Photo courtesy of Cat Kutz
Six teams advance in $10,000,000 competition to measure biodiversity and produce meaningful insights to benefit rainforest ecosystems and local communities
KIGALI, Rwanda (July 24, 2023) - XPRIZE, the world’s leader in designing and operating incentive competitions to solve humanity’s grand challenges, announced six teams will advance to the finals stage of its global, $10 million XPRIZE Rainforest competition, sponsored by Alana Foundation, to develop new biodiversity assessment technologies that improve our understanding of rainforest ecosystems. The announcement was made at the Society for Conservation Biology’s 31st International Congress for Conservation Biology in Kigali, Rwanda.
The six teams moving forward to the final stage of the competition include:
- Brazilian Team - drones, sensor arrays, ground robotics, and drone-mounted pruners designed to gather environmental DNA (eDNA) samples for assessment.
- ETH BiodivX - proprietary and modified drones used to collect digital and physical samples that can be analyzed using “backpack laboratory” tech combining novel AI, citizen science, and field eDNA for cost-effective, remote analysis.
- Map of Life Rapid Assessments - unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) outfitted with high resolution image capture and acoustic sensors that transmit data to a cloud-based dashboard.
- Providence Plus - DROP (Deep-Rainforest Operational Platform), a low-cost scalable drone-delivered autonomous multi-sensor solution equipped with AI to automatically monitor biodiversity in real-time at multiple levels of canopy that are otherwise difficult to access.
- Team Waponi! - novel insect-capturing traps and bioacoustic sensors innovated to be deployed and retrieved via drone.
- Welcome to the Jungle - drones with bioacoustic and imagery sensors customized to leave behind only organic material native to the forest upon retrieval.
Global biodiversity is being destroyed before its scientific value can be understood, cataloged, and shared with the world. Launched in 2019, the goal of XPRIZE Rainforest is to accelerate the innovation of technologies that rapidly and comprehensively survey biodiversity and produce impactful insights to inform conservation efforts. Successful competing teams must demonstrate their technology’s scalability to measurably improve biodiversity monitoring, and include a process to improve autonomous and rapid data integration that provides unprecedented levels of detail in real time.
“We cannot effectively protect what we cannot accurately measure and understand,” said Peter Houlihan, Executive Vice President, Biodiversity and Conservation, XPRIZE. “I’m extremely encouraged by the advancements these teams have made to develop new, more rapid ways of measuring biodiversity that can improve conservation efforts worldwide. We’re particularly excited to see some teams surface new field eDNA capabilities that signal a major advancement for the field of biodiversity assessment at large. We look forward to seeing how they further refine their approaches during finals testing.”
XPRIZE Rainforest completed its semifinals testing phase in Singapore in June 2023, where teams each had 24 hours to test their technologies in defined plots within the forest. Successful teams demonstrated the ability to survey the forest over a wide area, capturing images, bioacoustics, DNA and physical samples and identifying them within a 48-hour period of data analysis to provide a species richness assessment.
“We need serious intervention to halt rainforest destruction, and I believe that the technologies in development through this competition can help get us closer to achieving this,” said Atossa Soltani, Founder & Board President of Amazon Watch and member of the XPRIZE Rainforest judging panel. “Working in tandem with the Indigenous peoples who best know how to preserve the forest, these new technologies can be deployed to help increase their levels of protection.”
The final phase of the competition will entail another round of rigorous testing in a more remote and challenging location, with plans to identify prize winners in 2024. Winning team technologies must be able to survey 100 hectares of tropical rainforest in 24 hours and produce the most impactful real-time insights within 48 hours. Teams also need to demonstrate the scalability of their technology and maximize performance on both biodiversity surveying and producing insights in order to meet the prize criteria and effectively disrupt the current biodiversity assessment landscape.
“The technologies offered by the finalist teams come right on time to address critical issues on the conservation of tropical ecosystems,” said Dr. Oris Sanjur, Deputy Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and member of the XPRIZE Rainforest advisory board. “Seeing their work on the ground in Singapore, I’m confident they can meet the challenges of this competition and help us revolutionize the field of biodiversity assessment.”
“Humanity’s survival, especially children’s lives, is in many ways dependent upon our ability to understand and protect our forests and biodiversity,” said Pedro Hartung, Alana Foundation Executive Director. “Our foundation is proud to support XPRIZE Rainforest’s bold efforts to discover the technologies and data needed to preserve our rainforests and their people, including indigenous territories and their knowledge.”
XPRIZE Rainforest is sponsored by Alana Foundation. To learn more, visit xprize.org/Rainforest
XPRIZE is an established global leader in designing, launching, and executing large scale competitions to solve humanity’s greatest challenges. Our unique model democratizes innovation by incentivizing crowd-sourced, scientifically viable solutions to create a more equitable and abundant future for all. Donate, learn more or join a team at xprize.org.
About Alana Foundation
Alana Foundation is an independent philanthropic organisation founded in 2012 in the United States. The Foundation supports initiatives in the areas of environment, inclusive education and health science research through grants and co-funding partnerships. It also engages with networks and global movements in those areas.