“The Oceans Are Earth’s Least Explored Space”

Get to know a bit more about the science behind our mission, the research and our future plans. The article below, written by Hilary Brueck, gives an insight into why the XPRIZE competition is so important to future developments in scientific discoveries & technological and medical advances.

The oceans are Earth’s least explored space.

Blanketing more than two-thirds of the planet, the seas hide clues about questions like “when is the next tsunami?,” “where did that plane crash?,” and even “how high will sea levels rise?”

Today, XPRIZE — the non-profit started by Peter Diamandis that awards multi-million dollar prizes to spur new inventions — awarded $4 million to a team that built a pair of robots to help solve some of those mysteries.

The autonomous vehicles are designed to explore the deepest corners of the sea floor, places fewer than a handful of humans have ever visited. The robots work together to map the bottom of the ocean: One vehicle, named “Hugin,” moves below the waves, while the other, “SeaKIT,” stays on the surface.

“Our vision for the ocean is a healthy, valued and understood ocean,” Jyotika Virmani, XPRIZE’s executive director of prize operations, told Business Insider. “A map is the most basic level of understanding that we can get to … and we just don’t have that map yet.”

The winning team wants to map the entire sea floor by 2030

The winning team behind the robots is called GEBCO-NF Alumni, and it is spearheaded by a duo of researchers based in New Hampshire and Russia.

“We were 78 people from 22 countries that worked on the project,” project director Rochelle Wigley said when the prize winners were announced in Monaco on Friday. “Our diversity wasn’t only in nationalities, it was in education, careers, backgrounds, gender, color, age. We were truly diverse.”

During the final phase of the XPRIZE competition in Greece, their pair of vehicles successfully mapped an area of the sea 250 square kilometers wide and 4,000 meters below the surface in 24 hours. That’s an area more than twice the size of Paris.

Creating a good map of the sea floor would help scientists better predict tsunamis, estimate sea-level rise, and assist rescue crews as they hunt for downed planes and ships.

The team’s winning device is relatively low-cost. The two vessels use satellites and broadband radio to communicate, and they employ sonar to map the sea floor. No humans are required to step foot in the water for the system to work. When the Hugin submarine is ready to return home, it simply parks itself inside the bigger SEA-KIT ship.

GEBCO-NF Alumni wants to map the entire sea floor by 2030 using the pair of robotic ocean explorers. It’s an ambitious plan, considering that less than 10% of the world’s oceans have been mapped to date.

To work more quickly, the team uses cloud-based data processing that speeds up the mapping process. That way, instead of waiting two to three weeks for a map to render, the process can be done in days, at a detail level of 5-meter resolution.

“If you put a DNA sensor on the technology, you could actually even sniff out and figure out the distribution of invasive species,” Virmani said.

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