Moonshot Challenge receives applications
from 38 institutions spanning across 13 countries

International competition to tackle ocean pollution received ten applications involving institutions from 13 countries. The winners will be disclosed during the WebSummit 2020.

The AI Moonshot Challenge, which seeks disruptive ideas for plastic detection in the oceans, has attracted researchers from several countries, including the United Kingdom, Serbia, Estonia, Finland, Brazil, Canada and the United States, among others. In total, 38 institutions have formed ten consortia that propose to use satellite data and artificial intelligence to find solutions to the problem of plastics in the oceans.

Promoted by the Portuguese Space Agency, Portugal Space, in partnership with Unbabel, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and the National Innovation Agency (ANI), the AI Moonshot Challenge aims to boost the use of space data to advance scientific research and develop innovative solutions to societal problems, in line with the national strategy Portugal Space 2030.

The consortia created to submit applications involve research institutes, universities, private companies and associations, as well as state companies.

“Having managed to bring together almost 40 organisations from 13 countries around what we consider to be an important and global challenge makes us very satisfied. We knew that the same pandemic conditions that forced us to review the tender procedures, and which limited the deadline for applications, would also end up conditioning participation. Still, we were delighted with the proposals received, mainly because of the international component,” says Carolina Sá, Earth Observation project manager at Portugal Space.

The marine biologist, who will co-chair the IA Moonshot Challenge jury, together with Paolo Corradi, from the European Space Agency (ESA), also underlines the importance that the result of the competition will have in terms of research and technological development in Portugal. “The rules of the competition were designed to strengthen the skills of national academia and industry. That is why we demanded that Portuguese organisations lead consortia or that foreign companies or laboratories do research from Portugal”, explains Carolina Sá.

Besides Paolo Corradi, a systems engineer responsible for the remote sensing of plastic marine debris at ESA, and Carolina Sá, the international jury that will evaluate the proposals also has the experience and knowledge of Nikolai Maximenko, a researcher from the University of Hawaii (USA), Laura Lorenzoni, NASA scientist (USA), Vasco Pedro, CEO and co-founder of Unbabel (Portugal), Shungu Garaba, a researcher from the University of Oldenburg (Germany) and Pierre-Philippe Mathieu, responsible for the Explore Office at Φ-lab (ESA).

Vasco Pedro recalls that Unbabel “supports the AI Moonshot Challenge from day one, helping research and industry to collaborate – two strands central to Unbabel”. For Unbabel’s CEO and co-founder, “artificial intelligence is enabling disruptive applications in critical sectors such as the space industry, and talent in these areas will be vital to the future”.

At a time when global issues such as pollution are growing and requiring a joint effort, Vasco Pedro underlines Unbabel’s enthusiasm “to see teams at the forefront of emerging technologies as well as leading institutions around the world come together to develop projects that will help solve the problem of plastics in the oceans.

The winners, who could receive up to 500,000 euros to develop and implement their solution, will be known during the WebSummit, which runs this year virtually, on December 2th – 4th 2020.

Portugal Space
3 of November, 2020