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Abu Dhabi’s ASPIRE Launches Over US$3 Million MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge

The competition will be held in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in June 2023
•       ASPIRE, the technology program management pillar of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council, to organize the contest
•       Competitors will deploy unmanned vehicle technology in a GNSS-denied environment

The Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge (MBZIRC) will be held in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, in June 2023, where tech innovators will participate to seek marine safety and security solutions to take home more than US$3 million in prize money. Interested teams must complete the registration process by visiting the Registration is open until January 30, 2022.

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Organized by ASPIRE, the dedicated technology program management pillar of the Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC), the overarching advanced technology research body in Abu Dhabi, UAE, the MBZIRC is held every two years. The upcoming edition, called MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge, focuses on real-time solutions to maritime safety and security challenges and seeks to claim its place among the largest and most prestigious AI and robotics competitions in the world.

The Challenge is open to international universities, research institutions, companies and individual innovators from all over the world. It will involve a heterogeneous collaboration among unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles, to perform complex navigation and manipulation tasks in a GNSS-denied environment. Call for registrations is now open.

Commenting on the announcement, H.E. Faisal Al Bannai, Secretary General of ATRC, said: “We are proud that MBZIRC is going global by inviting the best talent from all over the world to participate. We have set a tough real-world challenge that will push the participants to the limits of their capabilities. The event is a great opportunity to demonstrate the pioneering scientific research work that is taking place in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.”

The challenge will show how both the entities focus on niche areas of technology, while attracting global innovators to stimulate ideas, encourage collaboration, and push boundaries in advanced technologies to find systems solutions to global challenges.

“For countries with long coastlines, ensuring maritime safety requires significant investment in sophisticated equipment and highly trained personnel. Using advanced robotic systems can not only help reduce costs, but also handle some of the often- dangerous tasks performed by humans. The motivation for holding the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge is to take the technology out of the laboratory and test it in a real-world environment to see what is possible,” said Dr Arthur Morrish, Chief Executive of ASPIRE.

Dr Morrish underscored the two-fold purpose behind the competition: one is to focus on the important problems in autonomy of robotics while engaging the world community in a hard robotics challenge. The other is to find a solution to a real-world challenge facing the world.

The challenge is for a swarm of UAVs to identify a target vessel from several similar vessels in open waters in a GNSS-denied environment, and to offload specific items from the target onto an USV in the shortest possible time using autonomous technologies. This is a new kind of kind of exercise in autonomous robotics. “A nice thing about this challenge is that you tell people what you want, but you don’t specify an approach to do it,” Dr Morrish added.

He said that this kind of a smart system will have practical application in other areas as well, especially as it can perform complex tasks of autonomous intervention in a GNSS denied environment.

In line with its efforts to build Abu Dhabi’s R&D ecosystem, ASPIRE will design several grand challenges and international competitions in advanced technology to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. ASPIRE also works in consultation with cross-sector industry stakeholders, universities, and research institutes to frame problem statements.

Recently, ASPIRE has partnered with the XPRIZE Foundation to launch a global competition, titled ‘XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion’. The initiative is co-funded by Ghadan 21, Abu Dhabi’s accelerator program that is driving the emirate’s development through investing in business, innovation, and people.

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The Mohamed Bin Zayed International Robotics Challenge (MBZIRC) is an international robotics competition held every two years drawing participation from universities, research institutions, companies, and individual innovators from around the world to develop solutions to some pressing global challenges through the application of autonomous robotics.

MBZIRC is organized by ASPIRE, the dedicated technology program management pillar of the Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC). By providing an environment to foster innovation and technical excellence in robotics, MBZIRC supports the UAE’s transition to a knowledge economy while consolidating Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s position as an emerging hub of innovation in advanced technology.

In the simulation phase, the participating teams will be required to complete inspection and intervention tasks in simulation. In August 2022, this phase will see the shortlisting of the five finalist teams.

Teams will also need to submit proof-of-concept videos on the different sub-components of their system and demonstrate the feasibility of the approach used. The proof videos should cover the following components of the Challenge:
•       Multi-UAV search and inspection of large representative structures
•       Intra-swarm communication and collective decision-making
•       Collective transportation of objects between the large structure and the home location

In the demonstration phase that takes place in June 2023, teams will prove their system capabilities. Evaluation will be based on the total time required to complete the inspection and intervention tasks. This phase includes inspection, ID, and manipulation subtasks, with the maximum mission completion time set at 50 minutes.

Eligibility and prizes
The competition will see international teams demonstrate their prowess and skills in building and operating their USVs and UAVs in a GNSS-denied environment.

Interested teams must complete the registration process by visiting the website Registration is open until January 30, 2022.

The team winning the first prize will take home US $2,000,000. The team placed second will receive US $500,000, while the team bagging the third prize wins US $250,000. A simulation phase completion prize of US $500,000 will be split among the teams progressing to demonstration phase.

ASPIRE drives the creation of future transformative technologies by working in consultation with cross-sector industry stakeholders, universities and research institutes to frame problem statements. It also launches grand challenges and international competitions to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. ASPIRE brings together exceptional people, ideas, resources, and technologies to solve complex challenges. ASPIRE is the technology programme management pillar of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC). ATRC is responsible for defining Abu Dhabi’s research and development strategy, consolidating funds for efficient investment, and driving policy and regulation.

Advanced Technology Research Council shapes research and development for transformative technology outcomes. It is responsible for defining Abu Dhabi’s R&D strategy across academia and industry, consolidating funds for efficient investment, and driving policy and regulation for agile decision-making. By guiding breakthrough technologies, it is establishing Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE as a desired home for advanced technology talent and a global hub for innovation.

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