Seven Million Dollar XPrize Will Encourage Deep Ocean Exploration
Seven Million Dollar XPrize Will Encourage Deep Ocean Exploration

Seven Million Dollar XPrize Will Encourage Deep Ocean Exploration

A new $7 million XPRIZE challenge has been launched today which looks to boost development of technology for unmanned deep ocean exploration.

“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 percent of the deep sea remains a mystery to us,” Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE chairman and CEO, said in a news release. “In fact, we have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our own seafloor.”

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is meant to accelerate innovation in deep-sea mapping. Diamandis unveiled the three-year competition today during the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco. He was joined on stage by representatives of the contest’s sponsors, Shell and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The teams that enter the contest will have to complete a series of tasks, including making a map of the seafloor, producing high-resolution images of a specific object, and identifying archaeological, biological or geological features. The technologies have to work at depths of up to 4,000 meters (2.5 miles).

A $4 million grand prize and $1 million second-place prize have been set aside for the qualified teams that demonstrate the highest-resolution seafloor mapping. Up to 10 teams will share $1 million in prizes when they advance to the contest’s final round.

NOAA is offering a $1 million bonus prize for the team that can trace a chemical or biological signal to its source. NOAA chief scientist Richard Spinrad said the goal of the 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,”

The deadline for signing up is Sept. 30. Between now and then, the XPRIZE organizers will be working out the detailed rules and regulations.

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE follows up on earlier contests that focused on oil spill cleanup and ocean health. XPRIZE’s track record also includes multimillion-dollar competitions boosting private-sector spaceflight, lunar exploration, super-efficient automobiles, carbon dioxide conversion systems, Tricorder-type medical diagnostic devices and educational technologies.


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