Drones deployed to battle the world’s rising tide of trash

Public officials around the globe are discovering the effectiveness of drones in battling a scourge that every country – and indeed the entire planet – needs to turn back: the relentlessly rising tide of litter.

AI-enhanced drones cleaning up our act

Authorities in southern England, Dubai, Rotterdam, Baltimore, San Francisco, and beyond have turned to drones in their efforts to make identification and collection of trash faster and more efficient. Some administrations are relying principally on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) enhanced with artificial intelligence (AI) capacities to lead the cleanup push. Others have deployed a waste gobbling marine drone.

Denmark is getting the best in the waters and sky at once.

Mavic Pro 2 protecting SF ground waterways

A major challenge for many officials fighting invading tons of litter is to find and collect trash before it’s swept by groundwater into the ocean. 

Managers of the San Francisco Estuary Initiative, (SFEI) for example, have deployed a DJI Mavic Pro 2 in that race against the clock. Equipped with image-scanning algorithms developed by analytical software specialist Kinetica, the UAV sweeps sections of Bay Area stream and creek banks. Its AI applications then differentiate waste from other objects, allowing organizers to prioritize sites and dispatch pickup crews before rains wash it all into the ocean.

The Mavic Pro 2 (which replaced an earlier, less effective DJI Phantom) can take in areas up to several hundred yards long and 100 feet wide, flying about 100 feet off ground to ensure image clarity. (Tests at 60 feet have identified cigarette butts on hard surfaces with 90% accuracy.) The speed and efficiency allow SFEI to monitor vulnerable spots several times annually, compared to once a year when the slower option of humans looking for and collecting litter was used.

Denmark does double drones

Officials in the Danish port city Aarhus, meanwhile, are attacking trash from air and sea. 

Their maritime cleanup of plastic bottles, cups, sacks, and other waste is called CityShark – named after the WasteShark UAV that sucks up litter as it advances. Developed by Rotterdam-based RanMarine Technology, the WasteShark was initially used to roam waters flowing from the Aarhus River into the port. The autonomous craft operates 16 hours at a go, with a collection capacity of 350 kg. It’s designed to be inoffensive to marine life, and can even record environmental data on waters it navigates.

Of late, the Danish WasteShark has been paired with a DJI Mavic. Once fully operational, that partnership will center on Mavic’s AI-enhanced video capacities to  identify even small pools of oil or gas floating on the surface. Using GPS and other locational applications, the Mavic will direct the WasteShark to the exact points where it needs to snatch up slicks before they can float to sea.

Though the WasteShark member of the duo is designed to be fully autonomous, Danish law requires a human to monitor and stop it in case of trouble.

FTC: DroneDJ is reader supported, we may earn income on affiliate links


Subscribe to DroneDJ on YouTube for exclusive videos

Show More Comments