With microplastics penetrating the deepest ocean trenches and making their way up the food chain, it's no surprise that plastic pollution is in the crosshairs for Earth Day 2018. IBM has now released a video outlining how it plans to help clean up the seas, by using plankton as a kind of living water quality sensor.

The project, headed up by Tom Zimmerman and Simone Bianco at IBM Research Almaden, first came to our attention last month, when it was featured in IBM's annual 5 in 5 list. The team set out to solve the problem of monitoring water quality in real time, realizing that current sensors are usually only looking for specific markers and may overlook other indicators.

Like many things, it turns out that nature has already beaten us to the punch, with its own multi-purpose sensor: plankton. The behavior and health of these microscopic creatures can tell us a lot about the quality of the water they inhabit, so the IBM Research team developed AI-driven, robotic microscopes that can monitor plankton in the wild, in real time. From that, the devices can figure out how clean a body of water is, and give early warnings for events like oil spills or algae blooms.

The team demonstrates the device and the concept in detail in the video below.

Source: IBM Research