Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE Semi-Finalists Announced

Image: XPRIZE

By Jyotika Virmani

We have just taken another momentous step in the journey to
unveil the hidden wonders of our own planet.

Since the launch of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE at the
American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco in
December 2015, individuals from around the world have been racing
to form teams and develop a range of groundbreaking technologies
to access the deep-sea. Registration closed at the end of
September 2016 with 32 bold teams stepping forward to take on the
challenge of mapping and imaging our ocean as never before.

Today, the 21 semi-finalists teams advancing in the Ocean
Discovery XPRIZE were announced. These innovative semi-finalist
teams, consisting of almost 350 individuals from 25 countries,
represent a broad, impressive diversity of backgrounds and
expertise, including middle and high school students, university
students, maker-movement enthusiasts, and water and ocean
industry professionals.

This diversity is also reflected in the array of technologies and
techniques the semi-finalist teams are developing. Some are
proposing to use drones as a mechanism to drop subsea instruments
into the water, while others are proposing to use drones that not
only go through air, but then dive into the watery depths.
Non-aerial entries include autonomous surface vehicles carrying
subsea robots that will return to the 'mothership' when their
work is done, as well as vehicles and robots that will remain
beneath the sea surface from the moment they leave the shore.

The 21 semi-finalist teams will now have to prove their
technology in the field in round 1 testing, which will take place
later this year. As with every XPRIZE, the Shell Ocean Discovery
XPRIZE sets audacious goals. In round 1, the entries that these
teams are developing will have only 16 hours to map the sea-floor
at depths of 2,000m and produce a high-resolution map (at least
5m horizontal resolution, at least 0.5m vertical resolution) of
at least 20 percent of the 500km2 competition area. Additionally,
teams will have to bring back 5 images of an archeological,
biological, or geological feature, as well as an image of an
object that we will specify. As if this wasn't enough, they have
an additional hurdle to overcome - they will have to deploy from
the shore with no humans allowed in the competition area.

To put this challenge into perspective, it can take days to map
500 km2 of the ocean using current state-of-the-art technologies.
If you want 5m accuracy, mapping can take over a week and
requires going out on a ship, which can easily cost over $60,000
per day, making it a very expensive endeavor. The cutting-edge
technology that will come out of this XPRIZE will truly
revolutionize our ability to access the ocean.

In addition to the main prize of $6 million, a dozen teams have
also opted to compete for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration bonus prize of $1 million. These teams are
developing pioneering technology to detect a chemical or
biological signal underwater and then autonomously track that
signal back to its source.

Partnering with us to truly make this competition a global
success are industry titans, Fugro and Esri. Fugro, the industry
leader in ocean mapping and survey, will be provide the baseline
maps against which the judging panel will assess the entries.
Esri, the global leader in GIS, is providing software to the
teams to produce their maps.

We are looking forward to an exciting competition with
exponentially evolving technologies, including smart underwater
robots, robot swarms, drones, and artificial intelligence to
perform the tasks that have been laid out. These teams will
really take us where no one has gone before. As their journeys of
discovery set sail, we invite you to follow the competition and
this phenomenal mission to map our beautiful planet.

The Author

Dr. Jyotika Virmani is XPRIZE's Senior Director for Energy
& Environment and prize lead for the Shell Ocean Discovery
XPRIZE. Dr. Virmani has over a decade of professional experience
in oceanography. She has a PhD in Physical Oceanography and a MS
in Atmospheric Science.

Feb 16, 2017

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