The ‘shark’ that’s eating our ocean waste

Robots could soon patrol our coastlines, collecting the eight million tonnes of plastic rubbish in the ocean.

It’s disturbing that nearly eight million tonnes of plastic rubbish ends up in the ocean every year. This long-lasting rubbish destroys ecosystems and pushes sea creatures toward extinction. Thankfully, environmentally-conscious innovators such as South African Richard Hardiman are working on sustainable solutions. Richard’s is an aquatic robot that ‘eats’ discarded plastic.

Called the WasteShark, the robot looks like a small catamaran and is powered by drone technology — helping it to map routes to follow currents and avoid ocean traffic. It acts much like an incredibly smart pool scoop, skimming along the ocean surface, capturing all the plastic that flows between its two hulls.

In addition to ensuring it stays out of the way of cargo ships and cruise liners, the WasteShark’s artificial intelligence helps it analyse the amount of rubbish collected in each location. The shark uses this information in conjunction with data on flows and currents, to predict the best routes to patrol in order to collect as much rubbish as possible.

The Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands is running a pilot program with two of the sharks, and ultimately hopes to add two more to the patrol. If successful, we could see more of these WasteSharks in ports, harbours and beaches around the world.

While impressive, the current iteration of the WasteShark pales in comparison to the project Richard and his team are cooking up in the lab. They’re planning a much larger version of the device that will be powered by solar panels and controlled by a much smarter artificial intelligence. Called the Great Waste Shark, this massive aquatic drone will have the capacity to collect up to 500kg of rubbish in a single trip.

You can watch a video of the WasteShark here and find out more about Richard’s innovative WasteShark and his next project on his company website, RanMarine Technology.