Environment

Robotic marine trash collector starts making waves in Hong Kong

Robotic marine trash collector...
The latest Clearbot can be operated by remote control or set a predefined path to follow autonomously, scooping up floating trash as it goes
The latest Clearbot can be operated by remote control or set a predefined path to follow autonomously, scooping up floating trash as it goes
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The latest Clearbot can be operated by remote control or set a predefined path to follow autonomously, scooping up floating trash as it goes
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The latest Clearbot can be operated by remote control or set a predefined path to follow autonomously, scooping up floating trash as it goes
Founders Sidhant Gupta and Utkarsh Goel ready the Clearbot to begin operations at a Hong Kong yacht marina for the Sino Group
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Founders Sidhant Gupta and Utkarsh Goel ready the Clearbot to begin operations at a Hong Kong yacht marina for the Sino Group
The open-bow vessel scoops floating trash, including plastic waste, onto a conveyor belt, which deposits it in a collection bin to the rear
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The open-bow vessel scoops floating trash, including plastic waste, onto a conveyor belt, which deposits it in a collection bin to the rear
The Clearbot is propelled through the water by a battery-electric system for clean and quiet operation
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The Clearbot is propelled through the water by a battery-electric system for clean and quiet operation
The latest Clearbot undergoing trials for the Rotary Club of Hong Kong earlier this year
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The latest Clearbot undergoing trials for the Rotary Club of Hong Kong earlier this year
An AI camera is onboard to snap a photo of floating trash picked up during operations, for upload to a cloud database for analysis
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An AI camera is onboard to snap a photo of floating trash picked up during operations, for upload to a cloud database for analysis
Currently undergoing operational testing in Hong Kong waters, the Clearbot robotic marine waste collector could soon be available internationally
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Currently undergoing operational testing in Hong Kong waters, the Clearbot robotic marine waste collector could soon be available internationally
The latest Clearbot look is the result of a partnership with global gaming brand Razer
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The latest Clearbot look is the result of a partnership with global gaming brand Razer
The onboard battery allows for up to four hours of remote-controlled or autonomous operation per charge
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The onboard battery allows for up to four hours of remote-controlled or autonomous operation per charge
Each Clearbot is 3 meters long and 1.3 meters wide
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Each Clearbot is 3 meters long and 1.3 meters wide
View gallery - 10 images

Back in November 2020, startup Open Ocean Engineering launched an autonomous trash collector aimed at clearing plastic waste from harbors, lakes and canals. After partnering with games titan Razer last year for a radical redesign, a sleeker Clearbot has now started patrolling Hong Kong waters.

As we've noted many times in the past, plastic waste is an enormous problem – not only for the environment at large but also for our health. Just recently, global leaders from 175 nations signed a resolution aimed at tackling the problem at its source.

Meanwhile there are numerous efforts in play to try and remove the trash already out there, and it was while watching local workers take out small boats to manually remove waste from the waters around the island of Bali that Sidhant Gupta and Utkarsh Goel started thinking about how such a labor-intensive task could be automated.

After graduating from Hong Kong University in 2019, the pair began working on an open-bow robot vessel designed to remove floating plastic trash from local waterways. A basic aluminum prototype was followed by a fiberglass version and by June of last year, the startup started working on a much slicker design thanks to a partnership with gaming hardware brand Razer.

The latest Clearbot look is the result of a partnership with global gaming brand Razer
The latest Clearbot look is the result of a partnership with global gaming brand Razer

The robotic marine garbage collector is 3 m (9.8 ft) in length and 1.3 m (4.2 ft) wide, and can be remotely controlled or operated autonomously – where it moves up and down a predefined area like a floating Roomba courtesy of an electric propulsion system with a four-hour battery and LiDAR obstacle avoidance. The battery pack can also be recharged via an optional solar docking station to further reduce the impact on the environment.

Either way, the Clearbot scoops up floating debris and feeds it to an onboard conveyor belt and onto a holding bin at the stern with a collection capacity of 200 kg (~440 lb).

An AI camera system is used for trash identification, and to snap a photograph of each piece of plastic waste that makes its way onto the conveyor. These images are tagged with a GPS location and saved to the company's database hosted on Microsoft's Azure platform for subsequent analysis.

The open-bow vessel scoops floating trash, including plastic waste, onto a conveyor belt, which deposits it in a collection bin to the rear
The open-bow vessel scoops floating trash, including plastic waste, onto a conveyor belt, which deposits it in a collection bin to the rear

Open Ocean Engineering reckons that each Clearbot has the potential to haul in a metric ton of waste per day, and could even help contain oil spills when fitted out with a bespoke boom.

Data gathered so far in Hong Kong cleanup operations – including location, size, waste type and weight of scooped-up waste – has revealed that less than half of the marine plastic recovered can go on to be recycled, but such information could help marine authorities to stem the tide of plastic pollution at its source.

"We’re finding out how the trash ends up in the water in the first place," said Sidhant Gupta in a press statement. "It adds a lot of transparency to the process of marine clean-up. We generate data about what’s actually in the water, what’s the make-up of the stuff that’s there, how much of it is recyclable and what materials we should be focusing on."

Founders Sidhant Gupta and Utkarsh Goel ready the Clearbot to begin operations at a Hong Kong yacht marina for the Sino Group
Founders Sidhant Gupta and Utkarsh Goel ready the Clearbot to begin operations at a Hong Kong yacht marina for the Sino Group

Recently, the latest Clearbot vessel has been trialed by the Rotary Club of Hong Kong and began operation keeping a local yacht marina clear of floating waste for a property company called the Sino Group, while also serving as a real-world test-bed for the project.

Open Ocean Engineering is now looking to expand operations beyond Hong Kong, and has already had interest from several companies abroad.

Source: Open Ocean Engineering via PRNewswire

View gallery - 10 images
4 comments
4 comments
Demosthenes
It's quite nice, but ultimately still just a toy. Ten times bigger and a hundred pieces would be useful. And not in the port of Hong Kong, but in the rivers from which the dirt comes.
Expanded Viewpoint
This is not just a mere toy, something built to amuse someone, it's a proof of concept machine, a prototype which can be upscaled and done so quite easily. Solar panels could be added to it to charge up a battery bank while another battery bank is powering the clean up operations. Very well done there, Gentlemen!!
Username
400 lbs is impressive and misleading. Floating debris doesn't weigh much and that very small cargo area will fill up before it reaches a small fraction of its rated weight.
ljaques
Hong Kong needs the Ocean Cleanup Interceptors on both side of the river feeding the harbor, and these in the harbor. The continent of Asia + Malaysia contribute something like 80% of all ocean trash. All countries need to help stop it from their rivers and harbors.