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Team Tao

International success for subsea engineers

Published on: 3 June 2019

Team Tao Receive Special Recognition in $7m Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE Competition.

A team of North East-based subsea engineering experts from Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) and Newcastle University have been recognised for their innovative engineering approach in the prestigious $7m Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition.

TeamTao, the only UK team and one of the smallest to reach the grand final of the Ocean XPRIZE, were recognised for their highly innovative approach as the organisers announced a surprise additional Moonshot Award worth $200, 000 at the prestigious awards ceremony held in Monaco.

During the final round testing, TeamTao showcased their autonomous swarm system technology, and competed against seven other teams from around the world to map an area the size of Paris in deep waters off the coast of Greece near the port city of Kalamata.

Moonshot Award

TeamTao were able to clearly demonstrate the capability and efficiency of their swarm system of subsea drones and an autonomous surface deployment and recovery vessel. During the final they were tasked with charting the seafloor to identify 10 archaeological, biological or geological features of interest.

Professor Nick Wright, Newcastle University Team Lead, said:

“The project has been a fantastic collaboration that has really stretched the team to be inventive and imaginative – with contributions from the team based at the National Centre and also at the Newcastle University SEALAB, led by Jeff Neasham, who have provided a world-leading sonar technology.”

Mike Jones, SMD CEO, added:

“I am delighted that Team Tao have received this Moonshot Award; we began this journey with an ambitious dream on a minimal budget and secured a fantastic partner in Newcastle University to create TeamTao. Solving engineering problems by looking at them from a different angle is the essence of what we do at SMD, and together with Newcastle University, we have engineered a truly pioneering and cost-effective method of rapidly mapping the ocean floor and water column. 

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our partners and sponsors who have generously supported us on our journey through the Ocean XPRIZE competition, including UK Research and Innovation. The technology we have developed is revolutionary both in terms of cost and speed of map generation; we still have a lot of hard work ahead of us commercialising this technology, but we are confident that this will change the way we understand our oceans in future.”

Addressing critical ocean challenges

Dale Wakeham, SMD Design Engineer and TeamTao Project Leader, said: “It has been an honour to compete in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE Competition, our small team has worked tirelessly over the past year to develop and prove our technology. While the Ocean XPRIZE competition posed a significant challenge, it has been an opportunity to showcase to the world what the future of subsea survey looks like.”

The competition is part of XPRIZE’s 10-year Ocean Initiative – a commitment made to launch five multi-million dollar prizes by 2020 to address critical ocean challenges and inspire innovation that helps create an ocean that is healthy, valued and understood.

SMD and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are the title sponsors behind TeamTao. SMD is a world-leading designer and manufacturer of specialist subsea remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) based in Newcastle upon Tyne. UKRI is a national funding agency with a £6 billion budget to invest in science and research across the UK. It brings together seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England.  Newcastle University is a world-leader in subsea engineering and acoustics research, bringing together experts from a wide range of engineering and scientific backgrounds.

Andrew Tyrer, Challenge Director – Robotics, UK Research and Innovation, said: “The technology showcased by TeamTao represents the best in UK innovation and it is fantastic that this has been recognised by the judges in this competition. The UK is a world leader in the field of robotics and UK Research and Innovation is supporting this vital sector through the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.”

Other sponsors and supporters of TeamTao include Rajant, Sonardyne, WAM-V, Lenovo, Altair, Swansea University, Advanced Industrial Solutions, Solidworks, Matrix Composites & Engineering and Volz Servos.

In addition to TeamTao representing the UK, other teams represented Germany, Japan, Portugal, Switzerland and the United States.

To advance to the final round, the eight semi-finalist teams had to pass a technology readiness test. This included a site visit by XPRIZE staff and judges where the technology was tested against rigorous measurement criteria to show the approach was capable of meeting the operational requirements necessary for rapid, unmanned, high-resolution ocean mapping.


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