Leave it to the good folk at MIT to come up with this – researchers at this institution for higher learning have developed a robotic prototype that can autonomously navigate the surface of the ocean to collect surface oil and process it on site. This robot, called Seaswarm, could come in quite useful in oil spill situations, especially should we ever see another one on the magnitude of the BP spill this past summer.
MIT said said this fleet of robotic vehicles make use of a conveyor belt covered with a thin nanowire mesh to absorb oil. The mesh, developed by associate professor Francesco Stellacci, “can absorb up to twenty times its own weight in oil while repelling water. By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused.” One robot alone is 16 feet in length and seven feet wide, using solar panels for its power source. It is said Seaswarm could potentially just be put out to sea in an oil spill situation and left for weeks to clean up the mess.
MIT researchers estimate that a fleet of 5,000 Seaswarm robots would be able to clean a spill the size of the gulf in one month. Using what is described as “swarm behavior,” a fleet of these “use wireless communication and GPS and manage their coordinates and ensure an even distribution over a spill site. By detecting the edge of a spill and moving inward, a single vehicle could clean an entire site autonomously or engage other vehicles for faster cleaning.” The Seaswarm robot was developed through MIT’s Senseable City Lab. To get more of an idea of how it works, watch the video below.
“We envisioned something that would move as a ‘rolling carpet’ along the water and seamlessly absorb a surface spill,” said Senseable City Lab Associate Director Assaf Biderman, in a statement. “This led to the design of a novel marine vehicle: a simple and lightweight conveyor belt that rolls on the surface of the ocean, adjusting to the waves.”