Nearly 95 percent of Earth’s seafloor remains unexplored, but a team of researchers at Virginia Tech aims to uncover some of the mystery.
The $7 Million Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE asks researchers worldwide to expedite the mapping of the ocean floor with unmanned autonomous underwater vehicles that can quickly capture high-resolution maps.
As with other XPRIZE competitions, the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE seeks to catalyze the development of new technology. The result will be new robotics and autonomous technology that can map the deep ocean with higher resolution and at a pace that is orders of magnitude beyond what is currently possible.
“With only 5 percent of the ocean surveyed, it’s really hard for us to do things like populate high-fidelity models of the ocean to help us predict climate change,” said Dan Stilwell, professor of electrical and computer engineering and the faculty advisor to the Virginia Tech-based XPRIZE team. “The technology exists, but it is much too slow and very expensive, so the XPRIZE competition is incentivizing the creation of more-effective technology that is dramatically faster and has a much lower cost.”
The Virginia DEEP-X team, led by Stilwell’s lab, will compete against 20 other teams from 13 different countries with a team of underwater vehicles called Javelin. These small and low-cost vehicles will cooperate to intelligently survey deep ocean without human intervention.
During competitions, the team will deploy multiple Javelin vehicles that communicate with each other using sound to cooperatively map the seafloor and simultaneously generate bathymetric maps, which show depth of underwater features like topographical maps.
According to Stilwell, the technology and its resulting maps would not only be helpful in predicting climate change, but would also aid in locating natural resources and in search-and-recovery missions, among other potential uses.