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Source: US National Renewable Energy Laboratory

NREL Announces Concurrent Launch of DEVELOP Competition and 120-Day DESIGN Contest

Oct. 19, 2020

The newly launched DESIGN Contest of the Powering the Blue Economy™: Ocean Observing DEVELOP Competition gives competitors the chance to propose autonomous vehicles that can better monitor the intensity of hurricanes. Learn about how the prize is helping coastal communities by forecasting storms.

The ability to forecast hurricane trajectories has improved significantly over the last two decades, but there is still a substantial gap in the ability to forecast the intensity of each storm. The Ocean Observing Prize is looking to change that. The prize challenges problem solvers to develop technologies to help us better map, monitor, and understand the ocean, allowing us to improve forecasting of dangerous storms like hurricanes and provide an invaluable service to shoreside communities.

Administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) and the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) program at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Ocean Observing Prize challenges innovators to integrate marine renewable energy with ocean observation platforms.

The launch of the next competition within the prize, the DEVELOP Competition, has a cadre of competitors thinking about the next Category 5.

Diving Deep and Looking Toward the Stormy Skies

The theme of the DEVELOP Competition is “Buoys and Autonomous Systems” and comprises three contests—DESIGN, BUILD, and SPLASH. The DESIGN Contest will remain open for 120 days, closing February 16.

The challenge at hand is to integrate wave energy harvesting with autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), thereby creating a self-charging ocean observing platform for hurricane monitoring that can remain deployed at sea for months at a time.

The different contests within the DEVELOP Competition will provide competitors a chance to design prototypes, build and test them in a controlled environment, and then finally test them at sea. Submissions will be scored on a handful of critical functional AUV requirements, such as data collection, recharging, and maneuvering.

Incentivizing Cross-Team Collaboration and Ocean Observing Excellence

A central objective of the prize is to convene otherwise unlikely collaborators around a shared goal: ocean observation. Should any of our competitors hit a roadblock and require expertise outside of what exists on their own team, help could be found with a different group of solvers. The prize organizers are encouraging cross-team collaboration by identifying competitor expertise to help fill knowledge gaps.

At the conclusion of the DESIGN Contest, up to 10 winners will be selected to share a prize pool of $400,000.

Throughout the DEVELOP Competition, the prize team will also provide support to the ocean observing experts through a variety of exciting venues:

  • Cash awards: Cash awards will be presented to contestants in both the DESIGN and BUILD Contests; the awards provided after the DESIGN Contest will help offset the costs of prototyping.
  • R&D vouchers: Contestants may be awarded vouchers that can be redeemed at federally funded research and development centers, as well as potentially third-party maker spaces or American-Made Network innovation hubs.
  • Testing and validation: Contestants will enjoy access to unique facilities and testing infrastructure as part of the BUILD Contest.
  • Blue Economy Business Webinars: Contestants will learn about entrepreneurship and lessons learned in commercializing blue economy tech via exclusive access to the webinar series.
  • Mentoring and coaching: Subject matter experts will mentor teams and guide them on technology development and networking with other experts in the field.
  • Investor pitch event: Contestants will have the opportunity to pitch to investors and industry leaders, receiving invaluable feedback on their designs and business case.
  • Partnerships: The DEVELOP Competition will help foster relationships with a diverse community of stakeholders, from the federal government to the broader innovation ecosystem.

Hurricane monitoring is just the beginning for the Ocean Observing Prize. Subsequent iterations of the prize will focus on different energy challenges in ocean monitoring, which could include monitoring fish stocks on which communities depend for sustenance or alerting coastal areas of deadly tsunamis.

The innovative concepts emerging from the Ocean Observing Prize could be the key to engendering a better understanding of what lies beneath the waves.

Learn more about NREL’s groundbreaking marine renewable energy research and follow the Powering the Blue Economy™: Ocean Observing Prize to keep tabs on the contestants and their ocean observing innovations. Prospective partners should contact wptoprizes@ee.doe.gov for additional information.

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