Hoping to spur a new wave of technologies for ocean research, the XPRIZE Foundation launched a three-year global competition on Monday, with $7 million in prizes in the offing for teams developing vehicles to map the seafloor and other initiatives.
"We know more about the surface of Mars than we do our own oceans," XPrize chairman and chief executive Peter Diamandis said at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco.
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The Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, backed primarily by Shell, is divided into two parts. First, teams will need to demonstrate resilient and durable autonomous robotic vehicles capable of operating at depths of nearly 2.5 miles (4,000 meters.)
The submersibles will be required to make a map of the sea floor, relay high-resolution images of specific objects and identify archeological, biological or geologic features.
After meeting minimum requirements for speed, depth and autonomous operation, teams will be rated on the quality of their images, with $4 million for first-place and $1 million for second.
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In addition, up to 10 teams can qualify to compete for a second round of prizes, worth a total of $1 million. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is contributing a $1 million bonus prize for a team that can trace a chemical or biological signal to its source.
The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is part of a 10-year XPRIZE Ocean Initiative, which aims to launch five multimillion-dollar prizes by 2020 devoted to marine research and related environmental issues. Two competitions that addressed ocean oil cleanup and ocean health were awarded in 2011 and July 2015 respectively.