This Drone Eats Trash for Breakfast

Rotterdam, Netherlands, has one of the busiest ports in the world. Not only that, the city’s harbor marks the gateway to some of Europe’s most important waterways. It is here that the Rhine meets the sea, giving access to the industrial heartlands of Germany.

The harbor’s importance has, on the one hand, given strength and wealth to the city of Rotterdam and its port. The city is often nicknamed ‘the Gateway to Europe’ and even ‘Gateway to the World’ – a reflection of its status as the largest cargo port on the continent. Such illustrious titles, however, belie the fact that, as a result of its success, the harbor now has a serious problem with waste and debris.

(Photo by PortXL)

(Photo by PortXL)

Shipping and general port usage account for just part of the waste entering the sea at Rotterdam. Residential, commercial and industrial waste which is not sent to landfill on the continent, usually ends up, through drainage systems, in rivers. Smaller rivers flow into larger ones until they reach the sea. This waste doesn’t just stop at the harbor, however. There are huge patches of ocean – much bigger than most countries – which are covered with human trash and waste. The most famous of these, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is a plastic soup which stretches out for hundreds of thousands of kilometers.

In an attempt to do something about the amount of waste that is now passing through, and clogging up Rotterdam’s harbor, last year the city gave the green light to PortXL, a port accelerator, which will count cleaning up the harbor among its responsibilities.

In order to do so, PortXL has teamed up with RanMarine Technology, which has designed and produced a drone specifically for the task. The ‘waste shark’ drone makes its way through the waters of the harbor, gobbling up to half a ton of waste, before return to shore to deposit it for processing, and start over again.

(Photo by RanMarine Technology)

(Photo by RanMarine Technology)

Not only that, the drone, which operates autonomously, gathers data on water quality and harbor depth, which is then sent back to the port authority for analysis. The water shark itself makes use of this data, too, becoming more familiar with its environment in order to operate more efficiently each time.

While it represents a good start, the water shark drone isn’t going to spell the end of waste contamination in the world’s oceans. It is unlikely that one drone will be enough even for Rotterdam’s harbor.

CEO of RanMarine, Richard Hardiman, was reported by as saying that the idea behind the drone didn’t necessarily come about due to ecological considerations.

“It was more a case of seeing how harbors and marine waste management currently deal with the problem and seeing that there had to be a more effective and efficient way of solving it,” he elaborated.

What’s sure is that any future success of the ‘waste shark’, or similar drones, will depend on how it can be assimilated into good business models. RanMarine hopes that one day its drones will be deployed in the thousands around the world.

Andrew Maxwell

Andrew is a former journalist who now works as a freelance writer specializing in tech and gadgets. He currently resides in Thailand.

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