Liquid Robotics Awards $50K to PacX Challenge Winner

October 1, 2013 - via Liquid Robotics

Yesterday at the Oceans 2013 conference in San Diego, Liquid Robotics announced the grand prize winner of its PacX Challenge, where the company tasked the ocean community with using data from its four Wave Gliders’ Pacific Ocean crossing in breakthrough ways.

The top prize went to Dr. Tracy Villareal, a marine science professor at the University of Texas Austin, who focused his research on comparing spatial data from satellite streams to data collected by the Wave Gliders. The research spans a wide range of ocean research topics, like turbidity, weather, hydrography and chlorophyll fluorescence.

“Here’s the challenge of trying to do water chemistry from the air is you’re not in the water,” says Liquid Robotics President and CEO Bill Vass. “ … A satellite’s making its best guess from 250 miles up.”

The kind of research Villareal is doing with satellites points to other interoperable uses with Wave Gliders that Vass says he sees as the crafts’ potential.

“I think the future would be Wave Gliders launching aerial drones, Wave Gliders interacting with aerial drones, Wave Gliders telling them when to launch, Wave Gliders interacting with satellites and synchronizing satellite information, and potentially Wave Gliders launching and recovering undersea drones as well.”

More than 2,000 people reviewed the data, according to Vass. The company received around 30 abstracts in the eight months people had to submit that were then narrowed down to four top papers by an independent panel of scientists who served as judges. The data were made available via the Internet to whomever wanted to use the 5.5 million discrete data points.

The prize includes a $50,000 research grant from sponsor BP and six months of Wave Glider data services from Liquid Robotics, which has a $300,000 value.

It was Vass’ idea to do the Guinness World Record holding Pacific crossing with the Wave Gliders, and sponsorship of the project made the goal a reality.

“When you think about it what we’re saying to do, imagine that you went to a car manufacturer and said, let’s make a car that can run all year with no fuel and no service, figure out where it’s going, not hit anything, do useful work, and go through hurricanes and do it in salt water,” he says. “No oil changes, no gas, no service, no anything. So that’s a big challenge to operate here in the ocean.”

But Vass says the only thing holding the company back from a circumnavigation challenge is finding another sponsor.

“If somebody’s interested in sponsoring it, we’ll set another record and go around the world,” says Vass. “We think we can.”

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Author:Danielle Lucey