In an effort to help clean up the world's oceans at the Abu Dhabi University (ADU) reportedly developed an autonomous floating robot prototype which works in tandem with an airborne drone.
ADU's spokespeople told local newspaper The National on Monday that the drone scans the sea’s surface from above, identifying areas of dense marine litter that might include plastic bottles or discarded fishing nets. It then relays the location of the debris to the solar-powered robot, which sets a course to the area before deploying a large net to collect it.
Dr. Mohammed Ghazal, an ADU associate professor and the project’s coordinator, said the technology could prove invaluable in the fight against growing marine pollution. “There are other solutions to this particular problem but it seems the efforts are always manual – people riding in boats to pick this [litter] up,” Dr. Ghazal added. “It doesn’t feel like a very sustainable solution. We’re delighted with the progress we’ve made so far. We can see that we’re onto something.”
Known as the IntelliSeaCleaner, the 20cm by 15cm floating prototype has been designed and built at ADU using 3D-printing tech. The collaborative system works by first deploying a drone to capture aerial video of the sea’s surface for analysis by the robot. Once suspected patches of debris are identified, the vessel charts a course to its location before deploying a wide drag net to capture the rubbish. Similar technology could also be used to clean up oil spills.
To date, the miniature model has only been tested in laboratory conditions, with developers still uncertain about how it will function in open water. “This [project] has forced us to look at many perspectives – energy, path planning and machine learning,” said Dr. Ghazal. “We have a prototype and we’re able to drive it remotely, but we’re finding there’s a problem with wind and waves which affects the control.”
The research team revealed the project’s drone was recently sent to the University of Louisville in Kentucky, USA, for flight tests, while additional teams would be building a full-size version of the model next month, with developers gearing up to complete the second prototype within a year.