The finalists in a $7-million competition to map the ocean floor have been announced, along with the location the contest will take place.
The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, announced back in 2015, is the latest competition from the XPRIZE foundation, which seeks to boost innovation in particular fields by awarding prize money to teams to tackle a particular goal. Previous contests have included building a space plane and developing a Star Trek-style tricorder.
In this latest competition, teams were tasked with building autonomous undersea submersibles that can map the sea floor remotely. The vehicles must be launched from the shore, traveling to a particular location by water or air with limited input from humans.
The competition will start in early November, running through to December. Each team will be tasked with mapping a section of the seafloor off the coast of Kalamata in Greece, which has now been announced as the location.
Each of the eight finalist teams will have 24 hours to map at least 250 square kilometers (100 square miles) of the ocean floor at depths down to 4,000 meters (13,000 feet), twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The map must have a resolution of at least 5 meters (16 feet), and they must identify and find at least 10 archeological, biological, or geological features.
“The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competing teams are creating breakthrough technologies designed to operate in extreme conditions, with the goal of rapidly mapping an area that has not previously been mapped at such high resolution,” XPRIZE’s Dr Jyotika Virmani, who is leading this competition, said in a statement.
“We are providing the teams with an environment that is full of mystery and geological features that will offer a true test of their technologies.”
The teams will be scored on how well they map the ocean floor. The team that performs best will receive a $4 million prize, while second place will be awarded $1 million.
A secondary $1 million bonus competition sponsored by NOAA will also take place in early 2019. In this, teams will be tasked to “sniff out” the biological or chemical signal of a particular object in the ocean.
This prize will have other immediate benefits too. The data produced by the team will be used by for a project known as KM3NeT, a neutrino detector that will use thousands of sensors on the ocean floor by 2025 to detect incoming cosmic rays.
The goal of the Ocean XPRIZE is not just to race to map a small section of the seafloor, though. XPRIZE hopes the competition will spur advances in ocean mapping; despite covering two-thirds of our planet, we’ve only explored about 5 percent of our oceans so far.