The deep sea off the southern coast of Puerto Rico was initially chosen as the Round 1 Field Test location for the 19 semifinalist teams competing in the $7 million Ocean Discovery XPRIZE. However, due to the island’s ongoing recovery from Hurricane Maria, the first round of testing will now be a Technology Readiness Test comprised of site visits to each team, judged against 11 key measurement criteria. Round 1 begins in November 2017 and continues until February 2018, and will ensure the teams are challenged with rigorous criteria that show their technologies are capable of meeting the operational requirements necessary for rapid, unmanned, and high-resolution ocean exploration and discovery.
Launched in 2015, the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE semifinalists include teams with middle and high school students, university teams of undergraduate and graduate students, nonprofits, startups and professional scientists and engineers. Representing 13 countries across five continents, the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE semifinalist teams’ innovative approaches involve unique, hybrid systems that mobilize gliders and drones, underwater robotic swarms, autonomous underwater vehicles, robotics, artificial intelligence and massive computing platforms. Once launched, these robots and vehicles use artificial intelligence to navigate and explore, gathering underwater data for retrieval following each mission.
“Round 1 testing for the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE takes us a step closer toward accelerating the development of a range of technologies that will give us a better understanding of the mysteries of the deep sea,” said Jyotika Virmani, Ph.D., prize lead and senior director of the XPRIZE Planet and Environment team. “We are very excited to begin Round 1 testing and, for the first time, see all the semifinalists demonstrate their innovative and diverse technological approaches to rapidly mapping the ocean floor.”
The timing of the initial test for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) $1 million Bonus Prize is also currently under review. For this Bonus Prize, teams will need to demonstrate that their technology can ”sniff out” a specified object in the ocean by tracing a biological and chemical signal to its source.
“In a dire time where the first priority is Puerto Rico’s swift recovery, XPRIZE remains grateful and committed in return. We share hopes with Puerto Rico that we can resume our planning in time for a NOAA Bonus Prize test in 2018,” added Virmani.
To support the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition, a highly qualified international and independent judging panel consisting of experts in seafloor mapping, data analysis, marine and drone technologies, and underwater discoveries has been established: Victor Abbott, Ph.D., formerly of the University of Plymouth; Aida Alvera-Azcarate, Ph.D., University of Liege; Douglas Au, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; Catherine Ball, Ph.D., Remote Research Ranges; Christina Kellogg, Ph.D., United States Geological Survey; David Mearns, Blue Water Recoveries; and Shah Selbe, National Geographic Emerging Explorer.
“We are extremely honored to have such a high caliber of expertise on the judging panel,” said Virmani. “Their diverse backgrounds and experience has added the necessary rigor needed to judge this very challenging competition.”
As determined by the judging panel, all semifinalist teams that meet the Round 1 Technology Readiness Test Criteria will split a $1 million Milestone Prize and move forward to the final Round 2 Field Test. In Round 2, the teams will have the opportunity to demonstrate their technologies in deep-sea, real-world, rigorous testing at a yet-to-be announced location.