Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Robots of the Sea

By Erika Wagner - Senior Director, Exploration, Prize Development

What happens when you cross the intelligence of a dolphin, the efficiency of a manta ray and the playfulness of a sea otter? You’ll get the next generation of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), as envisioned by some of the greatest minds in ocean science and exploration during the “James Cook” X PRIZE advisory meeting on March 23rd.

During this second advisory meeting, sponsored by Shell, experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), industry and academia weighed in on the guidelines and competition structure for the “James Cook” X PRIZE. Currently posed as a $10 million prize, the intent of this competition is to inspire the development of smart, affordable, and independent underwater robots to explore the world's oceans, radically improving our knowledge and understanding of our blue planet.

The feedback and insight gained from our 25 experts during the meeting was invaluable—it is through this process that we understand the “heartbeat” of the industry and what innovation is needed in the space. Their knowledge of current technologies available also helps us to determine the parameters and rule set for the competition that hit our sweet spot at the intersection of audacity and achievability.

Although most of the conversation was deeply technical, it was both fun and challenging to think about the competition as a way to engage the public. What is something that we can include in the competition that still captures the attention of a teenager living thousands of miles from a coastline? What are some of the ways that students from around the world could be involved in the competition? Our hope is that this competition brings the much-needed attention and awareness of our oceans—flooding the industry with information, pictures and videos of our oceans like never before.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the ocean and engaging the public. What elements are interesting to you about the oceans? What do you think is exciting, captivating or even scary about the oceans? What features would you want to see in an ocean-focused competition?

Craig McLean, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Programs & Administration at NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, diligently tries to capture the main ideas discussed during a breakout session at the meeting