UK team reaches the final of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:

A group of north east-based subsea engineers has become the only UK team to reach the final of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE and receive an equal share of a $1 million milestone prize for developing new approaches to map the ocean floor.

Team Tao, which is based in the National Centre for Subsea and Offshore Engineering at Newcastle University, will compete against nine other teams from seven countries to represent the UK in the final to win the $7m Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

Together, the industry experts from UK-based subsea engineering specialist Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) and Newcastle University have developed an autonomous swarm system for rapid and unmanned deep ocean exploration.

Mike Jones, SMD CEO, said: “Our chief technology officer Chris Wilkinson, along with his design engineer Dale Wakeham and the team have run with this on a minimal budget and secured a fantastic partner in Newcastle University to create Team Tao. Together they have engineered an innovative, cost-effective way of rapidly mapping the ocean floor and water column.

“We’ve also received some fantastic support from a number of other partners and sponsors, which really goes to show what can be achieved when you give a team of ambitious, bright and courageous engineers the space and freedom to tackle a problem.”

Sponsored by Shell, the competition calls for teams to develop underwater robots that can fully map and discover the wonders of the deep sea like never before by advancing the autonomy, scale, speed, depths and resolution of ocean exploration.

To advance to the final round, Team Tao and the semi-finalist teams had to pass a Round 1 Technology Readiness Test, which comprised of a site visit by XPRIZE staff and judges. The team’s technology was tested to show its approach was capable of meeting operational requirements necessary for rapid, unmanned and high-resolution ocean mapping and discovery.

The final, Round 2 testing will take place during October and November of 2018. Finalists will have an opportunity to demonstrate their technologies in the real world in a deep-sea environment, where they will have to map the sea floor at 4000m depth and bring back ten images from the ocean.

Professor Nick Wright, pro-vice-chancellor for innovation and business at Newcastle University said: “It highlights the outstanding quality of innovative engineering that the team have achieved in a remarkably short timetable and speaks volumes about the remarkable collaboration between the University and this world-leading company."

The winning team will be announced in December 2018.

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