New $7m XPRIZE to focus on ocean exploration

A new XPRIZE competition has been announced which will see entrants building autonomous underwater vehicles capable of exploring the ocean at depths up to 4,000m.

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE will challenge teams to design vehicles with sea floor mapping, capturing high-resolution images of a specific object, and identifying archaeological, biological or geological features. They must also demonstrate their durability by operating when deployed from shore and from the air.

Mapping the ocean floor is one of the key competition challenges. (Credit: XPRIZE)
Mapping the ocean floor is one of the key competition challenges. (Credit: XPRIZE)

Mapping the ocean floor is one of the competition challenges.

The competition will take place over three years. Registration is open for the next nine months, followed by 12 months for initial solution development and 18 months to complete two rounds of testing and judging by an expert panel. Entrants are invited to battle it out for a share of the $7m prize fund, with a $4m grand prize awarded to the overall winner.

“Our oceans cover two-thirds of our planet’s surface and are a crucial global source of food, energy, economic security, and even the air we breathe, yet 95 per cent of the deep sea remains a mystery to us,” said Dr Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of XPRIZE.

“In fact, we have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our own seafloor. The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE will address a critical ocean challenge by accelerating innovation to further explore one of our greatest unexplored frontiers.”

Alongside the $4m first prize, $1m will be awarded to the runner-up, with another $1m split between up to 10 teams that progress to the later stages. There is also an additional $1m bonus prize provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the team that can successfully trace a chemical or biological signal back to its source.

“The goal of the $1M NOAA bonus prize is to identify technology that can aid in detecting sources of pollution, enable rapid response to leaks and spills, identify hydrothermal vents and methane seeps, as well as track marine life for scientific research and conservation efforts,” said Richard Spinrad, chief scientist at NOAA.

The competition is part of a 10-year XPRIZE Ocean Initiative that will see five multi-million dollar prizes launched before 2020 that will all be focused on addressing critical challenges and advancing our understanding of the oceans.