VT advances to top 9 in $7M ocean mapping competition

DEEP-X members Stephen Krauss, a graduate student studying electrical engineering; Jack Webster, a graduate student studying ocean engineering; and Dan Stilwell, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Virginia Tech Center for Marine Autonomy and Robotics, ventured to Panama City, Florida for the first round of the competition. (Virginia Tech)

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WSET) - A group at Virginia Tech is one of nine teams that came out of the first round of a global competition to build autonomous vehicles that can map the ocean floor.

The DEEP-X team is a finalist in the $7 Million Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE.

Professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Virginia Tech Marine Autonomy and Robotics Dan Stilwell is leading the team.

"I have thought all along we could win this. I think we are the incumbent team to do really really well," he said.

The competition's goal is to develop autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that can quickly capture high-resolution maps of the ocean floor.

Stephen Krauss is on the team, and didn't always love the ocean.

"I did my undergrad in aerospace engineering, so I was looking more at the space track of things," he said.

But after learning about the program, the PhD student shifted his sights to underwater.

"I designed all the internal electrical chassis and I also do some of the programming work," Krauss explained.

While the team hopes to win the $7 million prize, they say furthering science is the real prize.

"Who knows what we can find down there," Krauss said.

The team will head to London next week to start up the next part of the competition.

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