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The port of Hamburg is testing SEACLEAR robots that collect waste underwater

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The port of Hamburg is testing SEACLEAR robots that collect waste underwater

As part of the international SEACLEAR project, the port of Hamburg has begun testing a fleet of robots specifically designed to collect debris under water. If the pilot scheme is successful, robots can be deployed to help clear the ocean floor.

SEACLEAR ocean cleaning robots tested in Hamburg

It is estimated that there are between 26 and 66 million tonnes of plastic waste in the seas and oceans worldwide. While most ocean cleaning projects to date have focused their efforts on the water surface, 94 percent of plastic waste actually lies on the ocean floor, posing a major threat to the plants and animals that live there.

The team at TUM’s Munich therefore teamed up with eight other European partner institutes to develop a robotic system capable of collecting plastic waste underwater, which is currently being tested in three port cities, including Hamburg.

Robots work in groups to build a map of debris in the seas

The system consists of four robots working together in a team: a stand-alone robotic boat that scans the seabed to look for debris; an observer robot that dives in water provide additional information; a drone that can detect air congestion; and a robot collector who works with a map created by other robots to collect trash and put it in a trash can connected to a boat.

The robots were created to withstand many challenges, including limited visibility, uneven seabed surface and water currents. They also need to understand the difference between garbage and animals and plants so as not to disturb natural ecosystems. Machine learning helps the team better understand how robots behave in different environments, and optimize them for the future.

In Hamburg, researchers are now testing how well the robots developed by SEACLEAR interact. Similar pilot projects are also underway in the port cities of Marseille and Dubrovnik, in the hope that the robots will eventually be suitable for use in oceans around the world, replacing human divers who are now painstakingly collecting debris in parts of coastal regions.

Video: YouTube / TU Delft TV

Great credit drawing: Seaclear Project

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