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Cleaning of the seabed by robots

A robot system that is capable or learning, currently being developed by scientists at the Technical University of Munich together with eight European partner institutes as part of the "SeaClear Projects", should in future be able to independently track down, chart and collect plastic waste from the seabed. The first test of a prototype in the Mediterranean Sea off Dubrovnik had been successful, says the research team.


The scientists say that measures to eliminate plastic litter have until now been carried out above all on coasts and also with the aim of cleaning the surface of the water. Cleaning the seabed, on the other hand, is regarded as complicated, expensive and not undangerous. For this reason, the research team from TU Munich has now developed an autonomously functioning robot system that should be capable of independently searching for plastic litter on the sea floor and collecting it. According to the provided information, the robot system is made up of four interconnected components: A robotic search ship floats on the surface of the water. This is a catamaran that performs an initial sonar scan of the seabed and can identify areas with large accumulations of litter. From this mother ship, a submersible robot equipped with cameras, sonar and metal detectors is then lowered into the water to track the deep-down litter and provide close-ups of the seabed. With the help of a drone, further litter and hindrances in the water are identified from the air. The information collected in this way is used for charting, which then guides the collecting robot to the litter. "As soon as a piece of litter is identified and localised, the robot first has to move to that area. In doing so, it can well come up against strong currents, against which it has to push through. It is our job in the SeaClear project", explains Stefan Sosnowski from the TU Munich, to steer the robot correctly. The artificial intelligence system learns through methods of machine learning, when and under what conditions the robot must move, and how it must move in order to grasp a piece of litter. Initial trials with a prototype were carried out successfully in October 2021 in the sea just off Dubrovnik in Croatia with real underwater litter in test areas. In May 2022, further test runs were performed in the port of Hamburg. When the SeaClear system is fully operational, it should be capable of classifying underwater litter with a predicted quota of 80 percent and successfully collecting it at a rate of 90 percent. Then the robots would be as effective as human divers, say the scientists.



  • de (5.1.2022)
  • Photo: © The SeaClear Project

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