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Fugro embarks on unmanned ocean mapping competition

Only 85 % of the world’s oceans is yet to be mapped using modern survey techniques. To overcome this final mapping frontier, the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE global competition aims to develop solutions for rapid, unmanned and high-resolution ocean mapping technologies. Fugro has just announced a partnership with the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE to provide their expertise in hydrographic surveying techniques, such as that used in the large area search for MH370.

The three-year competition commenced in 2015 with 21 semi-finalist teams from ten countries remaining. Fugro’s role is to provide high resolution deepwater baseline bathymetry data over a 500 km² competition area. The company has recently collected more than 1 million km² of high resolution bathymetry data per year globally, predominantly in water depths greater than 750 metres.

Capitalising on its deepwater survey expertise, Fugro will acquire the seafloor data using state-of-the-art techniques and equipment, including a deepwater autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with sonar-based survey systems. This information will be used to ground-truth the work of 21 semi-finalist teams advancing to Round 1 of the competition. The challenge for the competing teams is to deploy their inventions to operate at 2,000 metres ocean depth, mapping 20% of the project site at 5 metres resolution, and identifying at least five archaeological, biological or geological features, all within a 16-hour timeframe.

Fugro’s Echo Surveyor autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).

“The semi-finalist teams in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE are pushing the envelope of deep sea mapping capabilities, and we are delighted to partner with Fugro on this common goal of mapping the world’s oceans,” said Jyotika Virmani, Ph.D., prize lead and senior director of XPRIZE’s Energy and Environment Group. “Fugro’s global subsea experience ensures that we will have baseline maps of the highest standards, against which the judging panel can compare the data collected by competing teams.”

Fugro’s director of hydrographic services for the Americas, David Millar said that ocean mapping technologies was of huge interest to the company: “Fugro is working on a number of fronts to help close this data gap,” he said. “Our partnership with the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is especially exciting, as the competition could result in game-changing technology that will be for the benefit of industry and our understanding of the world’s oceans.”

In addition to increasing the speeds and methods by which baseline bathymetry could be acquired, the competition offers a special $1M incentive sponsored by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for systems that can also detect and track biological and chemical signals. Such advancements would improve emergency response and foster the discovery and monitoring of new marine life and underwater communities.

First round testing for semi-finalist teams is scheduled to commence in September 2017. Fugro will acquire, process and deliver the high resolution baseline datasets in advance. The winning teams will be announced in 2018.

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