Scientists have long argued that the increasing amount of plastic, both in particulate form and in larger pieces, will have an adverse effect on the ocean's ecosystem. The discovery of large "garbage islands" and underwater streams of plastic have spurred the efforts of several students from the French International School of Design to devise a system to combat this growing threat.
The result of their research is the Marine Drone, a seafaring robot programmed to coast through the oceans and pick up trash. Larger than a person, it is designed to operate without human controllers, plying the waters on a waterproof electric motor and batteries. Once its net is filled with debris, larger ships with cranes will then scoop the machine out of the water for cleaning.
In addition to its near-silent batteries and autonomous nature, the drone is equipped with a small beacon that emits a signal that bothers nearby aquatic life, driving them away from the net in an effort to prevent anything from getting caught.
The designers sought to make a machine that could complete the task but also require relatively little maintenance. To this end, the School of Design researchers called for lightweight materials to be used in the hull of the drone, as well as easily-accessed mechanical ports. Three propeller pods allow the robot to move seamlessly through the water, and these features, combined with a system of six ballasts, enable it to cut down on energy consumption and environmental impact.
While it is difficult to predict the final outcome of this program, it stands to reason that the Marine Drone, if realized, could represent a huge step toward the goal of cleaning up the world's oceans.