from those in the fields of neurobiology, vascular biology, materials science, and other inadvertently related areas of expertise.

Interested parties can submit their condom-changing ideas to the related Grand Challenges Web site by 11:30 a.m. PT on May 7.

The subsidiary Web site Impatient Optimists, highlights a recent development in condoms by the University of Washington, where researchers created a woven polymer contraceptive (using a technique called electrospinning) that releases spermicidal agents during sex. The blog also points out an Origami Designs' accordion-like rubber that supposedly offers more pleasure than the traditional condom.