Garbage-Eating Drone Destroys Ocean Pollution

Drones have been a hot topic in the media lately. Whether they’re for surveillance or combat, the idea of drones patrolling our airspace is one that’s not taken lightly by the public. As we struggle to work out the ethics and legalities of military drones, it’s important to remember that not all autonomous robots are designed for violence or espionage.

Many of us enjoy the work of drones in our daily lives, like the Roomba vacuum, BUFO pool cleaner, or Bosch Indego autonomous lawn mower. These self-sufficient robots perform routine tasks that normally take a lot of time away from our daily lives. They also make it possible to conduct tasks that would be costly or dangerous if carried out by a human. The Marine Drone concept created by Elie Ahovi and his team of collaborators, is a perfect example of a way drone technology can have a positive impact on our world.


Image via Elie Ahovi

Unlike the drones that have been causing so much controversy, this robot is designed to operate underwater, and instead of seeking out enemy targets, it will search for and destroy something equally sinister–ocean garbage. Horrified by the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and its identical twins forming in oceans all over the world, Ahovi and his classmates from the French International School of Design decided to come up with a simple-yet-sophisticated solution.


Image via Elie Ahovi

As this review points out, the Marine Drone would patrol the oceans autonomously, sucking plastic bottles and garbage into its maw like a butterfly net. Powered by water-proof batteries, the Drone would employ an electric motor to move silently through the water.


Image via Elie Ahovi

Like these pollution-seeking robot fish, the Drone’s sonic emitter would send out an irritating signal to deter aquatic life, ensuring that only trash goes into the net. When it’s collection area is full of junk, the Drone would dock with a nearby mothership, where a crew would crane the garbage up for disposal.


  • Reply July 16, 2012


    Over 15 years ago we designed a very similar system to clean up oil spills before they hit shore, where the location of the oil was tracked using SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar).

    Oil is visible on the water day or night using SAR due to the characteristics of the ripples, which are different in water than in oil. The aperture is defined by the wingtip to wingtip distance of a small plane flying overhead, which creates and updates the dataset against which the drones navigate.
    The units were designed as inflatable pickleforks – like a snowshovel towing a bag – and could be deployed by tossing packages out of planes or helicopters, or tossing them off the deck of a ship.  The advantage was they could sweep back and forth along the edge of an oil slick, move faster than the current and go very close to shore, if need be, and come home to the mothership to be pumped out, when the bag was full or for refueling. We got a long ways up the foodchain at USCG before it was blocked – by regulations – inflatable booms were regulated and required human operators. 

  • Reply July 17, 2012

    Ghazal k

    graet achievment, hope some day , we see our earth clean and green again

  • Reply July 18, 2012

    Patrick Kelly

    love the idea but i think it should go a step further. retrieving the garbage just to dispose it on land seems like a lot of effort for a slightly better alternative. why not make the drone use the garbage for energy. that way, garbage doesn’t need to be collected and the batteries don’t need recharging.

    • Reply July 18, 2012


      That would require a “perpetual motion” type capability (basically energy creation == energy usage), something which still eludes us mere mortals to implement.

      • Reply July 18, 2012


        Not really, it wouldn’t be creating the energy out of nothing. Unfortunately it would probably require burning the junk to generate the heat which could be converted to electricity. Which would then release tons and tons of harmful pollutants so not really a solution.

        • Reply July 19, 2012


          There is only one solutions, and that is CREATE LESS GARBAGE.   I have seen in European airport restaurants where there is nothing disposable, water in glass bottles, even yogourt was in glass containers, napkins and bathroom towels cloth.  We all have to do our part and stop buying disposables.

        • Reply July 21, 2012

          Don Moody

          Apparently you have not investigated Pyrolysis which is very close to incineration though in an oxygen free environment, and, it does product clean environmentally friendly power. 

          • July 22, 2012

            Paul in Tampa

             we will probably just end up with our oceans being polluted with broken drones with leaking batteries.

    • Reply July 18, 2012


      Did you just finish watching Back to the Future 2? There’s no technology that can do that.

      • Reply July 18, 2012


        Have you never heard of Garbage Incineration? 

        • Reply July 19, 2012


          Garbage Incineration isn’t cost efficient yet. 

        • Reply July 21, 2012

          Don Moody

          Incineration causes other problems for the environment.

          I would suggest Pyrolysis and it does actually turn garbage into energy with little effect on the environment and the added benefits of carbon char and carbon credits..  

    • Reply June 10, 2013

      Captian Zyloon

      See I’m not an Airhead just because I have to have my drinking water from a bottle of Evian or Perriar brand of bottle.

  • Reply July 19, 2012


    where do they dump it then????

    • Reply June 11, 2013


      its recycled.

  • Reply July 21, 2012

    Derrill E Holly

    Interesting technology concept. Hope someone funds the research to advance it.

  • Reply July 22, 2012


    hmm sounds like it could clean the ocean, then whatever it picks up can be used for say new homes, or car parts, tires, rubber water bottles whatever. recycle baby ;). we already have way over enough plastic on the surface, just needs to be reused not drill for more, and create a bigger problem. the big oil arseholes need to be brought down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! they are keeping inventors at bay basically. theres millions of us who have successful results with making highly efficient, and awesome products that are great for the enviroment. yet until those arseholes are brought down none of you will ever use any of it. 

  • Reply July 26, 2012


    OK, cool.  But it collects the garbage, it does not destroy it.  And it seems you could do the  same thing with a big net behind a boat… ( A technology already somewhat perfected.)  And the minute they start popping up with fish, dolphin and other marine life, what then?

  • Reply August 9, 2012


    Until it swallows a swimmer … 

    • Reply March 28, 2014

      Peter Michael Cieply

      in the ocean…

  • Reply January 31, 2013



  • Reply January 31, 2013


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  • Reply June 20, 2013


    How much energy is required to move those diesel motherships to and from the garbage patch, recharge those drones, and then to power the diesel trucks and cranes that are used to unload those motherships?

  • Reply April 1, 2014


    I like Bradley’s idea better. Just put the nets on ships crossing the ocean anyway. Some ships with some other purpose must cross through these areas slowly enough to try it at some points, right?

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