Have a great idea about how to map the ocean floor? It could be worth millions. The X Prize Foundation, which two years ago asked for a way to gauge ocean acidification, is offering $7 million to teams able to develop high-resolution maps of the seafloor over the next three years. The latest competition meant to better humankind aims to hurry "innovation to further explore one of our greatest unexplored frontiers," X Prize CEO Peter Diamandis tells NBC News, noting "95% of the deep sea remains a mystery to us." In truth, we have better maps of the moon and Mars than of the seafloor, per National Geographic and Live Science. The foundation will accept submissions for robots capable of creating high-resolution maps, identifying geological and archaeological features like volcanoes and shipwrecks, and taking photos until September 2016. The devices will be tested at 6,500 and 13,000 feet about a year later.
"This competition is technically challenging, but it is also very interdisciplinary," says X Prize's senior director. "It involves underwater robotics, it involves computer science, there is a digital imagery component to it. We want to help spur unparalleled ocean exploration through innovation and radical breakthroughs to find all the different wonders in the deep sea." The team that claims the top prize will take home $4 million, the second-place team will get $1 million, and an additional $1 million will be divided among other teams in the top 10. There will also be a $1 million award funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for any device that can follow a chemical or biological signal to detect "sources of pollution, enable rapid response to leaks and spills, identify hydrothermal vents and methane seeps, as well as track marine life for scientific research and conservation efforts," per an NOAA scientist. (Read more X Prize Foundation stories.)