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Winners of XPRIZE for advancements in Autonomous Ocean Exploration are announced 

XPRIZE, which designs and operates incentive competitions to solve humanity’s grand challenges, has announced the winners of the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a 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. 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.

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The winning team comprised members from 14 nations. Photo: XPRIZE

Led by Rochelle Wigley, PhD and Yulia Zarayskaya, PhD, GEBCO-NF  comprises a 14-nation team. It 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 visualisation, to contribute towards comprehensive mapping of the ocean floor by 2030.

Takeshi Nakatani, PhD led KUROSHIO, the team that integrated technologies from partners to create a surface vessel and software platform that can operate with different autonomous underwater vessels, which increases the versatility of its technology.   

The $1M National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (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.

“Currently, more than 80 per cent 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, PhD “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.”

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 it did not meet the criteria of the competition. 

“The Ocean Discovery XPRIZE teams' accomplishments are a true reflection of XPRIZE’s core belief that incentivising 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 honour to celebrate the winning teams GEBCO-NF Alumni, KUROSHIO, Ocean Quest, Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers, as well as Team Tao for its unprecedented, radical approach. We look forward to watching these pioneers shape the future of ocean exploration and discovery.”

Martin Stauble, Shell’s Vice President Exploration North America and Brazil said: “At Shell, we are firm believers in the power of ideas and the value of collaboration to solve big problems. We are proud to be part of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE. This prize energised teams from across the globe and stimulated innovation, technology and learning, all in support of providing data for a better understanding of our oceans. We hope that the XPRIZE results will be a catalyst to create a step-change in the speed and quality of data that companies, research institutes and society can use.”

The acting NOAA administrator, Neil Jacobs, PhD added: “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. 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.”

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Currently, eighty per cent of the world's ocean is unmapped. Image: vilainecrevette|123rf

As part of its post-prize impact work, XPRIZE announced a partnership with Seabed 2030, a collaborative project between The Nippon Foundation and The General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) to inspire the complete mapping of the world’s ocean by 2030 and to compile all bathymetric data into the freely-available GEBCO Ocean Map.

Additionally, and in anticipation of World Oceans Day on June 8th, XPRIZE will launch a science fiction ocean anthology featuring 19 original short stories and artwork set in a future when technology has helped unlock the secrets of the world’s oceans.

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