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Fraunhofer experts are only German team to enter next stage of competition to explore oceans


Researchers from Fraunhofer IOSB, known as team ‘Arggonauts’, are the only German team to reach the semi-finals of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE. This prestigious international competition aims to incentivize groundbreaking technological innovations in rapid and unmanned ocean exploration.

• The goal of the international Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition is to incentivize teams to pursue breakthrough innovations for conducting detailed mapping and exploration of our planet’s ocean floor. The winning team will be selected in late 2018 and will receive a prize of four million US dollars.

Swarm of deep-sea robots developed for the competition by Fraunhofer IOSB.

Fraunhofer IOSB

• Teams from all over the world are competing to map the ocean floor as accurately as possible in 3D and complete a series of defined tasks using cutting-edge deep-sea robot technology.

• The “Arggonauts” from Fraunhofer IOSB are the only German team to qualify for the semi-finals. A total of 21 teams from 13 different countries have reached this stage of the competition.

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE challenges teams to develop innovative deep-sea robots that will create 3D maps of the ocean floor in unprecedented detail to help advance ocean exploration. For the preliminary round, the competition attracted 32 teams. Only 21 of the participating teams, including just four European teams, have now qualified for the first testing phase of the competition.

The multinational Arggonauts team set up by the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB is the only team from Germany to reach this stage of the competition. Led by physicist Dr. Gunnar Brink, head of strategy and innovation management at Fraunhofer IOSB, the Arggonauts are relying on their specially designed swarm of connected deep-sea robot drones. Frank Schätzing, author of the deep-sea novel and international bestseller “The Swarm”, is supporting the team as a brand ambassador.

International challenges: perfect innovation engines

“The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is an extraordinary innovation engine that has already acted as the catalyst for a series of breakthrough developments. Joining the competition, Fraunhofer IOSB can gain valuable experience in such promising sponsorship scenarios and support further participations of Fraunhofer in international competitions”, says Prof. Georg Rosenfeld, Executive Vice President for Technology Marketing and Business Models at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The first award was given to the inventors of SpaceShipOne in the late 1990s for completing the world’s first privately funded manned spaceflight.

Only five percent of the ocean floor has been explored

The current competition is focused on ocean exploration. Detailed information on the geological and biological make-up of the deep ocean is urgently needed in order to protect this sensitive ecosystem and ensure the efficient and sustainable use of marine resources. Right now that information is simply not available. Indeed only five percent of the sea floor has been explored to date, meaning that some 60 percent of the Earth’s surface has actually been mapped and examined in considerably less detail than the surfaces of distant celestial bodies such as the moon, Mars and Venus.

According to the rules set by the International Seabed Authority, promising seabed mineral deposits can be extracted only after undertaking an exhaustive analysis of what effect this extraction would have on the ecosystem. But conducting that kind of analysis requires extensive data on the geology and biology of the relevant section of the ocean floor.

“Technological and commercial obstacles have so far prevented us from carrying out detailed exploration and mapping of the deep ocean. Current solutions simply aren’t efficient enough to allow for widespread, commercially viable mining of seabed resources. But we’re confident that the Arggonauts team can go a long way towards rectifying this situation”, says Prof. Jürgen Beyerer, director of Fraunhofer IOSB and an expert on the use of autonomous systems in hostile environments in the High-Tech Forum, which advises the German federal government on innovation policy.

Successful prior projects: “TieTek” and “DEDAVE”

The swarm of deep-sea robots developed for the competition is based on two successful pilot projects already completed by the institute. The first project, “TieTek”, focused on the basic technologies required to create modular, pressure-tolerant, deep-sea autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). This led to the second project, “DEDAVE”, in which scientists created a commercially viable deep-diving AUV and carrier platform. Fraunhofer researchers are now busy modifying and optimizing this technology to create the Arggonauts swarm, paying particular attention to vehicle dimensions, data processing and sensor systems.

The carrier system has also undergone a complete transformation: conventional exploration robots require large, expensive mother ships to deploy and recover them at the mission site, but the Arggonauts simply make do with small, autonomous carrier vehicles. “That opens up the perspective of a radically cheaper technology that could be used more widely, potentially allowing it to be deployed on behalf of medium-sized companies, environmental organizations and research institutes”, project manager Brink explains.

About the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE:

Through designing and operating high-profile incentive prize competitions, the XPRIZE Foundation’s mission is to inspire individuals, companies and organizations to develop innovative ideas and technologies that help solve the grand challenges for the benefit of humanity. The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is a three-year global competition that incentivizes teams to develop new ways to map the ocean floor at depths and a resolution never achieved before using advanced deep-sea technologies for autonomous, fast and high-resolution ocean exploration. The competition is sponsored by Shell. The winning team will be announced in December 2018.

Weitere Informationen:

Roman Möhlmann | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

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