Ocean mapping, exploration inventions honored with XPRIZE

June 3, 2019  - By
Image: GPS World

With more than 80 percent of the world’s oceans unmapped, the deep ocean is one of the last unknown areas on Earth. On May 31, teams with unique exploration solutions were honored with the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

XPRIZE is a global competition to advance ocean technologies for rapid, unmanned and high-resolution ocean exploration and discovery. The teams invented new technologies for rapid, unmanned and high-resolution ocean exploration and discovery.

The results were revealed at an awards ceremony hosted at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, part of the Oceanographic Institute, Prince Albert I of Monaco Foundation.

The grand prize winner, receiving a total of $4 million, was GEBCO-NF Alumni, an international team based in the United States, while KUROSHIO, from Japan, claimed $1 million as the runner-up.

GEBCO-NF Alumni was led by Rochelle Wigley, Ph.D., and Yulia Zarayskaya, Ph.D. The 14-nation team integrated existing technologies and ocean-mapping experience with a robust and low-cost unmanned surface vessel, the SeaKIT, along with a novel cloud-based data processing system that allows for rapid seabed visualization, to contribute towards comprehensive mapping of the ocean floor by 2030.

Runner-up was KUROSHIO, from Yokosuka, Japan, led by Takeshi Nakatani, Ph.D. The team integrated technologies from their partners to create a surface vessel and software platform that can operate with different autonomous underwater vessels, which increases the versatility of their technology.

Field Testing. To determine winners, the panel of independent judges reviewed data from field testing conducted in Kalamata, Greece, and Ponce, Puerto Rico. In Kalamata, teams had up to 24 hours to map at least 250 square kilometers of the ocean seafloor at five meters horizontal resolution or higher.

The gold-standard high-resolution baseline maps, against which the team maps were judged, were provided by Ocean Infinity and Fugro, while Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software and geodatabase management, donated its ArcGIS Online platform for the teams and judges to use.

NOAA Prize. The $1 million National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bonus Prize went to teams for developing technology that could detect a chemical or biological signal underwater and autonomously track it to its source. The award was split between junior high school team Ocean Quest from San Jose, California, which claimed $800,000 as the winner, and Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers, from Florida, taking $200,000 as runner-up.

Additionally, the judges unanimously recommended a $200,000 Moonshot Award for Team Tao from the United Kingdom for its unique approach to seafloor mapping, even though they did not meet the criteria of the competition.

As part of the total $7 million prize purse, four teams opted to compete for the $1 million NOAA Bonus Prize. In a field test in Ponce, Puerto Rico, teams needed to demonstrate that their technology can “sniff out” a specified object in the ocean by first detecting and then tracing a biological or chemical signal to its source.

The judges determined that no single team was able to trace the signal to its source in the timeframe allowed, so the prize was divided among the two teams that came the closest. In 2018, nine finalist teams were awarded an equal share of the first $1 million of the $7 million prize purse, in recognition of their progress-to-date and to support the teams’ continued technological development.

Seabed 2030 and science fiction. As part of its post-prize impact work, XPRIZE announced a partnership with Seabed 2030, a collaborative project between The Nippon Foundation and The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) to inspire the complete mapping of the world’s ocean by 2030 and to compile all bathymetric data into the freely-available GEBCO Ocean Map.

Additionally, and in anticipation of World Oceans Day on June 8th, XPRIZE will launch a science fiction ocean anthology featuring 19 original short stories and artwork set in a future when technology has helped unlock the secrets of the world’s oceans.