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Xprize Offers $7 Million For Robots to Explore the Ocean Floor

What hides in the deep recesses of our planet's oceans? Efforts to date have only mapped a small percentage of them.

What hides in the deep recesses of our planet's oceans? Manned and automated efforts combined have only mapped a small percentage of them, prompting Xprize and partners to offer $7 million for robotic exploration platforms.

"Our oceans cover two-thirds of our planet’s surface and are a crucial global source of food, energy, economic security, and even the air we breathe, yet 95 percent of the deep sea remains a mystery to us," said Xprize head Peter Diamandis in the the prize's announcement. "The Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE will address a critical ocean challenge by accelerating innovation to further explore one of our greatest unexplored frontiers."

Teams' creations will be tested first at 2,000, then 4,000 meters (about 6,500 and 13,000 feet, respectively), at which the robots will be required to create a high-resolution map, take snapshots of a given object and identify interesting features like shipwrecks or geological anomalies.

The top prize is $4 million, with a chance to win an extra million if the robot manages to follow a chemical or biological signal back to its source. This bonus, funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could be very useful in tracking down deep-water creatures or finding geothermal vents. Another $1 million each is reserved for the second-place entry and for splitting among the remaining teams in the top 10.

No need to hurry putting together your deep-sea rover, though: Registration ends in September 2016, with the first tests scheduled for a year after that.