If you’re in the Netherlands in the next few months, keep an eye on the ports: there are garbage collectors in Rotterdam wading in the water. These aren’t actual human trash collectors, mind you, but water drones.
In early September, Dutch tech company RanMarine debuted two aquatic drones to help clean up the Rotterdam port: the AquasmartXL and the Waste Shark.
The AquasmartXL is more of a waterborne surveillance drone. It has an onboard camera, and its relatively small design makes it easier to navigate through the harbours. With the AquasmartXL, a remote operator can do visual inspections of harbour ships or other spots where bringing out a physical boat would be too unwieldy.
But it’s the bigger Waste Shark, which Port Technology reports is about the size of a passenger car, that can actually pick up a load of trash — 1102 pounds of it, to be exact — through a large mouth roughly a foot below the water surface. The Waste Shark does this all autonomously and also sends back other diagnostics for people researching the harbour, including water depth, weather, and local water quality.
The drones will soon be a part of a six-month pilot project called the Port Waste Catch, which the Port Authority of Rotterdam hopes will get startups and other private companies thinking about how to clean up the “plastic soup” littering Europe’s busiest waterway.
“Humans are very good at forgetting where waste truly ends up,” Richard Hardiman, founder of RanMarine, wrote. “If it’s not going into some landfill somewhere then odds are it has ended up in a storm-water drain, river or outlet and then off into the ocean never to be seen again; by humans that is.”
If the program succeeds, we can only hope the Dutch won’t keep it to themselves. The rest of the world could use some help.
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