The U.S. Department of Energy’s Ocean Observing Prize, part of the Water Power Technologies Office’s (WPTO) Powering the Blue Economy Initiative, challenges participants to integrate marine energy with ocean-observing systems like uncrewed underwater vehicles or wave-energy-powered buoys. These types of technologies have the potential to collect data at sea that can help better predict the intensity of hurricanes, monitor water currents, or track marine life without needing to send people on expensive, long-distance, and sometimes dangerous missions to complete activities such as replacing batteries.
The Ocean Observing Prize features two competitions, and the second competition, DEVELOP, consists of multiple contests during which competitors turn their theoretical designs for wave-powered autonomous underwater vessels into early-stage prototype systems for hurricane monitoring.
Winners of the first DEVELOP contest, DESIGN, were invited to move on to the BUILD Contest, where they had the opportunity to construct their wave-powered observational prototypes and test them in the state-of-the-art wave tank at the U.S. Navy’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin in Carderock, Maryland. (Learn about the recently announced BUILD Contest winners!)
Participating teams bring to their projects unique experiences, knowledge, and perspectives—from government to academia, startups to corporations, fishing to shipping, and entrepreneurs to scientists. To help these competitors evolve and improve their ocean-observing technologies, prize sponsors have offered mentoring, industry-specific feedback, and other support along the way.
Blue Power Connectors are involved in the prize from start to finish, extending the reach and diversity of competitors and directly supporting them to refine their ideas. From mentorship to commercialization readiness, four organizations act as Blue Power Connectors to offer a range of expertise specially tailored for each team. Braid Theory is an accelerator and incubator for a variety of industries, including clean energy and maritime. DNV-GL is also in the maritime industry but focused on risk management. Ocean Exchange and Washington Maritime Blue are nonprofit organizations that focus on advancing innovative and sustainable solutions for the blue economy.
Prize sponsors offer more specific assistance. DSA Ocean, a marine engineering company, specializes in mooring and hydrodynamic designs for marine energy, and provided software licenses for the teams. New England Ocean Cluster and SeaAhead shared their global networks and community platforms to support recruitment in the early stages of the prize.
“As a Blue Power Connector, we have the chance to interact directly with teams, connecting them with industry influencers and corporate partners to align their early-stage prototypes with needs in the blue economy,” said Ann Carpenter, CEO and co-founder of Braid Theory. “We help these entrepreneurs with targeted training and mentorship that offer insight into unique end-user needs.”
With the input and advice from prize sponsors, participants receive extra support that can mean the difference between genius ideas that never leave the ground and reliable, efficient, and helpful technologies.
“The technologies that come out of the prize have the potential to advance ocean exploration that can improve warnings for oncoming storms or monitor changes in the marine environment,” said Carpenter. “It’s exciting to partner with WPTO to build an ecosystem for innovation.”
Just as the prize strives to help researchers explore more of the ocean, learn about the planet, and develop new technologies, WPTO is scouring the wide expanse of the blue economy for new sponsors and partners to grow the Ocean Observing Prize network.