Hurricane Maria devastation prompts Ocean XPRIZE rethink

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XPRIZE

September’s Hurricane Maria has disrupted a major competition to find innovative ways to map the seafloor.

The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE was due to hold a demonstration of new robotic systems off Puerto Rico.

But September’s huge Atlantic storm caused extensive damage to the US territory’s infrastructure, forcing the organisers to rethink plans.

Competing teams will now have to showcase their mapping technologies in waters of their choice.

These are likely to be in some offshore area or even in a lake close to the groups’ home countries.

The surface of the Moon and Mars is mapped to a higher resolution than the seafloor on Earth.

The $7m Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE is designed to find the new approaches and survey equipment that can rapidly reverse this situation.

“The devastation on Puerto Rico was island-wide, and our base of operations also took a hit,” Jyotika Virmani, prize lead and senior director of the XPRIZE Planet and Environment team, told BBC News.

Dr Virmani said the first priority was Puerto Rico’s swift recovery, and expressed the hope that the XPRIZE competition could return to the island at some later date.

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Palm trees were bent double in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan

Nineteen teams from across the globe are competing for the innovation prize. They have school pupils, university students and professional scientists and engineers among their number.

They are working on a slew of “intelligent” airborne, surface and underwater vehicles to accomplish the tasks that have been set.

Originally, the teams were supposed to showcase their designs…

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