Teams in the competition are building one or more swimming drones that will take part in a 16-hour challenge. Vehicles will have to dive to a depth of 2,000 meters (about 6,600 feet), traverse an area 500 kilometers square (or 310 miles square), and map 20 percent of that area. Teams will also have to identify and produce images of at least five archeological, biological or geological features at any depth.
At 2,000 meters, there is no light, and water pressure is 2,800 psi. Air pressure at sea level is 14.5 psi.
The Orca Robotics team is creating an underwater system that uses phase array radar and computing power to provide results in real time. Phillip Rhyner, a 2007 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, is the founder of Orca Robotics.
Up to 10 finalist teams will be chosen to go into the second round of the competition.
Fugro, an underwater exploration business with an office in San Diego, has joined contest sponsors as a partner.
One of the 21 teams in the semifinal competition plans to enter not one drone, but a swarm of drones, to map the area.