Jul 25 2012

Drones Devour Drifting Debris

Pollution is piling up in the ocean. Land based sources cause up to 44% of pollutants entering the sea, and the atmosphere takes responsibility for 33%. Maritime transport is the source of 12%. Scientists are working to develop new methods for ocean clean up, one being the employment of drones. Drones are self-sufficient devices performing tasks otherwise requiring human operation and completion. Devices like the Roomba vacuum, BUFO pool cleaner, or Bosch Indego are all examples of drones, and these drones keeping many consumers from tedious daily tasks. Recent research and development has taken drones to the next level, creating devices with abilities to do tasks that would be far more costly or dangerous for humans to perform.

One recent beneficial device design is the Marine Drone concept, created by a French International School of Design collaborative team headed by Elie Ahovi. This design would operate underwater searching out pollution steaming from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and similar floating trash collections throughout the world’s oceans. Running silently on water-proof batteries, the machines would suck plastic bottles and garbage into a butterfly net-like trapping device.

To prevent injuring aquatic life, the drone would be equipped with a sonic emitter. This emitter would disperse a sound unappealing to sea life to keep only trash going into the net. When the net is full, the drone docks to a mothership and is craned up to empty its container before being re-released into the water (Buczynski, 2012).

Image via Elie Ahovi

A related development is the “pollution-seeking robot fish.” Created in a joint effort between British business and academic institutions, this battery-powered fish-shaped device can identify pollution in a matter of seconds once released in the sea thanks to chemical sensors attached to its body. Prior to this development, water samples had to be taken and sent to on-shore labs, taking weeks to process. Luke Speller is the current leader of the company developing these robot fish, SHOAL.

Additionally, the fish can avoid obstacles, learn common pollution sites, and even identify the pollution source. When done collecting data, the fish will navigate itself back through the waters to its base station. The fish are equipped to communicate with one another once out in the water to keep from re-tracing already analyzed areas and also know when to return to shore to be recharge, all thanks to the high-technology sensors which line the fish like scales (Willis, 2012).

Each fish is around five feet of carbon fiber formed at a cost around $30,000 until commercial operation begins, as SHOAL predicts it will. The design mimics a real fish making it hydrodynamic, able to change direction quickly, and uses artificial fins, which unlike propellers allows the fish to travel weedy waters without getting caught. The designers of the robot fish also took into consideration the impact of its presence so colored it to blend in (“SHOAL”).

SHOAL robot fish

What will be interesting to see is how these developments will improve. For example, the robot fish could be equipped with solar energy harvesters to allow it to recharge when swimming alone the surface of waters. It can be predicted that both will see second-generation designs if they become commercially viable. Below is a video showing the SHOAL fish tested in open water.



Buczynski, B. (2012, July 15). Garbage-eating drone destroys ocean pollution . EarthTechling | Green technology news and reviews for all Earthlings. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.earthtechling.com/2012/07/garbage-eating-drone-destroys-ocean-pollution/

SHOAL. (n.d.). SHOAL Project Consortium. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.roboshoal.com

Willis, P. (2012, June 4). Intelligent robot fish helps fight sea pollution. EarthTechling | Green technology news and reviews for all Earthlings. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.earthtechling.com/2012/06/intelligent-robot-fish-helps-fight-sea-pollution/

One response so far

One Response to “Drones Devour Drifting Debris”

  1.   paul freyon 02 Aug 2014 at 9:08 am

    I am so happy to see something, anything being done to help clean up this atrocity of mankind ‘s pollution in the world’s oceans. Great job to all those involved and helping the cause. Peace and Good Will to All