ASPIRE launches $3M MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge robotics challenge

The Robot Report
drones flying high over the ocean with merchant ships on the water below

The MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge. | Image credit: MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge

Abu Dhabi is sponsoring the MBZIRC Maritime Grand Challenge, a robotics engineering contest that seeks to advance the collaboration among unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles. The core of the challenge is to detect unfriendly vessels and move/capture cargo in a GNSS-denied environment at sea.

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.

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 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 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.

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.


There are three phases to the competition, starting with a whitepaper submission in January 2022.

White Paper Phase: Oct, 01, 2021 thru 31 Jan, 31, 2022

Each participating team is required to register online and later submit a white paper describing the team, its background in swarm robotics, computer vision, simultaneous localisation and mapping, marine vehicles and communications, along with a proposed technical approach. Deadline for initial phase – The White Paper – has been extended to January 31, 2022

Simulation Phase: Aug 2022

Shortlisted semi finalist teams will complete inspection and intervention tasks via simulation in the presence of a judging committee. Proof-of-concept videos on different subcomponents of their system need to be submitted to demonstrate the feasibility of the approach used.

Demonstration Phase: Jun 2023

Live demonstrations will be held over several days in a specially designated marine area off the coast of Abu Dhabi, when five finalist teams will put their systems to the test. The competition will be held in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in June 2023 where competitors will deploy unmanned vehicle technology in a GNSS-denied environment

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Source: therobotreport

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