South African entrepreneur Richard Hardiman has developed a solar-powered aqua-drone that can automatically clean up water pollution and waste in waterways and ports. It has taken 3 years to develop the Waste Shark drone.

The Waste Shark operates from a 'Drone Dock'

The Waste Shark operates from a 'Drone Dock'

The device has the objective of creating an unmanned drone system that could operate with little or no human supervision, and be able to clean the water surfaces in harbours and canals by scooping up debris, marine waste and chemical substances.

The electric power for the aqua-drone can come primarily from solar panels and is stored in onboard batteries with the propulsion coming from a pair of electric pod drives to give a speed of about 2 knots. The drone is equipped with sensors to feed data to authorities on the water quality, prevailing weather and depth of the harbour basin. In this way it can provide harbour authorities with a constant update of conditions around a harbour and update survey data whilst carrying out its clean up operations.

The drones would be enabled with GIO mapping to ensure they don't get in the way of waterway traffic in the harbours. With a fleet of drones equipped with swarming capabilities, multiple drones would be able to home in on major oil spills and other problem areas in the harbour. "They would be able to act in unison with each other and learn their way around the ports. We have an algorithm that essentially makes them learn the most optimal and efficient routes depending on weather and tides," explains Hardiman.

"Obviously, in busy ports you can't have the drones just floating around, there is too much major traffic that we don't want to get involved with. So apart from collision avoidance aboard, we also use geo-fencing. Each drone is programmed and then fenced off to work in a particular area, almost like an imaginary boom, and this is all programmed by an online dashboard so the controller gets real-time feedback. They also have cameras on board and can be manually taken over if required."

The Waste Shark is still in the prototype phase and is being tested in Rotterdam. The prototype skims the top 45cm of the water's surface and can collect up to 500kg of waste at a time. It is also capable of operating 24 hours a day. When loaded with collected waste the drone is programmed to return to a docking station where the waste can be unloaded. The collecting heads on the drones can be changed to cope with various wastes such as oil and plastic.

By Dag Pike