Bureau of Reclamation


Imperfection Detection: Detect Me If You Can

Reclamation needs portable tools to non-destructively evaluate the condition of existing fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composite structures

Challenge Overview

The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is the largest provider of water and the second-largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States.  Reclamation’s infrastructure uses all major civil engineering material classes, including steel, concrete, plastics, and composites, to achieve the performance, and service life needed.  Typical applications for composite materials include fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) pipelines, tanks, and other specialized infrastructure components, which take advantage of composites’ excellent corrosion resistance, reduced weight, and other helpful materials properties.  Evaluation tools and methods for concrete and steel infrastructure are well established; however, FRP composite structures require new and more advanced evaluation techniques. 

As existing composite materials in our water infrastructure age, reliable and non-destructive methods to assess the condition of those composites structures in the field are needed.  Reclamation, in collaboration with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), is sponsoring this challenge with the goal of developing portable tools that use non-destructive evaluation (NDE) methods to assess the condition of existing FRP composite structures.  Such tools may also be used to confirm the quality of newly-received FRP composite structures, like pipes or gates.

FRP composite pipe at field installation site


FRP composite wicket gate during field installation

This Imperfection Detection challenge has a total prize purse of $380,000.  In addition to the prize money, winners will have access to subject matter experts from both Reclamation and USACE, as well as access to potential commercial partners.

Challenge structure overview:

Phase 1 - Ideation

  • Submissions must be received by June 24, 2021.
  • Up to 5 of the top submissions will advance to Phase 2.  Winners will each receive $60,000 (total of $300,000 awarded).

Phase 2 - Prototype development

  • Phase 1 winners have approximately 10 months to work according to their proposed project plans, develop their prototypes, demonstrate their prototype’s performance, and submit a report.
  • Up to 3 of the top-performing approaches will advance to Phase 3.  Winners will each receive $10,000 (total of $30,000 awarded).

Phase 3 - Sponsor evaluations and demonstration event

  • Phase 2 winners have approximately 4 weeks to deliver their prototypes to Reclamation for joint Reclamation/USACE evaluations.  These evaluations will take about 14 weeks.
  • A final event will occur at the end of Phase 3.  Teams participating in Phase 3 will present an overview of their approach and results to Reclamation, USACE, and affiliated commercial partners. This is currently planned as an in-person event.  It may be held as a virtual event, as circumstances dictate.
  • The top-performing prototype will be announced at the final event, and the team which developed the prototype will win $50,000.

About Sponsors and Partners:

Reclamation has brought water to arid lands for agricultural and economic development for over 100 years and is the largest supplier of water in the US.  They are also the US’s second largest producer of hydroelectric power.

USACE has been delivering vital public and military engineering services for our Nation’s toughest challenges since 1806.  Like Reclamation, it is also a leading provider of hydroelectric power.   Additionally, USACE serves as the lead federal flood control agency.

Clemson Composites Center is a research, innovation, and development facility that promotes the economic advancement of composite materials through innovative research and sustainable applications.  They have collaborated with Reclamation and USACE to design and fabricate the composite panels that will be used by Phase 2 participants to demonstrate their prototypes’ performance.

Jesse Garant Metrology Center is a specialized part inspection company providing industrial computed tomography (CT) and x-ray services.  They have been employed by nearly all manufacturing sectors looking to gain additional insight about their product. Their services are focused on providing easy access to a complex imaging technology. They will be providing CT scans of the composite panels for Phase 2.

Thompson Pipe Group (TPG) is one of the largest and most diverse drainage, sanitary, water and trenchless pipe providers with manufacturing locations across the country and serving not just the US but all of North America. In collaboration with the Bureau of Reclamation, they will help to provide different composite pipe samples to be utilized in Phase 3 for testing. They will also provide technical support based on their expertise on composite pipe material.


Challenge Guidelines

Background and Technical Details

Fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites are materials in which a polymer matrix is reinforced with fibers.  Thermoset resins such as epoxy, vinyl ester, and polyesters are commonly used as the polymer matrix, and glass, carbon, and aramid are common materials for the reinforcing fibers.  Fibers can be continuous (as in tows or woven fabric), or discontinuous (as in chopped fibers).  As with all composites, the FRP composite provides better performance than either material by itself.  While the fiber reinforces the matrix and provides resistance to cracks, the polymer matrix both distributes the load to the reinforcing fiber and protects the fiber from the external environment.  

Composites offer many performance advantages.  In addition to having excellent strength, they weigh less than other common construction materials (like concrete or metal), and they have superior resistance to environmental conditions.  Also, composites are very durable and require little maintenance.  Lastly, by taking advantage of the many different combinations of polymer matrices and fibers, composites can be tailored to meet a wide range of specific performance requirements.  Because of these many benefits, composites are used in many applications including automotive, construction, aerospace, marine, and sports and recreation. 

The ongoing use of FRP composite materials for federal civil infrastructure, at both Reclamation and USACE, in applications such as pipelines, tanks, and other specialized structures or components takes advantage of composites’ excellent corrosion resistance, reduced weight, and other helpful properties.  As composites continue to age in their various infrastructure applications, reliable methods of assessing their condition in the field are needed. The goal of this challenge is to develop portable tools that use non-destructive evaluation (NDE) methods to assess the condition of existing FRP composite structures. 

Visual inspection of an FRP composite tank interior
Digital tap hammer inspection of FRP composite wicket gate

For this Imperfection Detection challenge, Reclamation seeks ideas for field-applicable non-destructive methods of detecting and quantifying the presence and location of the following types of defects:

  • Cracks
  • Delamination
  • Fiber breakage

Although commercially available technologies that can detect these defects exist, they don’t adequately meet Reclamation’s needs for in-situ NDE.  State-of-the-art NDE technologies are typically meant to be used in a laboratory setting.  The equipment can be large, heavy, and power-intensive.  

Competitive ideas submitted to this challenge will result in prototypes that can rapidly detect and quantify at least one of the three types of defects listed above, using equipment that is portable, rugged, and easily used in field settings.  Prototypes must be able to operate in variable climate conditions, or through layers of biofouling.  Participants in Phase 2 will be given 300 x 300 x 25 millimeter (mm) (12 x 12 x 1 inch) composite panels, containing various defects, against which they can demonstrate their prototypes’ capabilities.  Prototypes should be designed for Reclamation’s use and evaluation with real-life conditions in mind.  In particular, prototypes should be able to work on and be easily moved across large-scale composite structures that may have complex geometries and variable thicknesses (which may be thicker than 1 inch and contain a non-FRP core layer), as are seen in gates, pipe, and pipe fittings.  It is expected that proposed solutions will have a cost comparable to the base methodology/ies normally used in laboratory settings.

FRP composite pipe tee connector (fitting)

Reclamation would like to be able to detect defects at the scales described and depicted in the table and diagram shown below. Demonstrating detection limits below these thresholds is of interest, but resolution and detection limits must be balanced against scan rate (speed). For example, a prototype that detects defects that are one order of magnitude smaller than the detection limits (see table below) at a scan rate of one square meter per hour would score lower that meets detection limits at a rate of one hundred square meters per hour. 

Benchmark performance specifications for each type of defect:

Type of defectDetection limit Other specifications
Cracks30 mm length parallel to fiber orientation, depth of 1 layer from backside, width of approximately 0.3 mm (see figure below)

Minimum: Detection of defect.  

Preferred: Ability to characterize x,y,z dimensions of defect and orientation with respect to fibers.

Delamination   2.5 mm diameter at 20 mm depth, gap of approximately 0.5 mm

Minimum: Detection of defect.  

Preferred: characterize total area of delamination and determine location (depth from surface)

Fiber breakage30 mm length perpendicular to fiber orientation, depth of 1 layer from backside, width of approximately 0.3 mm (see figure below)

Minimum: Detection of defect.  

Preferred:Ability to characterize x,y,z dimensions of defect and orientation with respect to fibers.


NDE methodologies that are of interest to Reclamation include:

  • Terahertz
  • Radiography
  • Shearography
  • Thermography
  • Ultrasound

This list is neither exhaustive nor limiting.  If you have other innovative approaches or combinations of approaches to propose, we want to hear about them!

Regardless of what you propose, it must be demonstrable within the 10-month Phase 2 development period.  Composite panels with engineered defects will be supplied to each Phase 2 team, so that they can demonstrate how well their technology performs.  These panels will be 300 x 300 x 25 mm (12 x 12 x 1 inch), and the engineered defects will vary in size and depth within the panels.  These panels will have been fully characterized by computed tomography (CT), and it is expected that teams will be able to identify and quantify most, if not all, of the engineered defects.  There is a possibility that teams may further distinguish their prototype’s performance by additionally detecting and characterizing unintentional manufacturing defects that may be present in their panels.

At the end of the development period, Phase 2 participants will submit a complete development report, including all data arising from laboratory demonstrations on the supplied composite panels.  If selected as a Phase 3 participant, you will send in both your prototype and the supplied panel.  Reclamation will use your prototype to confirm your reported results and further evaluate the prototype’s performance on composite pieces more representative of field conditions.  Prototype performance may be assessed using composite pieces that contain curvature, thicknesses that may exceed 25 mm, and non-FRP core materials.  Additionally, Reclamation will review the cost estimate provided and assess the prototype’s field-readiness, portability, and power requirements.  

Reclamation is interested in seeing this capability developed so that it is eventually available for use in the field.  They are not interested in manufacturing the devices themselves.  The final demonstration event at the close of Phase 3 is an opportunity for teams to demonstrate their prototypes to the Reclamation and USACE network of commercial partners.  There is a potential opportunity for post-challenge development work with a commercial partner.


Phase 1

Everyone is invited to participate in Phase 1.  The deadline to submit your responses is June 24, 2021.  Reclamation and USACE are interested in portable technologies that can be used in the field to assess the condition of existing FRP composite structures.  Whatever you propose must be something that can be successfully developed and demonstrated within the 10-month Phase 2 development window.  It is also important to remember that Phase 2 winners will be selected based on how well their prototypes detect and characterize engineered defects in supplied composite panels, but Phase 3 winners will be selected based on how their prototypes perform on test pieces that have curvature, complex geometries, and variable thicknesses.  

In addition to providing a strong scientific rationale and any preliminary data for your proposed approach, Phase 1 submissions must also include a realistic project plan that clearly outlines the timeline and path for Phase 2 that will enable your prototype to be ready for the Phase 3 evaluations and final demonstration event.

Submissions that have passed a pre-screening step - which removes non-responsive and/or incomplete submissions - will be reviewed by the Evaluation Panel.  The panel will select up to 5 of the most compelling submissions as Phase 1 winners.  Winning submissions will be selected based on how they score against the Phase 1 evaluation criteria, see below.  Each winner will receive $60,000 award money to support their prototype development efforts.  If Reclamation determines that none of the Phase 1 submissions are sufficiently compelling, they may elect to recognize the authors of the top three submissions with $15,000 each and end the challenge at this stage.


Phase 2

The Phase 2 prototype development period is approximately 10 months long, with a mid-point check-in that will occur in February 2022.  At the start of the development period, Phase 1 winners will each receive $40,000 of their award money and will schedule a mid-point check-in with Reclamation.  It is anticipated that teams will have regular engagement with Reclamation and HeroX throughout the development period. Teams are expected to alert Reclamation to changes in their project plan, unforeseen roadblocks, and important breakthroughs. Teams can also request time with a subject matter expert (SME) and ask for advice. In addition to development funds won from Phase 1, Phase 2 teams will also have up to 40 hours of access to SMEs.  The experts will be drawn from Reclamation and USACE, depending on the specific expertise required by a team.  During the mid-point check-in, each team will review with Reclamation and USACE their progress relative to the project plan submitted in Phase 1.  After successful completion of the check-in and when the teams demonstrate meaningful progress in accordance with their proposed project plan, teams will each receive the remaining $20,000 of the award money to aid in the continued development of their prototype.

At the end of the Phase 2 period, each team will submit a report that contains a summary of their development efforts, data resulting from their prototype’s evaluation of the provided composite panels, detailed descriptions of any improvements and/or changes made to the prototype since the mid-point check-in, and a video which demonstrates how the prototype is set up and operated.  The Evaluation Panel will score Phase 2 teams’ prototypes based on the reported results of their non-destructive evaluation of the provided FRP composite panels and their performance against their project plan.  See Phase 2 evaluation criteria for full details.  Up to three of the top-performing teams will advance to Phase 3 and will each receive an additional $10,000 to support travel and associated costs with participation in the Phase 3 final demonstration event.


Phase 3

Teams participating in Phase 3 will have roughly 4 weeks to deliver their working prototypes and the supplied composite panels to a specified Federal laboratory.  Reclamation and USACE will confirm the reported prototype performance in detecting defects on the supplied panel and will further evaluate the prototypes in a variety of conditions and against a range of composite samples with variable thicknesses (that may be greater than 25 mm), which may include a non-FRP core layer (such as polymer resin with fine aggregate) - some of these composite samples may be pieces retired from the field, pieces about to be deployed, or samples developed with engineered defects.  After a 14-week evaluation period, a final demonstration event will be held.  This is an opportunity for commercial partners of both Reclamation and USACE to interact with Phase 3 participants and to observe demonstrations of the different prototypes.  Reclamation has a strong interest in the eventual commercialization of promising technologies, and this event offers the potential for additional development and commercialization of one or more prototypes.  A final winner will be announced at the end of the event and will be awarded a prize of $50,000.



Challenge launch March 4, 2021

Phase 1 submission deadline June 24, 2021

Phase 1 evaluation period June 24 - August 12, 2021

Phase 1 winners announced August 19, 2021

Phase 2 development period August 19, 2021 - June 21, 2022 

Phase 2 submission deadline June 21, 2022

Phase 2 evaluation period June 21 - July 26, 2022

Phase 2 winners announced July 26, 2022

Phase 3 prototype delivery to USBR August 23, 2022

Phase 3 evaluation period August 23 - November 29, 2022

Phase 3 final event December 5 - 9, 2022

Phase 3 winner announced December 9, 2022


Phase 1 Judging Criteria 

Phase 1 paper submissions will be evaluated against the following criteria:

CriteriaDescriptionOverall Weight
Proposal QualityIs the submission complete and responsive?  Is the writing clear, concise, and compelling?  Are the ideas and information presented thoughtfully and in an easy-to-follow manner?5
NDE characterization capabilities

Is the proposed approach likely to detect one or more of the defects (cracks, delamination, and fiber breakage) at or beyond the desired detection limits?  Will the proposed approach be able to detect multiple types of defects at once?  Has the proposed method already been proven commercially?  

Does the submission describe how the data will be collected, stored, transferred, and analyzed? 

Appropriateness for field use

Will the proposed prototype be suitable for use in the field?  For example, some things to address include:

  • Rugged/durable
  • Lightweight and portable
  • Rapid
  • Energy and power efficient
  • Ability to perform in a variety of environmental conditions, including mud, biofouling, and debris
  • Flexible in design to accommodate composite structures with complex geometries and variable thicknesses

Are the proposed costs competitive with or better than those associated with current, commercially available, testing methods?  Are there additional capabilities offered by the proposed approach that would affect the calculation of the cost proposition?  Are the assumptions used for the cost estimation realistic and all expected costs included?

Proposed costs should include labor, setup time, and post-processing.

What other costs may be incurred for long-term maintenance and upkeep?

Project planIs the submitted project plan realistic, clear, and well-thought out?  Does it identify the major hurdles that must be overcome for successful prototype development?  Does the project plan clearly outline the activities and milestones that must occur in order to successfully demonstrate the proposed approach at the correct scale by the Phase 3 demonstration?  20
TeamDoes the team contain the necessary skills and expertise required to execute the project plan?  Does the team have adequate access to resources and other experts, as needed?10


Phase 1 Submission Form

Please complete your submission on the HeroX platform. We recommend opening the submission form early so you understand what formatting options are available to you. You can edit your submission up to the deadline, even if you have already submitted it. Character limits include spaces.  

  1. Team Information - For each team member: please list their names, their roles/expertise, and their email addresses. Please note who is the team leader/primary point of contact. (6000 characters max)
  2. Proposal Overview - Please provide an overview of your proposed approach: (3000 characters max)
    1. Which NDE methodology/ies are you proposing to use?
    2. How will you render the technology/ies into a portable, durable, fast-scanning device?
    3. Why do you believe your prototype can be developed and demonstrated within the timeframe of this challenge?
  3. Prototype Characterization Capabilities (6000 characters max)
    1. What types and sizes of defects will your prototype be able to detect, to what resolution, and at what depth?  Will your prototype be able to detect and quantify more than one kind of defect?
    2. What is the technical maturity of the base methodology/ies (demonstrated, reduced to practice, commercially available, etc)?  If this capability is commercially available, what advantages does your prototype offer over commercial products?
    3. How will your prototype work on composite structures with complex geometries, variable thickness, and heterogeneous layers?  What limitations might arise with regard to the types of composite structures and thicknesses that could be evaluated with this prototype?
    4. How is the data collected, stored, transferred, and analyzed?
  4. Prototype Field Fitness - Please describe how your prototype will function in the field.  (6000 characters max)
    In particular, please address:
    1. What are the power requirements for your prototype
    2. Approximately how much will it weigh
    3. How long will it take to scan an area nominally 1 square meter
    4. How rugged is the prototype likely to be in field conditions, including
    5. Ambient temperatures ranging 0 - 35ºC
    6. Dust, rain or light moisture
    7. Biofouling, mud, or debris in and around the structure’s surface
    8. Bright sunlight or glare
    9. What concerns, if any, do you have about operational  speed, durability, or other operational constraints (such as weight or power consumption)?
  5. Cost - Please provide a cost estimation associated with making, operating, and maintaining your prototype and share any underlying assumptions used to produce this estimate.  How does this cost compare with those for comparable, current, commercially available, laboratory testing?  Does your prototype offer any other capabilities, advantages, or disadvantages that could impact the cost proposition? (3000 characters max)
  6. Project Plan - Please provide a complete project plan that shows how you will have a demonstrated prototype by the end of an 10 month development period.  Your project plan should include the following milestones: (6000 characters max)
    1. Functional demonstration of prototype
    2. Demonstration of prototype’s field-readiness
    3. Characterization of provided composite panels and comparison of collected data with provided data
    4. Remember, if you are selected as a Phase 1 winner, you will be expected to execute against this project plan.
    5. Additionally, please discuss the resources and expertise that you will need to successfully develop your proposed approach.  If there are resources and/or expertise needed that are currently not available to your team, how do you plan to address these gaps?
    6. What do you anticipate will be the biggest hurdle in successfully developing and demonstrating your technology?  What are your current thoughts about how to tackle it?
  7. Supporting Files - Please upload any supporting files, such as design files, team bios or CV’s, etc.

Phase 2 Judging Criteria

Phase 2 submissions will be evaluated against the following criteria:

Section DescriptionWeight %
Characterization capability

How did the prototype perform in terms of characterizing the supplied composite panels?  Did the performance match what was proposed?  How did the performance compare to the CT characterizations and to performance from an analogous benchtop capability? 

How easy was it to interpret the results?  Was the data analysis/processing easy to use?


Field potentialWhat is the potential for this prototype to be successfully deployed in field settings?  How do the different trade-offs for things like operation scan rate (speed), field-readiness, and weight stack up? 


Updated cost estimationWhat are the updated costs for this prototype?  How are the costs likely to change with further technology development?  How does it compare with costs for similar capabilities/equipment for use in laboratory settings?


Commercialization potential

What is the commercial potential for this technology? For example: 

  • Is it likely to be attractive to a development and manufacturing partner?
  • Are there other potential applications for this technology?
  • How much additional time and effort would be needed to commercialize it?



Phase 2 Submission Form

Please complete your submission on the HeroX platform. We recommend opening the submission form early so you understand what formatting options are available to you. You can edit your submission up to the deadline, even if you have already submitted it. Character limits include spaces.  


  1. Characterization capability - Please present the data collected by your prototype for the composite panels provided.  If you collected multiple sets of data, please provide all processed data and label the best data set.  Data (raw and processed) may also be uploaded as a separate spreadsheet, with a summary table included here. Please discuss the data collected and how it compares with the CT data for each panel.  (30,000 characters max)
  2. Prototype operation and field potential (30,000 characters max)
    1. Please describe how to set up and operate your prototype.  Did you collect all data sets operating the prototype in the same manner?  If not, please identify which sets were collected differently and describe the different operation modes.
    2. Having used your prototype, please provide an assessment for its ease and durability for use in field settings.  Be honest - we understand this is a first prototype and additional development work needs to occur.
    3. What field conditions, if any, are contraindicated for using this prototype?
  3. Updated cost estimation - Please provide an updated cost estimate for manufacturing and operating your technology.  Be sure to include anticipated maintenance costs as part of the operating costs.  How does this cost compare with those for comparable, current, commercially available, laboratory testing? (3000 characters max)
  4. Commercialization potential - Please discuss the commercial potential for your technology. (6000 characters max)
    1. Why would a Reclamation or USACE partner want to further develop this with you?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of your technology?  Are there other applications for which this technology could be marketed?
    2. In terms of time and effort, how much additional work do you estimate is needed to move your technology into a pre-production phase?  What additional resources and funds would you require?
  5. Video demonstration- Please provide the link to a video that demonstrates how to set up and operate your prototype. Video must be longer than 90 sec and shorter than 20 min
  6. Supporting files - Please upload any supporting files, such as data files, updated design drawings/schematics, etc.

Phase 3 Judging Criteria

Phase 3 submissions will be evaluated against the following criteria:

Criteria DescriptionWeight
Characterization capabilityCan Phase 2 results be replicated in Reclamation labs?  Do the characterization capabilities meet Reclamation’s needs?  Do they meet Reclamation’s expectations?


Field potentialCould this device be used in a wide range of field conditions?  Does performance vary depending on field conditions?  Would you want to use this device in the field?  Is data managed in a manner that is compatible with fieldwork?  How much training is required to become a user?


CostIs the realistic cost a good value for the capability offered?  Will economies of scale be able to drive the cost down?


Commercialization potentialIs this likely to be attractive to a development and manufacturing partner?  If commercially available, would Reclamation or USACE purchase and use the technology?  Could this technology be used in other fields or applications?



Phase 3 Submission Checklist

You must provide the following items as part of your Phase 3 submission:

  1. Prototype
    1. Characterization device hardware and software.
    2. Any necessary computers to run the hardware and software, internet access, cables, or power cords.
    3. Any additional accessories or peripherals needed for prototype set up and operation.  
      Note: Reclamation cannot provide a computer, software, hardware or access to the internet. If your prototype requires these items, be sure to include them.
  2. Composite panels
    1. The FRP composite panel supplied by Reclamation during Phase 2.
  3. Updates
    1. A report that covers any updates, changes, or improvements to the developed technology that has occurred since the Phase 2 report submission (only if needed).
    2. A video that presents any changes to set up or operational procedures that have been developed since the Phase 2 report submission (only if needed).


Participation Eligibility:

The Imperfection Detection Challenge is open to individuals, age 18 or older. 

Submissions must originate from either the U.S. or a designated country (see definition of designated country at https://www.acquisition.gov/far/part-25#FAR_25_003), OR have been substantially transformed in the US or designated country prior to prototype delivery pursuant to FAR 25.403(c). 

In addition, United States federal sanctions prohibit participation from individuals and teams from certain countries (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx).

The following restrictions apply to the Challenge: (1) Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment are not eligible to participate; (2) Federal employees acting outside the scope of their employment should consult their ethics advisor before participating in the Challenge; (3) All employees of the Government, Challenge sponsors, and other individual or entity associated with the development or administration of the Challenge, as well as their family members (i.e., spouse, children, parents, siblings, other dependents) and persons living in the same household whether or not related, are not eligible to participate; (4) Contractors receiving Government funding for the same or similar projects, along with their employees, are not eligible to participate in the Challenge.

Bureau of Reclamation employees are not eligible to participate.

Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.

To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement, which will be made available upon registration.

Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the HeroX.com website, on or before the submission deadline. All uploads must be in PDF format. No late submissions will be accepted.

Multiple submissions are permitted for Phase 1. Only one Phase 2 submission is permitted per eligible team.

Submissions will become the sponsor's property upon submission and will not be returned with the exception of Phase 3 prototypes if requested prior to prototype shipment. Reclamation may cover reasonable shipping expenses to return prototypes to innovators if requested.

Shipping Costs:

Reclamation will cover reasonable shipping costs for Phase 2 winners to ship prototypes to Reclamation facilities. The solver may be responsible for additional fees incurred for customs clearance. 

Additional Information

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification.
  • All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified.
  • All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement.
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law.
Updates 11

Challenge Updates

Two Week Warning

June 10, 2021, 6 a.m. PDT by Lulu

There are only TWO WEEKS left to submit your solution for the Imperfection Detection: Detect Me If You Can. The early bird definitely gets the worm - so don't put it off! Be sure to have at least 75% of your submission complete a full week before the deadline for maximum flexibility. We'd hate to think you worked hard on a submission, just to miss the deadline by a hair (that's right - no late-night, sad email exceptions - the cut-off is real, folks!)

All that aside, thanks so much to all of you for your interest. Crowdsourcing is nothing without the crowd, and well, that's you. Yeah, you.  

We can't wait to see what the winning solution looks like.

Best of luck to all!

Current Methods of Composite Assessment

June 3, 2021, 10 a.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

Article by Tom Haxton HeroX Writers' Bench

Although destructive testing is used in certain industries, we are primarily interested in Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) techniques suitable for use ‘in-the-field’ against the typical defects found in large FiberFibre Reinforced Polymer (FRP) composite water infrastructure. The defects of interest are cracks, delamination and fiber-breakage deep within the structure (25mm depth). Some of the NDE techniques currently in use within other sectors include Terahertz Imaging, Radiography, Shearography, Thermography and Ultrasound. All have advantages and disadvantages, although none of them in their current form are entirely suitable for the rapid evaluation of large, in-place infrastructure. However, with modifications, new processing algorithms or other novel techniques, they could have a part to play. Either way, analysis of these and other techniques may help the idea generation process for a challenge winning entry to the HeroX Imperfection Detection Challenge. Let’s look at some of the main NDE techniques in use today.



Terahertz Imaging

Terahertz NDE of FRP composites is a new and exciting area of research. It is already deployed in the aerospace industry to check high performance non-conducting materials and was used to check the foam insulation on the Space Shuttle. The energy, frequency and wavelength of Terahertz radiation makes it particularly suited to the one-sided scanning of non-polar and non-conducting materials, including FRPs (but not carbon fiber as this is a conductor). Terahertz radiation can be used as pulsed energy or energy or a continuous wave.



The main downside of Terahertz Imaging is that the systems are not very portable, and scanning takes a lot of time (up to a few hours per square meter), although mobile systems are used for scanning artwork. The point to note here with relation to NDE of FRP infrastructure, such as pipelines, is that Terahertz NDE is in its infancy and novel techniques or new processing methods may allow revolutionary change in portability and scanning speeds. It is therefore a favorable technique for exploring with regards to the Imperfection Detection Challenge.



Radiography NDE uses X-Rays, Gamma Rays or sometimes particles such as neutrons. It is a very well-established technology used in a great many industries. Until recently, the technique required two-sided access to samples with the emitter on one side and the detector on the other but new back-scatter imaging techniques have now allowed some one-sided NDE applications. The X-Ray scanners at airports are an example of this one-sided backscatter technique. Radiography can struggle to detect defects that are perpendicular to the beam, but new processing techniques are beginning to overcome this limitation. Neutron beans are particularly exciting as they can differentiate between similar materials with ease.



Shearography is a coherent light optical technique. An image of the sample to be evaluated is taken using the coherent light source (normally a laser) and then another one taken of the exact same part of the sample but this time while it is under load. Any defects show as an ‘interference' pattern when the two images are combined. The system is quick, compact, mobile and resistant to environmental effects such as vibration, dirt, rain and wind. Shearography is used extensively in the aerospace industry, particularly for helicopter rotors, and in the renewable energy sector for wind-turbine blade testing.




Active thermography measures heat flow through an object with an IR sensor or camera. It works on the principle that defects will interfere with heat flow and this can be detected and processed using sophisticated software to give a near real-time image. The system is cheap and quick, and the heat can be applied in a number of different ways. Inspection depth can be limited, and this may be a restriction for certain large and thick pieces of FRP infrastructure. However, there are many unexplored areas such as alternative methods of active heating and different IR detection and processing systems.


(Image – Manuel de la Fuente, Pixabay)



There are a number of different ultrasound NDT techniques. Some have been around for a while, but there are newer techniques such as laser ultrasonics. All work on the principle that an ultrasound wave will be reflected or change in some other way when it encounters a change in material, density or shape. A detector can convert this change into an image that can be used by a trained operator to evaluate the integrity of the test object. Some of the newer ultrasound techniques may well be suitable for NDE of pipelines and the like if they can be adapted to work in the field at high speed and without an excessive training burden.


Just incase you missed it...

May 27, 2021, 7 a.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

Dear Innovators,

If you happened to miss the Q&A Webinar yesterday - you can now view the recording below. Enjoy!

The Three Most Critical Defects in Fibre Reinforced Polymer Composites

May 26, 2021, 10 a.m. PDT by Despina Maliaka

Article by Tom Haxton


An Introduction to Defects in (FRP) Composites

Damage and failure mechanisms in Fibre Reinforced Polymers (FRPs) are very different to those found in conventional or homogenous materials and normally arise from defects within the FRP. The manufacturing process can sometimes allow small defects to go undetected and these can grow and cause problems when the product is in use. A more common occurrence is defects caused by damage to FRP from accidental impact, operations outside of the design limits and excessive environmental exposure. These can happen at any time during the product life cycle, and this is why regular Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) of deployed FRP infrastructure is essential. Defects are often hidden under the surface of the product and this can make them difficult to detect. These defects in FRPs are normally grouped into three categories – cracks (sometimes called matrix splitting), delamination and fibre breakage.


The Three Failure Modes (University of Bristol Advanced Composites Centre for Innovation and Science)



Cracks in the matrix material cause a number of issues. Firstly, they can expose the fibres to unfavourable environmental conditions by allowing water, air, light, dirt and other contaminants to attack the fibres greatly reducing their strength and increasing the risk of fibre breakage and delamination. Secondly, the rigidity provided by the matrix to the structure is lowered and this can lead to catastrophic failure. Cracks also tend to propagate through the material once established, particularly if there is a fatigue cycle or vibrations. Cracks can occur anywhere throughout the FRP matrix structure but tend to occur most often at impact sites, where the matrix is moulded with tight or complex shapes and where excessive vibration or movement is focussed. For this challenge, the minimum size of crack to be detected is 30mm long and 0.3mm wide.



Delamination occurs when the layers of woven fibres separate from each other thus reducing the ability to efficiently transfer loads. This lowers the compound strength provided by stacks of layers and affects rigidity, structural integrity and torsional strength. Once delamination starts, it can quickly spread along the boundary layer. Delamination is one of the most serious failure mechanisms and also one of the most difficult to detect as it is always below the surface of the product. The challenge requirement is to detect delamination zones of minimum diameter 2.5mm and layer separation of 0.5mm or higher.


Delamination occurs when layers of woven fibre separate (Image by Kolossus, CC BY-SA 3.0)



Fibre Breakage

Fibre breakage is normally associated with cracks and delamination but can occur in isolation, particularly if excessive tension or compression has been applied or a large impact has occurred. At the site of fibre breakage, the FRP loses its composite strength and only becomes as strong as the matrix material. Without fully effective fibres, the matrix quickly suffers damage and degrades while tensile strength in particular diminishes rapidly. The detection limits for the challenge require fibre breakage creating a gap of at least 0.3mm to be detectable across a 30mm section of matrix.


Repairing the Damage

If caught before it spreads too far, damage within FRPs can be quickly repaired or the section of infrastructure replaced. For repairs to be targeted effectively, the precise location, type and size of the damage must be determined. Detection is not enough, hence why we talk about Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) and not simply defect detection. In a future blog article, we will look at current testing and evaluation methods, but the diagram below gives an outline of the detection limits required for this challenge.



Become Part of the Innovation Process and Make a Difference

The types of defects found in FRPs and the associated failure mechanisms are well understood and there are many lab-based and static systems for detecting, locating, measuring and categorising these defects. However, there are not currently any highly mobile and quick evaluation systems that can survey large scale infrastructure in the field. Take pipelines, for example, there are literally thousands of miles that need periodic assessment. This is the problem faced by the Bureau of Reclamation and US Army Corps of Engineers who are continuing to replace and upgrade FRP infrastructure. This HeroX Imperfection Detection Challenge is therefore providing an innovation framework for these organisations to seek new solutions to address this capability gap.


The prize challenge is being run as a phased innovation process in order to maximise the benefits of crowdsourcing. Phase 1 is an Ideation Phase and has already been launched. In this phase solvers are encouraged to submit designs for rapid field evaluation of FRPs. The best designs will then be invited to progress to the next stage, the Prototype Development Phase. Solvers will have 10 months to build and test a prototype before submitting a report for judging. Up to three designs will then be taken forward to Phase 3 where they will be evaluated in a series of trials by the challenge setters and hopefully result in the creation of new and improved products for widespread rapid NDE of composite infrastructure in the field.


Don't Forget To Sign-Up To Save Your Seat!

May 24, 2021, 9 a.m. PDT by Shane Jenkins

You won't want to miss this! 

Join the Imperfection Detection Challenge webinar this week at 10:00 am Pacific Time (Los Angeles)

You will learn exactly why the Bureau of Reclamation launched the challenge, how you can participate, and what you can win. PLUS you will also have the opportunity to ask the Challenge Sponsor your questions during our live Q&A session. See you there!


To attend this webinar you'll need to register for a spot at the link below. Be sure to save your seat ahead of time!

Time: May 26, 2021, 10:00 AM Pacific Time (Los Angeles)


Register Here!

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