Drones, robotic swarms, lasers and AI enlisted in Shell’s quest to explore ocean depths

Image: Team Kuroshio

XPRIZE has chosen nine finalist teams advancing in the $7 million Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a three-year competition challenging teams to advance ocean technologies for rapid, unmanned and high-resolution ocean exploration.

In this round, XPRIZE will award each finalist an equal share of a $1 million prize purse for the ocean mapping and imaging technologies they have developed. Their innovative approaches include artificial intelligence, aerial drones, underwater robotic swarms, lasers and autonomous surface and underwater vehicles. Four teams each hail from the U.S. and Europe and one is located in Japan.

As the saying goes, we know more about the surface of Mars than we know about the ocean floor. Only five per cent of the ocean has been explored, yet it feeds over two billion people and provides more than 50 per cent of the earth’s oxygen.

Shell’s Ocean Discovery XPRIZE aims to change that. The global competition challenging teams to push the boundaries of ocean technologies by creating solutions that advance the autonomy, scale, speed, depths and resolution of ocean exploration.

Teams compete in two rounds of testing that must launch from shore or air and, with restricted human intervention, their entries have limited number of hours to explore the competition area at depths of 2,000 and 4,000 metres. They must produce: a high resolution bathymetric map; images of a specified object; and identify archaeological, biological or geological features.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) $1 million bonus prize will incentivize teams to develop technologies to detect the source of chemical and biological signals underwater.

“Round 1 testing for the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE allowed the judges to see, for the first time, tangible prototypes of the innovative and diverse approaches that will revolutionize our access to the deep ocean and finally unveil the mysteries that lie deep below the sea-surface,” Jyotika Virmani, PhD, prize lead and senior director of Planet and Environment at XPRIZE, said in a statement.

“As we dive into Round 2, we are looking forward to testing the finalists’ technologies in a rigorous real-world situation that will demonstrate their ability to rapidly map the ocean floor at 4,000 metre depths—that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon.”

“Improving humanity’s ability to gather, visualize and interpret deep ocean data using new digital techniques while collaborating with some of the brightest minds is exciting. These nine finalist teams are a testament to the strength of open innovation through teamwork,” added Marc Gerrits, executive vice-president of Exploration, Shell. “We believe that innovation and collaboration are fundamental if we are to solve some of the biggest challenges facing society today.”

Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE finalists were chosen from a field of 19 semifinalists by an independent judging panel of seven experts. Teams advancing to the final round include:

• ARGGONAUTS (Karlsruhe, Germany) – Led by Gunnar Brink, the team is creating two swarms: one swarm in the deep-sea and one on the ocean surface. Five or more intelligent deep-sea robot drones will be accompanied and supported by the same number of autonomous catamarans for geo-referencing, retrieval and transport.

• Blue Devil Ocean Engineering – Duke University (Durham, NC, United States) – Led by Martin Brooke, the Duke University team is working with heavy lift aerial drones that drop retrievable diving SONAR pods.

• CFIS (Arnex-sur-Nyon, Switzerland) – Led by Toby Jackson, the team is building a fleet of AUVs to map and image the ocean floor using lasers.

• GEBCO-NF Alumni (USA, Global) – Led by GEBCO-Nippon Foundation alumni, the 12-nation team is integrating existing technologies and ocean-mapping experience with an innovative unmanned surface vessel to contribute toward its goal of the comprehensive mapping of the ocean floor by 2030.

• KUROSHIO (Yokosuka, Japan) – Led by Takeshi Nakatani, the team is integrating technologies owned by Japanese universities, institutes and companies for a unique collaborative approach centred around AUVs.

• PISCES (Portugal) – Led by Nuno Cruz, the team is aggregating Portuguese technologies developed at INESC TEC (Porto) and CINTAL (Algarve) to create the PISCES system that leverages cooperative robotics.

• Team Tao (Newcastle, United Kingdom) – Led by Dale Wakeham, the team is developing an autonomous swarm system for rapid surface to deep ocean exploration.

• Texas A&M Ocean Engineering (College Station, TX, United States) – Led by students, and working in partnership with industry and successful alumni of Texas A&M, the university team is using drone ships and AUVs to explore remote ocean habitats.

• Virginia DEEP-X (Virginia, United States) – Led by Dan Stilwell, the team is developing small and low-cost underwater vehicles that operate in coordinated teams.

The final Round 2 testing will take place during October and November of 2018. Finalists will have an opportunity to demonstrate their technologies in the real-world in a deep-sea environment, where they will have to map the sea floor at 4,000 metre depth and bring back 10 images from the ocean.

A preliminary test of the $1 million NOAA Bonus Prize will take place during Spring 2018. This will give all semifinalist teams who have opted to participate a platform to test their technologies. The winners of the NOAA Bonus Prize, which incentivizes the development of technologies that can detect a chemical or biological signal underwater and autonomously track it to its source, will be determined during Round 2 testing in October and November 2018.

XPRIZE is a non-profit that utilizes a combination of gamification, crowd-sourcing, incentive prize theory, and exponential technologies as a formula to make 10x (vs. 10 per cent) impact in the grand challenge domains by igniting rapid experimentation from a variety of diverse lenses.

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is part of the XPRIZE Ocean Initiative — a commitment made to launch five multimillion dollar prizes to address ocean challenges and make the oceans healthy, valued and understood.

Dear user, please be aware that we use cookies to help users navigate our website content and to help us understand how we can improve the user experience. If you have ideas for how we can improve our services, we’d love to hear from you. Click here to email us. By continuing to browse you agree to our use of cookies. Please see our Privacy & Cookie Usage Policy to learn more.