Using a nanofabric developed at MIT that absorbs oil and not water, scientists at MIT envision a fleet of Seaswarm robots cleaning up oil spills.
They also state that a swarm of 5,000 Seaswarm robots would take about a month to clean up the oil spill in the size of the one in the Gulf Coast.
Seaswarm is intended to work as a fleet, or “swarm” of vehicles, which communicate their location through GPS and WiFi in order to create an organized system for collection that can work continuously without human support. Because they are smaller than commercial skimmers attached to large fishing vessels, they are able to navigate hard to reach places like estuaries and coast lines. Seaswarm works by detecting the edge of a spill and moving inward until it has removed the oil from a single site before joining other vehicles that are still cleaning. Oil is “digested” locally so that Seaswarm does not need to make repeated trips back to shore, which would dramatically slow collection time.
The nanomaterial can absorb up to twenty times it’s own weight and the material is heated to remove the oil. The Sea Swarm is powered by solar panels and could operate autonomously for several weeks. Seaswarm is sixteen feet long and seven feet wide.
The Seaswarm prototype was recently unveiled at the Venice Bieniale’s Italian Pavillion.
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