The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE project announced its winners during a ceremony held at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, part of the Oceanographic Institute. The initiative was announced in December 2015 by Peter Diamandis, president and CEO of XPRIZE, in order to support the development of ocean exploration technologies. A million dollar bonus prize was awarded by the US NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
Last year, 9 teams got selected as finalists in the competition and split a million dollars of prize equally. To establish the winners, they faced a test of their underwater robotic systems. In Kalamata, Greece, the teams had 24 hours to map at least 250 km^2 of ocean floor at a horizontal resolution of at least 5 meters.
Team GEBCO-NF won the competition and a prize of $4 million, mapping over 250 km^2 of which 140 with a resolution higher than the one required with the SeaKIT vessel in the top photo (Courtesy GEBCO-NF. All rights reserved) in which various existing technologies were integrated together with an innovative cloud-based data processing system that allows rapid visualization of the seabed. This will help carry out the team’s goal, which is the mapping of the ocean floor by 2030, also thanks to the first consequence of the victory, which came from the announcement of a collaboration between XPRIZE and the Seabed 2030 project of which the team is part, present together with the SeaKIT vessel in the bottom photo (Courtesy GEBCO-NF. All rights reserved).
Team KUROSHIO was the runner-up and won one million dollars making a high resolution mapping but failing to complete the required area. The technologies used were provided by Japanese universities, institutes and companies to create a vessel and a software platform that can also operate on other autonomous underwater vessels. The team’s aim is to create a versatile technology that can be integrated into various vessels.
A special prize of $200,000 was awarded to Team Tao for the original approach to the problem with a vehicle that descends towards the bottom like a plumb line and then back up. They didn’t meet the criteria of the competition but their choices could be interesting to develop autonomous drones for exploring ocean depths.
The bonus prize awarded by NOAA required the vessel to trace the origin of an underwater chemical signal. The winner was team Ocean Quest, a project that has a mainly educational purpose developed above all by students for students from all over the world, which won $800,000, while the runner-up was team Tampa Deep-Sea X-plorers, which won $200,000.
At the ceremony, Dr. Jyotika Virmani, Ocean Discovery XPRIZE executive director, expressed her pride for having worked alongside people who will change the current situation in which over 80% of the oceans are not yet mapped. The technologies developed will allow to discover new oceanic species, underwater resources, geological features and safer methods to explore the sea depths.
The surface of the Earth covered for 70% by water and the state of the seas is crucial for life on the planet. It seems absurd to have much more complete maps of the surface of the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies than of the ocean floor and yet currently that kind of exploration is still difficult and expensive. The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE project gave a boost to change this situation and this will offer both new commercial possibilities for the teams that made the greatest progress and new information on the state of life on Earth.