PacX Grand Prize Winner Revealed!

Written by on September 25, 2013 in Other News, Technology
PacX Wave Glider Benjamin approaches Hawaii's Big Island. Photo courtesy of Liquid Robotics.

PacX Wave Glider Benjamin approaches Hawaii’s Big Island. Photo courtesy of Liquid Robotics.

Last December, Wave Gliders designed by Liquid Robotics became the first autonomous vehicles to cross the Pacific Ocean. One of the PacX Wave Gliders, Benjamin, traveled over 9,442 nautical miles, earning Liquid Robotics the record for longest distance traveled by an autonomous vehicle on Earth.

The PacX voyage was designed to not only prove that unmanned vehicles could successfully travel such distances, but also to collect a large body of scientific data that would be useful to people around the world. During the crossing, Wave Gliders collected 5.5 million discrete data points. In order to determine how that data could best be used, Liquid Robotics came up with the PacX Challenge: a contest designed to encourage people to use the data in a unique, productive or innovative way.

Of the thousands of people who accessed the data, 27 abstracts were submitted. Seven ocean researchers from different organizations made up the Science Board that voted for five finalists and, eventually, the grand prize winner who was announced yesterday at Oceans’13 in San Diego.

The PacX Challenge Grand Prize Winner is Dr. Tracy Villareal, professor of marine science at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Villareal received a $50,000 research grant from BP and six months of Wave Glider data services from Liquid Robotics valued at over $300,000.

His winning research compared the PacX data against U.S. satellite data, which is something that had not been done before. The Board felt that Dr. Villareal’s research will be referenced by many scientists in the future. In addition to validating satellite data, Dr. Villareal’s research highlights the Wave Gliders’ ability to collect data in real-time. At any point in the Wave Glider’s voyage, it can be redirected to areas that seem particularly interesting, which is something that can’t be done with a satellite.

The other finalists include:

  • J. Michael Beman, University of California Merced, whose work combines microbial ecology, biogeochemistry, and global change science. He focuses on the responses of microbial communities to environmental change.
  • Nicole Goebel, University of California Santa Cruz, who studies the factors controlling the growth and diversity of phytoplankton in a wide range of environments, from Hawaii and New Zealand to the Long Island Sound.
  • Elise Ralph, Independent Oceanographer in Boston, MA, who is interested in surface ocean circulation. She has previously worked on surface circulation of the tropical Pacific, the Gulf Stream and several lakes.

Wave Gliders have collectively traveled over 300,000 nautical miles and counting. Check back soon for a more detailed look at the Wave Glider!

PacX Wave Glider Papa Mau is launched on its way to Australia. Photo courtesy of Liquid Robotics.

PacX Wave Glider Papa Mau is launched on its way to Australia. Photo courtesy of Liquid Robotics.

Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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