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The GEBCO-Nippon Foundation Alumni Team has today confirmed the successful completion of its first 24-hour sea-trials, in preparation for the final round of the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

The sea-trials assessed various operating protocols and procedures. The team’s progression from the semi-final round was first announced by the XPRIZE at a London award ceremony in March – and having secured sufficient funds and completed significant improvements to its entry, the team has scheduled another two 24-hour sea-trials to be completed before the challenging final round. The team’s ongoing partnership with The Nippon Foundation has facilitated the technological developments required to “map the gaps” of the world’s ocean floor through participation in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is a global competition challenging teams to advance deep-sea technologies for autonomous, fast, high-resolution ocean exploration.

Following their semi-final success, the GEBCO-NF Alumni Team has expanded to include more than 70 individuals who are actively working on some aspect of the team concept. Of these, 15 are alumni of The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO postgraduate training program, based at the University of New Hampshire. The alumni represent the 12 countries of Russia, Egypt, South Africa, USA, Mauritius, Peru, Ireland, Japan, Philippines, Israel, Poland and Brazil. They benefit from ongoing training and opportunities to cultivate their skills via continuous technology development and sea-trials in preparation for the XPRIZE final.

“Our expanded team is a remarkable example of what can be achieved through international collaboration”, said Dr. Rochelle Wigley, Project Coordinator. “That so many of our team are alumni of The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO postgraduate training course at the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (University of New Hampshire), highlights what a valuable global resource this capacity-building program is. The team also benefits from the experience of academics from a range of fields including geology, geomorphology and geophysics, as well as surveyors from national hydrographic offices, navies and industry. This diversity is still one of our greatest strengths”.

In addition to strengthening human resources, the GEBCO-NF Alumni Team has been continually developing their concept, adding new technology and improving systems and processes informed by the lessons learned in the semi-final round. The team’s improved concept utilizes a purpose-built Kongsberg Maritime HUGIN Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), rated to operate at depths up to 4,500 meters, which includes all of the company’s most up-to-date technologies. The AUV is supported by a SEA-KIT™ unmanned surface vessel, USV Maxlimer. The SEA-KIT™ vessel has been designed and built by Hushcraft in the UK, and has the unique ability to autonomously launch and recover the AUV. The surface vessel acts as an active communication link during subsea survey operations.

Commenting on the collaborative approach, Yulia Zarayskaya, training program alumnus and Project Lead, noted that “the skills acquired by the alumni through the data processing development, as well as working alongside team partners and suppliers, puts them at the forefront of rapidly developing autonomous marine operations and the modern processes of transforming data into useful information”.

It is hoped that the team’s technology will find wider applications once the XPRIZE is completed, and discussions are ongoing with The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project to see how this might be achieved. Seabed 2030 is an international program with the goal of mapping the entirety of the world’s ocean floor by 2030, in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14: to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The GEBCO-NF Alumni Team will compete in the final round in November-December at a secret location yet to be announced by the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.