The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE initiative starts to explore the oceans

The home page of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE website
The home page of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE website

Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of XPRIZE, announced the start of a new initiative called Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE that aims to support the development of technologies for the exploration of the oceans. This new project will be conducted with a competition that will offer prizes for a total of $7 million to the winners to expand the boundaries of our frontiers in the oceans. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) will provide an additional prize of $1 million.

The oceans cover about 70% of the Earth’s surface and their health is critical to the continuation of life on the planet and yet only a small part is known. In launching the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE project we’re reminded that we have better maps of Mars than those of the ocean floors. Probably, after the extraordinary NASA’s New Horizons space probe’s flyby, we have better maps even of Pluto.

The problem is that going down to depths of a few kilometers is in many ways more difficult than sending a space probe billions of kilometers away. The visibility decreases rapidly with depth while the pressure increases. The result is that less than 5% of the oceans got explored and often with considerable costs.

For these reasons, XPRIZE, a non-profit organization that manages competitions that aim to encourage technological developments for the benefit of humanity, launched the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE. This new competition will reward those who can build autonomous vehicles that can be launched from the air or from the coast that can create maps of the ocean floor at depths of 4,000 meters (a bit more than 13,100 feet).

The team that will win the competition will receive the first prize of $4 million. The second classified will receive a prize of $1 million. Other prizes will be awarded to the top 10 teams of the competition. NOAA is working with XPRIZE offering $1 million bonus to the teams that will be able to demonstrate technologies that use biological and chemical signals to “sniff” objects in the oceans.

The time-table for this type of competition is long, in fact 2016 will be used only for the teams that want to participate in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE to register and to submit their projects. The real tests will begin only in 2017 and the prizes will be awarded during the course of 2018. It’s another initiative by XPRIZE with a great potential that could contribute a lot to discover new secrets of the oceans.

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