Hamburg port testing SEACLEAR robots that collect waste underwater

Hamburg port testing SEACLEAR robots that collect waste underwater

As part of the international SEACLEAR project, the port of Hamburg has begun testing a fleet of robots specially designed to collect rubbish underwater. If the pilot scheme proves successful, the robots could be deployed to help clean up ocean floors. 

SEACLEAR ocean cleanup robots trialled in Hamburg

There are an estimated 26 to 66 million tons of plastic waste in seas and oceans around the world. While most ocean cleanup projects to date have focused their efforts on the water surface, 94 percent of the plastic waste actually lies on the ocean floor, posing a great threat to the plants and animals that live there. 

A team at the TUM in Munich has therefore come together with eight other European partner institutes to develop a robotic system capable of collecting plastic waste underwater, which is now being tested in three port cities, including Hamburg

Robots work in teams to build map of rubbish deposits in seas

The system consists of four robots that work together as a team: an autonomous robotic boat that scans the seabed to look for accumulations of rubbish; an observation robot that is lowered into the water to provide further information; a drone that can detect accumulations from the air; and a collection robot that works from the map created by the other robots to actually collect the rubbish and put it in a basket that is connected to the boat. 

The robots have been built to withstand numerous challenges, including limited visibility, the uneven seabed surface, and water currents. They also have to recognise the difference between rubbish and animals and plants, to avoid disturbing natural ecosystems. Machine learning helps the team better understand how the robots behave in different environments, and optimise them for the future. 

In Hamburg, researchers are now testing how well the robots developed by SEACLEAR interact. Similar pilot projects are also underway in the port cities of Marseille and Dubrovnik, with the hope that the robots will eventually be suitable for use in oceans across the world, replacing human divers who currently laboriously collect rubbish piece by piece in coastal regions. 

Video: YouTube / TU Delft TV

Thumb image credit: Seaclear Project



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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