- The California-based XPRIZE Foundation that organizes competitions incentivizing innovations in health, energy and other sectors, has announced the six finalists for its rainforest biodiversity competition.
- Aimed at developing novel technologies for biodiversity mapping, XPRIZE Rainforest comes with a $10 million prize.
- Mongabay staff writer Abhishyant Kidangoor attended the semifinals in Singapore last month and spoke with Peter Houlihan, executive vice president of biodiversity and conservation at XPRIZE, to learn more about why the competition was launched and how, as Houlihan says, it has become a movement.
Conservation technologies like drones, remote sensing and machine learning have a massive role to play in aiding the work of conservation scientists and helping policymakers devise better-informed decisions about where and how to protect biodiversity. The XPRIZE Foundation knows this, which is why it started a five-year-long competition to come up with technologies that can automate and accelerate the assessment of rainforest biodiversity.
For this episode of the podcast, Mongabay staff writer Abhishyant Kidangoor speaks with Peter Houlihan, the executive vice president of biodiversity and conservation at the XPRIZE foundation, which has just announced the competition’s six finalists.
Houlihan joined XPRIZE just before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and notes that many conservation efforts around the globe came to a stop or were put on hold. However, the prize carried on with the help of sponsor Alana Foundation while the world was shutting down.
“The conservation implications of this couldn’t be put on hold, we really needed to be doing this,” Houlihan says. “The impact that the prize has achieved has been really inspiring.”
Houlihan says he’s always seen the competitions that XPRIZE hosts as a “long-term conference” where the point isn’t about who has the greatest tech, but rather forming unity around shared goals. In conservation, he says, it’s about bringing together people who have never worked together before.
“We’re looking at driving solutions differently. We’ve basically, with this prize, drawn a box and told people to exist outside of it, and they’ve found ways to innovate collaborations, not just the technologies,” he says. “I’m rooting for everybody.”
Monitoring endangered species and cataloging the vast biodiversity of our planet is a daunting task, as an estimated 80% of all species on the planet are currently still unknown to science. Data collected about species inform the establishment of policies and protected areas, but have historically been immensely difficult to collect. The technology necessary to do this at scale is burgeoning and only made stronger not just through competition, but also via collaboration, according to Houlihan.
“[If] these tools can help people, anywhere in the world, collect the data necessary to inform those policies,” he says, “that would be a success.”
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Banner Image: A mobile data collection platform that was dropped on the forest canopy using drones. An extendable arm attached to a drone was used to deploy the platform on top of the canopy. Team Waponi. Photo by Abhishyant Kidangoor.