XPRIZE: Duke’s High Capacity Drones and Drop Pods

The Blue Devil Engineering team based out of Duke University is using drones, drop pods and machine learning to map the seafloor. Led by Professors Martin Brooke, Tyler Bletsch and Douglas Nowacek, the team is an enthusiastic group of high school, undergraduate and graduate students working together to develop their solution in classes and in their free time.

Their solution involves mapping the target area using a more than 100-element grid of water columns, in which each column is being mapped using a lightweight SONAR pod. The pod will be dropped into the ocean from a heavy lift drone into the center of the column and will then collect SONAR data for the column as it descends. Once it reaches the bottom, the pod ascends to the surface to be picked up by the drone while transmitting the collected information. The drone then drops the pod to another location to start the process again. The SONAR data will be processed as it is obtained via cloud-based servers to generate a bathymetry map.

Read more about the Shell XPrize and team lead by Dr. Nowacek on page 34