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SEarch, identificAtion and Collection of marine Litter with Autonomous Robots

The oceans today contain between 26 and 66 million tonnes of waste (1), more than 80% of which is found in coastal areas at depths up to 50 m. Until now, collection efforts have mainly focused on surface waste. Only a few initiatives, mainly led by local volunteer associations and amateur divers, have focused on the collection of underwater waste (2), for which there is currently no solution using autonomous robots. To fill this gap, Subsea Tech is working on the development of a fleet of autonomous robots dedicated to the detection and collection of this underwater waste. The project, called SeaClear (SEarch, identificAtion and Collection of Marine LittEr with Autonomous Robots), is being led by a consortium of eight European partners from France, Croatia, Holland, Germany and Romania.

Subsea Tech is providing all the robotic equipment for this project, including its brand new SeaCAT USV and Tortuga inspection ROV, while its development partners, all academic, are providing their expertise in collaborative control and deep learning (University of Delft - The Netherlands), software solutions integration (Fraunhofer Institute - Germany), automated mapping (University of Cluj-Napoca - Romania), multi-robot supervision and operator interface (Technical University of Munich - Germany), low-level control and sensors (University of Dubrovnik - Croatia). Other partners in the project are the Port of Hamburg (Germany) and the Regional Development Agency of Dubrovnik (Croatia), which will provide the test sites and specify their waste removal requirements. As the only industrial partner in the consortium, Subsea Tech will have the task of valorising and marketing the results of the project.

The aim is to make the robots operate autonomously, remotely, without human intervention. Subsea Tech is planning innovative developments in mapping, debris classification and collaborative control of multi-media drones. The entire system will be remotely supervised by a high-speed (30 Mb/s) and long-range (> 4 km) WiFi link. When fully operational in 2023, the Seaclear system will be able to detect and classify underwater waste with an 80% success rate and collect it with a 90% success rate.

The SeaClear project will set up a group of multi-media drones, underwater, surface and aerial, to locate and collect waste from the seabed. The aerial drone will be used to study the correlation between surface and underwater litter, including the migration flows of litter from the surface to the seabed. The underwater vehicles will be equipped with various detection sensors such as multibeam sonars, conventional and multi-spectral cameras, magnetometers and UV lights, as well as customised gripping systems combining suction and remote handling for the collection of large and small pieces of waste. All systems will be operated from the SeaCAT surface drone (pictured opposite).

The waste collected will range from micro-plastics to the carcasses of bicycles, scooters, shopping trolleys and other small appliances, as well as plastic bags, cans and bottles, which currently make up a large part of this waste.

Larger items (car or motorbike wrecks, large household appliances, concrete blocks, etc.) will be mapped and geo-located for later collection by conventional means. The system will be developed between 2020 and 2021. It will then be tested in 2023 in the cleaning of ports and in particular in the port of Hamburg, as well as in a tourist area (Dubrovnik) with the end user DUNEA, the port of Hamburg and DUNEA being both partners in the project. The system will undergo preliminary development and testing in 2022 at Subsea Tech's facility in Marseille, near the port of l’Estaque. 

The SeaClear project has received grant funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. Once completed in 2023, it will be marketed by Subsea Tech to port authorities and public services, including local authorities in charge of beach cleaning. The Seaclear system will be the first system in the world capable of cleaning the seabed in a fully automatic way and this up to a depth of 50 metres (coastal areas) where, let's not forget, more than 80% of underwater waste is found. Some people will no doubt ask about deeper waste, or even that which now covers the abyss. The answer is simple: we could perfectly well imagine reproducing the system for greater depths, by increasing the size of the drones. The technology exists today to work at depths of 3,000 metres and more, but the cost increases exponentially with depth.

The operating cost of the SEACLEAR system is estimated at €4,000/day and its collection capacity could reach 800 kg per day.

(1) eunomia.co.uk/reports-tools/plastics-in-the-marine-environment/

(2) francebleu.fr/infos/climat-environnement/photos-des-plongeurs-benevoles-font-le-menage-sous-la-mediterranee-a-saint-jean-cap-ferrat-1564249058


SUBSEA TECH

Subsea Tech

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