Autonomous underwater crafts are about to tackle the ocean off the coast of southern Greece in a $7 million competition to see whose submersibles can best map the ocean’s depths. XPrize, the non-profit organization that’s held competitions to land on the moon and solve global problems with A.I., announced on Tuesday that the deep sea near Kalamata will host field tests for the Shell Ocean Discovery XPrize final. The technology could help reveal the great mysteries of the deepest corners of the ocean.

“Having seen what the teams are proposing, if this competition is a success, there is no doubt in my mind that we will have made history by collectively changing this world and, within our lifetimes, be able to unveil what has been hidden since the start of human memory,” Jyotika Virami, prize lead and senior director of XPrize’s Planet and Environment team, said in a statement.

The competitors’ crafts will make their way to a 500 square kilometer test area by water or air with limited human intervention. They will have 24 hours to map over 250 square kilometers of sea floor more than 4,000 meters below the surface, with the resultant scans showing a resolution of five meters and at least 10 archeological, biological or geological features. The winners, judged by a panel of seven, will receive a first-place prize of $4 million and $1 million to the second place. The resultant map will be used by Greece’s largest research center, NCSR-Demokritos, as part of its plan to build a Neutrino telescope in the Mediterranean.

“We are excited to be bringing this XPrize to Greece, an amazing country with a long history of scientific and technological advancements that have benefited the world,” Virmani said. “The Shell Ocean Discovery XPrize competing teams are creating breakthrough technologies designed to operate in extreme conditions, with the goal of rapidly mapping an area that has not previously been mapped at such high resolution; we are providing the teams with an environment that is full of mystery and geological features that will offer a true test of their technologies.”

The CFIS team hard at work.
The CFIS team hard at work.

This prize started in December 2015, with paper submissions for proposals due 12 months later. This was whittled down to 25 teams that competed in an October 2017 competition test, which left 10 teams in the running. The second round of competition testing took place last month, leaving eight teams for the final showdown. The final round will start in November and run through to December, with the prize scheduled to end on December 1.

Eight teams will compete in the final:

  • ARGGONAUTS - Fraunhofer IOSB (Germany)
  • Blue Devil Ocean Engineering (United States)
  • CFIS (Switzerland)
  • GEBCO-NF Alumni (United States)
  • KUROSHIO (Japan)
  • PISCES (Portugal)
  • Team Tao (United Kingdom)
  • Texas A&M Ocean Engineering (United States)

Five teams will also compete in a bonus prize early next year. This $1 million prize supporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s work will ask teams to search for a specific object by detecting its chemical or biological signature. The teams competing in that prize are:

  • BangaloreRobotics (India)
  • Ocean Quest (United States)
  • Oceanzus (United States)
  • Tampa Deep Sea Xplorers (United States)
  • Texas A&M University Ocean Engineering (United States)