Could unmanned ships clear plastic from the oceans?

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Paul Anderson

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Paul Anderson  asked the Naked Scientists:
Hi Chris and team,

This idea might be rejected because of cost, lack of international cooperation, etc.

A fleet of GPS controlled robotic 'vacuum cleaner' ships that criss cross the oceans gathering up the plastic waste, etc. The trick is to ensure the 'etc' does not include krill and other small creatures necessary for the normal functioning of the oceans.

If I have a cup of salt water and I have a number of small plastic beads of different plastics, can I sort them in some way apart from sorting by size using filters?

What do you think?


Offline LeeE

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Could unmanned ships clear plastic from the oceans?
« Reply #1 on: 11/12/2009 19:09:15 »
Although a long way off robotic collection, experiments in searching for ocean debris have been done with autonomous UAVs - see:

There's quite an amusing anecdote on day two of the daily log where the UAV's IMU was rigged to display the motion of the boat during some rough weather so people could see how sea-sick they were getting.
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!


Offline litespeed

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Could unmanned ships clear plastic from the oceans?
« Reply #2 on: 11/12/2009 21:43:32 »

You are onto something here! My buddy has an autonomous vacuum that roams around the house.  I see no reason a similar device could not due what you say. In fact, the device does not need much power since it can go slow. Solar power, or even burning the crap it collects might be enough.  However, for maintenance and safety reasons you might want to hire a couple of Able Bodied Seamen to keep watch over it.

Very interesting.....