$10 million XPRIZE Rainforest contest announces 33 qualifying teams

  • Thirty-three teams spanning 16 countries from Brazil to India have qualified for the next stage of the XPRIZE Rainforest competition, the organizers announced on World Rainforest Day.
  • The $10 million contest, which launched in 2019 and concludes in 2024, aims to develop scalable and affordable technologies for rainforest preservation.
  • Over the next three years, competing teams will leverage existing and emerging technologies including robotics, remote sensing, data analysis and artificial intelligence to develop new biodiversity survey tools and produce real-time insights on rainforest health and value.

A total of 33 teams spanning 16 countries from Brazil to India have been chosen to advance to the next stage of a five-year, $10 million competition aimed at preserving the world’s rainforests.

The teams, selected by a judging panel including conservation scientists and research institute heads, will create technology to better identify and catalog rainforest biodiversity, organizer XPRIZE said in a press statement on June 22, World Rainforest Day.

The XPRIZE Rainforest competition, launched in 2019 and concluding in 2024, aims to develop scalable and affordable technologies that can rapidly map rainforest biodiversity. To win the competition, teams must develop new tools to survey as much biodiversity contained in 100 hectares (247 acres) of tropical rainforest as possible within 24 hours, and produce impactful analysis and insights that quantify the health and value of the forest within 48 hours.

Hosted by XPRIZE, a nonprofit that designs public competitions to crowdsource solutions to global problems, and supported by U.S.-based philanthropic organization the Alana Foundation, the competition emphasizes the co-creation of technological solutions with Indigenous peoples and local communities as key stakeholders.

Over the next three years, competing teams will leverage existing and emerging technologies including robotics, remote sensing, data analysis, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to develop their biodiversity survey tools, XPRIZE said. The 33 teams were chosen by a panel of nine judges including conservation scientists, professors, research center directors and environmental nonprofit founders covering the U.S., Africa, Asia and more.

Successful technologies will be “scalable and affordable” while measurably improving biodiversity monitoring through autonomous operations, innovative detection methodologies, and rapid data integration to provide new and detailed insights in real-time, XPRIZE said in its press statement. Such insights on services offered by healthy forests — from carbon sequestration to water provision to biodiversity — can narrow the perceived value gap between living and felled rainforest, where the former is generally viewed as less economically valuable than clearing the land for agriculture, timber, or plantations.

Current efforts to survey rainforest biodiversity often employ a combination of technologies — including camera traps like this one — and old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground surveys. Photo credit: Rhett A. Butler.

Qualifying team BioSTREAM from the U.K. said it would be using DNA-based monitoring technologies in its survey tools, in particular collecting the DNA living things leave behind in their environment to generate a new data layer for biodiversity.

“So little is known about the millions of complex biotic interactions that allow these forests to exist and flourish,” Benjamin Barca of biotechnology firm NatureMetrics, which collaborated with two other companies to form BioSTREAM, said in an April news release. “It is important that we rapidly improve our knowledge of and add value to existing rainforests worldwide before they disappear.”

The next steps for the competition include a semifinal round and a final round of testing before the grand prize decision in 2024. The total prize of $10 million will be split between $5 million for first place, $2 million for second place and $500,000 for third place, with a $250,000 bonus prize awarded at the judging panel’s discretion and milestone prizes for a maximum of 25 semifinalist teams and 10 finalist teams.

“There has never been a more urgent time for our planet,” Peter Houlihan, vice president of biodiversity and conservation at XPRIZE, said in a press statement. “These teams show great promise for developing exciting new approaches to enhance shared understandings of the planet’s most complex and biodiverse terrestrial ecosystems.”

“Nature Based Solutions are key to confronting the climate crises. We are celebrating teams from the Americas, Europe, Oceania, and Asia all united on the same goal,” Ana Lúcia Villela, president of the Alana Foundation, added. “The world needs intelligent, possible, powerful solutions … made by people in communion.”

Banner image of rainforest tree with magenta flowers in the Amazon, by Rhett Butler/Mongabay.