A pair of organizations dedicated to protecting oceanic environments is teaming up to clean up the enormous gyre of marine litter known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As part of that effort, amphibious drones will be flown to collect information that will be used in developing more efficient trash collection strategies and techniques at sea.
Amphibious drones will map enormous zone of drifting litter
The partnership is taking on the vortex of trash in the upper Pacific that covers an estimated 1.6 million kilometers. The litter content of the area is said to have increased ten-fold each decade since the 1940s. In contrast to public perceptions (created, in part, by nicknames like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), debris in the gigantic zone doesn’t amass to form island- or continent-sized bodies. Instead, it floats freely, with most located in two principal regions.
Now environmental nonprofit groups Oceans Unmanned, Inc. and The Ocean Cleanup are joining forces to map parts of the gyre. In doing so, they’ll use both quantitative imagery and qualitative data gathered to determine the best ways of scooping waste out of the ocean and hauling it back to land.
“It is estimated that over five trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the ocean and accumulate in
five ocean garbage patches, with the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch located
halfway between California and Hawaii,” explained an Oceans Unmanned statement announcing the partnership. “The Ocean Cleanup is developing technologies to capture and retain at-sea marine debris to bring it back to shore for recycling.”
For its part, Oceans Unmanned will be launching Aeromao Talon Amphibious drones from Ocean Cleanup ships for two-hour survey flights. To maximize mission duration and data collection from those, the craft will make water landings once batteries have been depleted, and be recovered by smaller boats. The mapping imagery they bring back will be analyzed through an automated neural network for object detection, and also be used to work up the most efficient collection methods.
Using tech to vanquish trash
Founded in 2013 to battle the rising tide of oceanic trash, Ocean Cleanup will be launching its third, updated version of the technology it has developed to collect floating litter. Much of that trash is relatively small, and hard to detect and scoop up. The group believes bringing smart eyes in the sky that uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) offer will be the key to boosting its efforts.
“We successfully performed a feasibility assessment on UAS-based remote sensing for the quantification and detection of floating plastic in 2018,” stated Robin de Vries, Ocean Cleanup’s geospatial analyst. “When we decided to ramp up this area of our work, we turned to Oceans Unmanned because of their years of proven maritime UAS expertise.”
The partners will begin their surveying work later this month in an anti-pollution project for which, alas, the sea’s the limit.
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