UK team scoops Moonshot Award at Ocean XPrize

Newcastle-based Team Tao has won a $200,000 Moonshot Award at the grand final of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPrize competition.

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(Credit: Team Tao)

The Ocean XPrize challenged teams to devise novel technologies for mapping the ocean floor autonomously in high resolution. Competing in the final against seven other teams from around the world, the UK team had 24 hours to map at least 250 km2 of the ocean floor off the coast of the Greek city of Kalamata, achieving a 5m horizontal resolution or higher.

Team Tao, which featured subsea engineers from Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) and Newcastle University, used its swarm system of subsea drones deployed from an autonomous surface vessel to take on the task. During the final, the team had to chart the seafloor to identify 10 archaeological, biological and geological features of interest. Despite Team Tao falling short of the competition’s criteria, the judges unanimously decided to bestow the surprise Moonshot Award in recognition of the team’s unique approach to the challenge.

“I am delighted that Team Tao have received this Moonshot Award,” said Mike Jones, SMD CEO. “We began this journey with an ambitious dream on a minimal budget and secured a fantastic partner in Newcastle University to create TeamTao. Solving engineering problems by looking at them from a different angle is the essence of what we do at SMD, and together with Newcastle University, we have engineered a truly pioneering and cost-effective method of rapidly mapping the ocean floor and water column.

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(Credit: Team Tao)

“The technology we have developed is revolutionary both in terms of cost and speed of map generation; we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us commercialising this technology, but we are confident that this will change the way we understand our oceans in future.”

The results were revealed at an awards ceremony hosted at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco. GEBCO-NF Alumni, an international team based in the United States, was named the overall grand prize winner and awarded $4m, while KUROSHIO, from Japan, claimed $1m as the runner-up. In addition, the $1m National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Bonus Prize for tracking chemical and biological signals underwater was split between high school team Ocean Quest from San Jose, California, claiming $800K as the winner, and Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers, from Florida, taking $200K as runner-up.

“Our vision is that these new technologies will enable the discovery of new ocean species, underwater resources, geological features, and safer methods of exploring the deep sea, while illuminating the mysteries of the deep and discovering what has remained unknown since the dawn of time,” said Jyotika Virmani, executive director of the Ocean Discovery XPrize.

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