For most practical things we expect that the effort we put in to achieve a goal is proportional to the expected reward. A sort of linear response curve.
So I am endlessly fascinated by the non-linear response on display when it comes to competitions. In many fields such as robotics, rocketery and others, competitions (and historically there have been several) are held with maybe a small prize on offer.
The desire to compete, to pit their wits (and designs) against others’ seems to drive people to such an extent that they invest far more than the prize money may warrant. The resluting entries in competitions vary from ingenious to the ridiculous. Yet the special spark that competing lights, gets the creativity of people blazing. What this also does is generate a huge amount of brilliant new ideas that can be used by all of mankind.
This is recongnised by for example, the XPrize foundation which holds a number of competitions in various fields.
To me the investment (from the point of view of the organisers) is miniscule compared to the outcomes and generated wealth (of intellectual capital). It sure seems to beat paying a steady salary to bright epeople, when a small fraction can get you something that would take years to achieve!