Robot Marine Plastic Collector Invented by Hong Kong Students Offers A Cheap Solution to Clearing Up Trash
Mon, October 25, 2021

Robot Marine Plastic Collector Invented by Hong Kong Students Offers A Cheap Solution to Clearing Up Trash

ClearBot can help address marine waste pollution / Photo Credit: Mr.anaked (via Shutterstock)


Student engineers and scientists from Hong Kong developed a “semi-submersible robotic marine rubbish collector” named ClearBot, which was awarded second prize at the Global Grand Challenges Summit in London in September, wrote Stuart Heaver of South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. Now, the students and scientists want to use ClearBot to help tackle the problem of marine plastic waste worldwide. 

ClearBot consists of a simple metal frame, which includes a rubbish collection basket and PVC pipes to provide buoyancy. It is controlled using two battery-powered thrusters, akin to a remote-controlled boat. “Solar cells trickle-charge the batteries, ” said Heaver. The robot has an electronics pods containing a set of sophisticated tools. It also has a miniature camera that searches for floating rubbish. When rubbish is detected by ClearBot’s AI-powered object recognition software, the robot “scoops it up in a semi-submerged collection net,” which will be guided by a built-in GPS system. ClearBot can be operated by remote control or programmed to follow a preset path. 

The judges were impressed not just with the robot’s technology, but also the fact that the unit was developed to solve a global issue in a practical way using open-source technology. Coastal communities in developing countries can access the software for free, formulate their own hardware solutions, and tailor the unit’s design to local conditions. The robot is also cheap, as the prototype’s components cost below $900. “We are not necessarily looking for Nobel Prize-winning scientific breakthroughs. We are looking for solutions that can help mankind,” explained project supervisor Dr. Hayden So Kwok-hay. 

The idea is not just to create lovely, shiny robots and sell them to different countries, said Dr. So, who is also an associate professor in the department of electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). “We are keen on getting this commercialized and economically viable,” said Sidhant Gupta, an HKU computer science graduate. But the ClearBot is just part of the solution to Hong Kong’s marine waste problem. To reduce waste, the ClearBot team aims to develop a “user-friendly, polished commercial product.”