The New $7M Xprize Focuses On Mapping The World’s Oceans

The latest Xprize offers a total of $7 million for teams that advance ocean mapping technology. This is part of Xprize’s broader ocean initiative, but Jyotika Virmani, senior director of ocean discovery, noted that the previous prizes focused on ocean cleanup and health.

The initiative’s goal is to ensure that the oceans remain “healthy, valued and understood,” and Virmani said that understanding the ocean is an important part of the process. She also said that seafloor exploration can lead to advances in other areas — for example, a Caribbean sea sponge was used in developing a number of drugs, including HIV medicine.

“We have better maps of the surface of Mars than we do of our seafloor,” she said, citing the often-referenced factoid that 95 percent of the ocean remains unexplored.

Virmani added that the expense remains one of the main obstacles to seafloor mapping. So teams are encouraged to explore cost-saving approaches, like launching the device from the shore (so that no ship is required).

The contest will include nine months of team registration, 12 months for initial development and 18 months for testing. A $4 million grand prize and a $1 million second prize will go to the teams that demonstrate the highest resolution mapping while also meeting other devices like autonomy and depth.

There’s also a $1 million purse to be split between every team that makes it to round two, as well as a $1 million bonus prize from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for technology that can “sniff out” a specific object.

The full title of the competition, by the way, is the Shell Ocean Discovery Xprize, and Shell is sponsoring it. Virmani said that these technologies could help Shell with “safe and efficient pipeline inspections,” but as with other Xprizes, the sponsor is not directly involved in the judging.