A UK-based team has arrived in Greece for the grand final of a contest to find innovative solutions for seafloor mapping.
The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition is offering multi-million dollar awards for the best concepts.
Participants have to chart at least 250 sq km of the Mediterranean at depths down to 4,000m, all inside 24 hours.
Team Tao, from Newcastle in the north of England, has developed a novel, low-cost, underwater robot.
Deployed and collected by an un-crewed surface vessel (USV), this torpedo-like device is called a BEM, or Bathypelagic Excursion Module. The name is a reference to the Lunar Excursion Module that put the Apollo astronauts on the Moon.
The BEM has been built using a lot of off-the-shelf components, but has been tested in a pressure chamber to ensure it can handle the crushing forces at depth.
The robot is programmed to rise and fall through the water column, tracing a line across the seabed and using its sonar to record its shape. It carries a camera to photograph things it sees, and can be fitted with sensors to record seawater conditions.
Once the BEM’s mapping cycle is complete, the robot returns to the surface where it is scooped up by the USV and brought back to shore.
Team Tao will have several days of testing off Kalamata before entering the competition zone, possibly around the 13th or 14th of the month.
Fugro, the big international geophysical survey company, and a partner on the XPRIZE competition, has already made a baseline map of a 500 sq km area at the bottom of the Mediterranean. The British team’s efforts will be judged on how well it is able to replicate the Fugro data.