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US Navy Challenge: Autonomous Detection of Marine Mammals

  • Award: Up to $75,500
  • Challenge type: Reduction to Practice (RTP)
  • Challenge under evaluation

Challenge overview


Government, State, and local organizations across the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast Regions of the United States are collaborating to support the development of technological solutions that support autonomous detection of Southern Resident Killer Whales and Northern Right Whales.

Each region faces a similar challenge of working to protect key marine mammal species while supporting a growing density of maritime traffic and technologies, to include autonomous vessels.  

The Department of Navy Northwest Tech Bridge at NUWC Division Keyport, Northeast Tech Bridge at NUWC Division Newport, Impact Washington, 401 Tech Bridge, Maritime Blue, and Quiet Sound are partnering on this prize challenge to drive development of these solutions.

While each partner has their own goals, this prize challenge focuses on solutions that support the common overlaps between them.  Solutions that can be leveraged by state, public and private interests to further protect these identified marine species.

The Department of Navy trains, tests, and operates worldwide in an environmentally responsible manner.  To achieve this, protective measures have been put in place and a protective measures assessment protocol is used. Generally, standard measures emphasize the use of trained lookouts and visual survey capabilities. While the currently employed methods are effective, they are manually intensive and require personnel that are trained in marine species awareness. These methods, therefore, are not appropriate for unmanned surface vehicles.

The Maritime Sector and State partners support economic growth across their region which results in increasing maritime traffic density in local waterways.  This traffic includes a growing number of high speed ferries and tenders.  These vessels operate through inclement weather, day, and night at high speed where visual look out protocols leveraged by the Department of Navy, shipping industry, and traditional maritime industry are less effective. 

This Challenge is for the first phase of a multi-stage effort. The focus of the first phase is to demonstrate a hardware and communications system that will detect Killer Whales and North Atlantic right whales with at least one above-water sensor and one below-water sensor. While there is also potential for the technology to aid in marine mammal mitigation on commercial ships and ferries, it is not required nor expected that the demonstration would include a delivery platform (marine vessel or land vehicle).

This is a Reduction-to-Practice Challenge that requires written documentation and a demonstration of the technology.



The Navy is seeking innovative solutions to enhance real-time detection of killer whales (Orcinus orca) or North Atlantic right whales or both in high vessel traffic areas. A multi-stage effort will be utilized to pursue the ultimate goal of a prototype that employs transformational technology or a combination of existing technologies to detect, classify, and display marine mammal location in real-time, allowing an autonomous vessel to take proactive measures to avoid a strike. This technology will also be applicable to manned commercial vehicles (e.g., high-speed catamaran passenger ferries).

This Challenge is the first phase of this multi-stage effort aimed at producing a system possessing combined multi-sensor data streams ready for future analysis by an onboard operational decision management tool or transmission to the cloud.

The goal of the first phase is to develop a system of sensors to detect killer whales and North Atlantic right whales with at least one above-water sensor and one below-water sensor. Data from these sensors must be time synchronized and include — at a minimum — the vehicle position and orientation, sensor data, time-stamp, sensor settings, sensor position, and sensor orientation.

A submission to the Challenge should include the following:

  1. A detailed description of the proposed Solution addressing specific Solution Requirements presented in the Detailed Description of the Challenge. This should also include a thorough description of the platform and sensors used in the Solution accompanied by a well-articulated rationale for the method employed.
  2. Source code and executables for any software developed for this Challenge. Complete description of any commercial software utilized in the proposed solution.
  3. Simulated or recorded data from each sensor, individually, that indicates its ability to detect and classify the marine mammals of interest. Ideally, this will include recorded data from one or more marine mammal(s) or simulations of marine mammals.
  4. Documented results of a demonstration that incorporates the sensors into a platform for data collection. The demonstration should be conducted in-water (preferred) or in a laboratory environment.

The Challenge award is contingent upon evaluation of the submission by the Seeker. This Challenge has a total award pool of $75,500 with no less than $50,000 awarded to the best submission that meets the Solution Requirements of the Challenge. Up to two additional awards may be made from the remaining award pool for submissions of high merit. In addition to a cash award, this Prize Challenge may serve as the source selection for potential compensated follow-on work.

To receive an award, the Solvers will not have to transfer their exclusive IP rights to the Seeker. Instead, Solvers will grant to the Seeker a non-exclusive license to practice their solutions.  Please see the Challenge Specific Agreement (CSA) for full details.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on 31-Mar-2022.
Late submissions will not be considered.



Eligibility is subject to verification by the Government before cash prizes are awarded. Participants (residents or entities) who are designated by the United States Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control are not eligible to receive any cash prize in the Challenge. Participants who are listed, or become listed, on the Excluded Parties List found on, have any active exclusions, or are otherwise unable to be deemed responsible in accordance with FAR 9.104-1 based on information available in FAPIIS, are not eligible to receive any cash prize in the Challenge.

Federal employees, including NAVSEA employees, and NAVSEA support contractors acting within the scope of their employment are not eligible to participate in the challenge. Likewise, members of their immediate family, and persons living in the same household, whether or not related, are not eligible to participate in any portion of this Challenge. Federal employees and contractors acting outside the scope of their employment should consult their ethics official and appropriate management before participating in the Challenge.

Individuals and organizations that are funded by NAVSEA, but not limited to, any Federally Funded Research and Development Centers and University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs), or private-sector personnel whose scope of work includes NAVSEA development or administrative support are not eligible to participate in the Challenge.



The Naval Sea Systems Command Technology Office champions the timely transition of emerging technologies into ships, submarines and the communities that design, build and maintain them – resulting in a more affordable and capable Fleet.


The Northwest and 401 Tech Bridges are coordinated by the Naval Undersea Warfare Centers and increase collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation with leading-edge tech companies and innovation partners to accelerate solutions to the warfighter. NSIN, the National Security Innovation Network, is an unrivaled problem-solving network that adapts to the emerging needs of those who serve in the defense of our national security.

Maritime Blue is a Puget Sound Strategic Alliance for Maritime Innovation and a Sustainable Blue Economy.

Quiet Sound seeks to better understand and reduce the cumulative effects of acoustic and physical disturbance from large commercial vessels on Southern Resident Orcas throughout their range in Washington State.


What is InnoCentive?

InnoCentive is the global innovation marketplace where creative minds solve some of the world's most important problems for cash awards up to $1 million. Commercial, governmental and humanitarian organizations engage with InnoCentive to solve problems that can impact humankind in areas ranging from the environment to medical advancements.

What is an RTP Challenge?

An InnoCentive RTP (Reduction to Practice) Challenge is a prototype that proves an idea, and is similar to an InnoCentive Theoretical Challenge in its high level of detail. However, an RTP requires the Solver to submit a validated solution, either in the form of original data or a physical sample. Also, the Seeker is allowed to test the proposed solution. For details about treatment of Intellectual Property (IP) rights, please see the Challenge Specific Agreement.