The first robotic system for cleaning the waste from the seabed, made by team including Romanian researchers, passes the first tests


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A robotic system designed to clean seabed waste, developed with the help of a team of researchers from the Technical University of Cluj Napoca, has successfully passed the first tests in real conditions in the waters near the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The cleaning system, which works similarly to the home robot vacuum cleaners, was able to see and move waste from the seabed. A plastic bottle became the first official waste to be lifted from the seabed. This series of tests is a small step towards the goal of humanity to clean, through a cost-effective solution, the bottom of the seas and oceans, where more than 90% of marine litter is found.

The waste cleaning system consists of underwater robots, a surface ship and a drone working together. Initially, underwater robots and drones locate and identify debris from the seabed, using sensors and artificial intelligence. When waste is detected, an underwater robot equipped with a clamping device is sent to collect it.

The system has been under development for two years now as part of the SeaClear project (SeaClear (SEarch, identificAtion and Collection of marine Litter with Autonomous Robots), funded by European funds, which brings together researchers and companies from five European countries.

In October this year, three key components of the system were tested in real aquatic conditions: the underwater inspection robot, a prototype of the clamping system and an aerial drone.

We went to a tourist area in Croatia, the island of Lokrum near Dubrovnik, which is one of the first places we want to clean up once the SeaClear system is fully operational,” said Professor Lucian Bușoniu of the Technical University from Cluj Napoca, the coordinator of the Romanian team.

“The main star of the test was the underwater inspection robot. We wanted to see if it was able to detect and move to the garbage in different types of water.”

On the occasion of this first test, the SeaClear robot also brought to the surface the first “official” waste: a plastic bottle. The event took place during a test at a second location, also near Dubrovnik, Croatia, but with less clear water. The team tested a prototype of the clamping device, 3D printed, to identify the operation in real conditions, as well as the weaknesses of the design that cause the tool to break. To prove the concept, the researchers used another type of clamping device, already on the market, and managed to successfully collect the garbage underwater.

SeaClear Team from Cluj

A fully autonomous robotic system for cleaning marine debris would be an essential and inexpensive solution to one of the biggest environmental problems facing our planet. The oceans currently contain between 26 and 66 million tonnes of waste, such as pieces of plastic, bottles or rubber. The waste we see on the surface represents only 6% of the total, the rest being on the bottom of the water.

Currently, resorts and port authorities use divers to clean this waste from the seabed, which are not only costly but also dangerous. In September 2020, an exclusively human-scale clean-up of marine litter in the same test area, near the island of Lokrum, led to 17 divers collecting more than 88 kg of waste from the seabed. in an hour. When completed, the SeaClear system should achieve results similar to minimal human intervention.

SeaClear is a European project financed through the Horizon 2020 Programme, which was launched on January 1, 2020 and which is running till December 2023. The total budget is around EUR 5 million. The team of the project consists of 49 researchers and eight partners from from five countries.

Partners: TU Delft, Hamburg Port Authority, Technical University from Cluj-Napoca, Subsea Tech, TU Münich, Fraunhofer CML, University of Dubrovnik and DUNEA Regional Agency from Croația.

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