How much do we know about what hides in the deep recesses of our oceans? Surprisingly the answer will be very low. There are lots of things beneath the ocean that are yet to be explored. So, XPrize has announced a new $7 million contest to encourage innovations in ocean exploration technology.
Co-sponsored by Shell, the prize was announced yesterday at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The inspiration behind this exploration is the lack of high-resolution maps of the ocean bed. More than 90% of the sea bed has not been surveyed yet in detail.
“It was a Caribbean sponge that gave us AZT, the compound used in AIDS treatments. There are many more medical benefits just waiting to be discovered, but we have no idea because the oceans remain largely unexplored,” Dr. Jyotika Virmani, technical director of XPrize told BBC News.
The contest will require contending teams to complete their exploration in just three years. No deployment of solutions from land or air will be allowed and the entrants can’t use any ship or be in the survey area in person. So, all they are going to need is a fully autonomous vehicle.
The competition will be held in two rounds. The first one to be held in 2017 will be commenced at a superficial depth of 2,000 m, claiming the teams to make a bathymetric map of at least 20% of a 500 sq-km zone of seabed in roughly 6-8 hours.
After completing the first round, the top 10 teams will compete for the second round which will be held at 4,000m, the full competition depth. The competitors have to map at least 50% of the sea in 12-15 hours. The organizers demand a scanning resolution of 5m per pixel. The high resolution pictures from the deep need to be returned. Don’t expect the control and communication to be easy in the dark at 4,000m. And the pressure will be about 40 megapascals-nearly 6,000 pounds per square inch.
“Four thousand metres is certainly challenging and we’re looking forward to seeing some very innovative technologies,” said Dr. Virmani.
From the $7 million prize money, $1m is reserved for the team that will be able to demonstrate new biological and chemical underwater resources. The team will need to “sniff” a target to its source in the survey zone to win this prize. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the sponsor of the prize.