Marine Bees

Rapid and unmanned exploration of the undiscovered ocean floor.

The Challenge

Even in 2018, the sea's depths remain a mystery. Team Eauligo was one of 21 semi-finalists selected to advance in the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition. We are challenged to employ cutting-edge technology such as AI and robotics, to design a device capable of remotely mapping, in detail, an unknown area of the ocean floor up to 4000m deep in less than 24 hours. Only 5% of the ocean's terrain has ever been recorded in the detail this challenge aims to achieve.

Eau'ligo's device will have to survive dives deeper than the Grand Canyon and map an area of seafloor almost five times as large as Paris. The complex challenges of exploring this extreme physical environment include:

  • lack of visibility
  • water's tremendous weight and pressure at this depth
  • the unknown nature and risks of the sea floor

Why Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE?

Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE challenges participants to introduce advanced technology to make unmanned deep sea exploration possible. By encouraging solutions that can be operated remotely, the contest hopes to provide humankind with more options to enable deep sea exploration and mapping.

Eauligo entered the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE because:

  • We're inspired by the extraordinary technical challenge of remotely exploring the ocean floor.
  • We welcome the opportunity to use our technology in a different context. To be successful, we must find solutions across a range of domains:
    • mechanical engineering to survive the depths and propel our submarines
    • artificial intelligence to control them in an unknown environment
    • data storage and communications

It is really motivating to go and explore even a small area of the largely undiscovered ocean floor, knowing that no one in the world has ever seen it before.

The Technology

To compete, the Eauligo team has taken inspiration from nature – Eauligo will launch a horde of miniature robotic submarines that mimic the behavior of bees. Designed to be ultra-small to withstand the sea floor's immense pressures, and self-learning to guide themselves in an environment no one has visited, they also gain their strength in numbers, like the bees.

Agile Problem Solving

The intelligent miniature robots, named Marine Bees, mimic the coordinated operations of a hive to efficiently explore and image the ocean floor.

The Marine Bees operate from autonomous surface ships, the “hives.” Each surface ship manages a cell of Marine Bee robots, carrying them out to sea, launching them into the water and retrieving them after the dive.

During the dive, mission control communicates with the hives from shore; each hive communicates with its Marine Bee submarines. The ocean floor is unknown and its risks are unpredictable. Eauligo's solution is modeled on nature's genius for robust, self-protective design. If one of the bees fails to complete its task, we still gain the results from the rest of the swarm. This gives the Marine Bees a distinct advantage over solutions that approach the challenge with a single vehicle.

Efficient Design

The Bees' small size – each one is about as large as a human hand – also give them an edge. They have many features of full-sized Autonomous Underwater Vehicles but are smaller and cheaper. According to the team, “We think we can manage the depth better with something small and simple. I think we can get a more cost-effective solution by mass-producing a large number of simple things, rather than building one complicated thing.”

The design of each Marine Bee is unique, using components and manufacturing techniques from mass-produced consumer products. This drives down costs and permits Eauligo to quickly assemble an efficient swarm. The real advantage comes from putting hundreds of these small and simple robotic submarines together. Multiple Marine Bees provide scalable and low-cost exploration.

Intelligent Systems

“At the end of the day, I like systems where you have very few rules, but that show amazing complexity — like real life, in fact,” explains Chris, the team leader . “Like bees, like ants — individually they have very simple rules, but together they can be used for tasks where it’s extremely complex.”

Observing a bee in the garden going from flower to flower gave the team leader the original idea. Each bee is exploring on its own, but there are lots of bees working simultaneously to cover a large area. This inspired the team to build a solution that copied the bees.

The Journey

Our fleet of micro-robotic submarines, the Marine Bees, will soon be launching to explore the ocean deep.

They have three simple goals:
  • Survive in the ocean at depths up to 4000m
  • Map the terrain of the seafloor in high detail (by producing a high resolution bathymetric map)
  • Identify and image archaeological, biological or geological features

The first round of testing will take place this fall at a still secret location somewhere in the Caribbean. The teams will have 16 hours to map at least 98 square kilometers of seafloor at a depth of 4000 meters. They will be producing bathymetric maps — these are like topographical maps but record the ocean floor — and must achieve a resolution of no less than 5 meters horizontally and .5 meters vertically. Each team must also bring back at least five photos of geological, biological, or archaeological features found by their devices.

We're looking forward to releasing our Bees into the wild. They are going to be busy, but they are up to the challenge.