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XPrize announces winners in contest to advance ocean science and discovery
Monica Allen

XPrize announces winners in contest to advance ocean science and discovery

NOAA Bonus Prize goes to team of junior high students and Florida team

Editor’s note: This story was adapted from the news release issued on May 31, 2019 by XPrize

XPRIZE, the global leader in designing and operating incentive competitions to solve humanity’s grand challenges, announced winners on May 31, in the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE and the $1 million NOAA Bonus prize as part of the global competition to advance ocean technologies for rapid, unmanned and high-resolution ocean exploration and discovery.

The results were revealed at an awards ceremony hosted at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, part of the Oceanographic Institute, Prince Albert I of Monaco Foundation. The grand prize winner, receiving a total of $4M, was GEBCO-NF Alumni, an international team based in the United States, while KUROSHIO, from Japan, claimed $1M as the runner-up:

● GEBCO-NF (International) – Led by Rochelle Wigley, Ph.D. and Yulia Zarayskaya, Ph.D., the 14-nation team integrated existing technologies and ocean-mapping experience with a robust and low-cost unmanned surface vessel, the SeaKIT, along with a novel cloud-based data processing system that allows for rapid seabed visualization, to contribute towards comprehensive mapping of the ocean floor by 2030.

● KUROSHIO (Yokosuka, Japan) – Led by Takeshi Nakatani, Ph.D., the team integrated technologies from their partners to create a surface vessel and software platform that can operate with different autonomous underwater vessels, which increases the versatility of their technology.

“Currently, more than 80 percent of the world’s ocean is unmapped, and I'm proud to have worked alongside the people who will change this as a part of this XPRIZE,” said Executive Director of the Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, Jyotika Virmani, Ph.D. “Our vision is that these new technologies will enable the discovery of new ocean species, underwater resources, geological features, and safer methods of exploring the deep sea, while illuminating the mysteries of the deep and discovering what has remained unknown since the dawn of time.”

NOAA Bonus Prize

The $1M NOAA Bonus Prize for teams to develop technology that could detect a chemical or biological signal underwater and autonomously track it to its source was split between junior high school team Ocean Quest from San Jose, California, claiming $800K as the winner, and Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers, from Florida, taking $200K as runner-up.

“NOAA is proud to support this important competition that is accelerating the development of new unmanned tools capable of tracking chemical and biological signals in our ocean,” said Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator. “The cutting-edge technologies that have emerged as a result of the NOAA Bonus Prize will help fuel a growing Blue Economy and inspire future innovation.”

Team Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers

Team Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers

Team Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers, pictured here, was awarded $200,000 of the $1M NOAA Bonus Prize while Ocean Quest, the team of junior high students from San Jose, California, took home $800,000 of the Bonus Prize. Credit: XPrize

Additionally, the judges unanimously recommended a $200K “Moonshot Award” for Team Tao from the United Kingdom for its unique approach to seafloor mapping, even though they did not meet the criteria of the competition.

“The Ocean Discovery XPRIZE teams' accomplishments are a true reflection of XPRIZE’s core belief that incentivizing the crowd will drive innovation and investment, leading to a massive shift in the state of the market,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE. “It is an honor to celebrate the winning teams GEBCO-NF Alumni, KUROSHIO, Ocean Quest, Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers, as well as Team Tao for their unprecedented, radical approach. We look forward to watching these pioneers shape the future of ocean exploration and discovery.”

To determine winners, the panel of independent judges reviewed data from field testing conducted in Kalamata, Greece and Ponce, Puerto Rico. In Kalamata, teams had up to 24 hours to map at least 250 km2 of the ocean seafloor at 5m horizontal resolution or higher. The gold-standard high-resolution baseline maps, against which the team maps were judged, were provided by Ocean Infinity and Fugro, while Esri, the global leader in geographic information system (GIS) software and geodatabase management, donated its award-winning ArcGIS Online platform for the teams and judges to use.

As part of the total $7M prize purse, four teams opted to compete for the $1M NOAA Bonus Prize. In a field test in Ponce, Puerto Rico, teams needed to demonstrate that their technology can “sniff out” a specified object in the ocean by first detecting and then tracing a biological or chemical signal to its source. The judges determined that no single team was able to trace the signal to its source in the timeframe allowed, so the prize was divided among the two teams that came the closest.

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