Member Highlight: Meet The Machines That Could Unlock The Ocean’s Deepest Secrets

2019-06-17T12:39:52+00:00 June 17, 2019|


These autonomous subsea robots may someday predict storms, detect oil leaks, locate shipwrecks, and slow down climate change.

(From Popular Mechanics/ By Stav Dimitropoulos) — In 2016, the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a global competition sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell plc, announced it would dole out $7 million to the technologies that could demonstrably advance the knowledge of the Earth’s most mysterious frontier: the ocean.

Out of the over 30 international teams that swiftly expressed interest, 19 made it to the semifinals in early 2017, nine to the final round in November 2017, and eventually only five fulfilled the criteria to compete in the grand final that took place at the end of 2018 in the coastal town of Kalamata, Greece.

Last week, the winner was unveiled: The team that showed the best technological chops for remotely and autonomously plumbing the world’s oceans was the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO)-Nippon Foundation (NF) alumni, a diverse union of scientists made up of members from 14 different countries, all graduates from the University of New Hampshire’s postgraduate program in ocean bathymetry.

Like the rest of the teams, GEBCO-NF competed in Greece with a combination of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs)—subsea swimming robots that are computer-controlled—and unmanned or autonomous surface vessels (USVs or ASVs respectively), vessels that carry, deploy, and retrieve the AUVs without the intervention of humans.

Drawing on this AUV and USV marriage, the GEBCO-NF team successfully mapped a 278.9-square-kilometer area of seafloor in less than 24 hours (exceeding the 250-square-kilometer standard the judges had set for the same timeframe), produced 10 images of the seabed with a resolution of five meters or higher, and processed and transformed the data into fit-for-use imagery in just two days.

“We developed a surface vessel that can get the AUV out to the mapping site and also act as…

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