XPRIZE, which describes itself as the global leader in designing and operating incentive competitions that aim to solve the major challenges facing humanity, announced on July 24 at the International Congress for Conservation Biology 2023 in Rwanda that the ETH BiodivX team has made the final of the XPRIZE Rainforest Competition. Under the leadership of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), the researchers are competing for the win and prize money totaling 10 million US dollars against five other finalists from Brazil, Spain and the USA. The competition is sponsored by the Alana Foundation in Brazil.
The five-year Rainforest Competition was launched in 2019 with just under 300 teams participating. The aim is to help accelerate innovation in connection with autonomous technologies that can collect data on biodiversity in rainforests. According to a report published by ETH Zurich, a total of 56 people from 15 organizations contributed to the ETH BiodivX team, including the three ETH spin-offs Restor, Diaxxio and Simplex DNA: “We collect large amounts of eDNA, images and sounds through autonomous drones and rovers - and analyze the data through a live dashboard, advanced AI algorithms and a global community of indigenous citizen scientists”, the ETH BiodivX team explains on its website.
The semi-finals took place in June 2023 in the Singapore rainforest. The task was to identify as many species of flora and fauna as possible across an area of 100 hectares within 24 hours - all without actually stepping foot into the designated area. Another 48 hours were available to the teams in order to evaluate the data. The Swiss team produced 12 million DNA sequences and identified a total of 257 species of flora and fauna. Their report ran for more than 70 pages. The young researchers had practiced this approach in the run up to the semi-finals at the Masoala Rainforest in Zoo Zurich, where they also filmed their work to make a short video.
The final is set to take place next year. According to ETH Zurich professor Kristy Deiner, the team is looking forward to further developing its technologies until then. ce/mm