Fugro deploys latest offshore tech in partnership with Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE

Image: XPRIZE Foundation

Capitalizing on its deepwater survey expertise, Fugro says it will provide high resolution deepwater baseline bathymetry data over a 500 square kilometre competition area in support of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE for its first round of testing.

The Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition incentivises development of rapid, unmanned and high resolution ocean mapping technologies.

Fugro has collected more than one million square kilometres of high resolution bathymetry data annually in recently years, predominantly in water depths greater than 750 metres. It will acquire the seafloor data using state-of-the-art techniques and equipment, including a deepwater autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with sonar-based survey systems.

The information will be used to ground-truth the work of 21 semi-finalist teams advancing to Round 1 of the competition.

The challenge for the competing teams is to deploy their inventions to operate at 2,000 metres ocean depth, mapping 20 per cent of the project site at five metres resolution and identifying at least five archaeological, biological or geological features in a 16-hour timeframe. In other words, the competition technologies will aim to reach depths deeper than the Grand Canyon and map an area that is nearly five times the area of Paris.

XPRIZE announced the 21 teams representing 13 countries advancing in the $7 million competition earlier this month. Their innovative approaches run the gamut from gliders and drones, underwater robotic swarms and autonomous underwater vehicles to robotics, artificial intelligence and massive computing platforms. The lone competitor from Canada, ENVIRODRONE of Windsor, Ontario, is using aerial drones that launch next-gen AUVs.

Given that 85 per cent of the world’s oceans is yet to be mapped using modern survey techniques, there is a lot of seabed yet to cover.

“Fugro is working on a number of fronts to help close this data gap,” said David Millar, Fugro’s director of hydrographic services for the Americas. “Our partnership with the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is especially exciting, as the competition could result in game-changing technology that will be for the benefit of industry and our understanding of the world’s oceans.”

In addition to increasing the speeds and methods by which baseline bathymetry could be acquired, the competition offers a special $1 million incentive sponsored by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for systems that can also detect and track biological and chemical signals. Such advancements would improve emergency response as well as foster the discovery and monitoring of new marine life and underwater communities. First round testing for semi-finalist teams is scheduled to commence in September 2017.

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