Kickstarter Campaign “Protei, Open Hardware Oil Spill Cleaning Sailing Robot”



We are developing Protei : a low-cost open-source oil collecting robot that autonomously sails upwind, intercepting oil sheens going downwind. Protei combines conventional technologies in an innovative design that we can implement in the short term to address timely environmental crisis such as the BP Oil Spill, cleaning the ocean gyre garbage patches or performing ocean research. We need your help to build our next prototype of Protei - the first articulated sailing boat that can tack upwind pulling a long heavy payload and initiating a revolutionary family in ocean robotics.

A situation we must change

Current Oil spill skimming technology was able to collect only 3% of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The health of remediation workers was compromised by exposure to cancerous toxic chemicals, skimming boats themselves contributed to pollution and were expensive to power, operations were constrained by daily weather conditions and were limited by proximity to the coast. In contrast, Protei aims to be : unmanned, unrestrained by human biological needs; green and affordable; self-righting and therefore operable even in hurricane conditions; semi-autonomous, so that far offshore, many Protei would be able to intelligently and continuously swarm.

Observations and ideas from testing

Spilled oil moves downwind from its source following surface currents. Traditional oil skimmers pull oil-absorbent booms and trace random linear paths in a sea of oil. But a better way to capture this oil is to sail upwind, intercepting the oil sheens traveling downwind. Protei harnesses the wind in order to power an unmanned sailing drone, pulling a long oil-absorbent ‘tail’ upwind. A fleet of many Protei will work automatically as a swarm, or be remotely controlled by coastal residents and on-line gamers.

When you pull a long heavy object behind a traditional sailboat, the center of gravity is altered such that in order to preserve navigability it becomes necessary to redesign the relationship of hull, keel, and rudder. The solution we found is to design an entirely articulated sailing boat that curves when it tacks upwind. Building and testing consecutive prototypes with multiple sails, we soon realized that Protei's hull bending would expose both sides of the vessel to the wind when tacking upwind, continuously catching wind with the different sails, increasing power and control - and creating a totally new way of sailing! We also found out that an inflatable body would make Protei featherweight for a very large sail surface : an excellent power ratio. Inflatable means also cheaper and collision-safe. Version after version, we keep improving the design and discovering new properties.


Protei_001 : front steering, Remote Controlled.

Protei_002 : articulated sailboat, Remote Controlled.

Protei_003 : articulated inflatable sailboat, lightweight and larger sail surface, good power ratio. - Protei_004 : electric, swarm for display, art.

Protei_005 : electronic, on-board sensors and micro-chip control, wireless real-time communication and monitored with webcam to analyze trajectory.

What the money is for

  • Protei_006 : We need money to build our next prototype at full scale to measure the performances : * how much oil can be absorbed. * how much floating plastic debris we can collect from the ocean garbage patches. * how much weight of scientific payload we can transport for ocean studies and exploration. This next prototype will be packed with electronics and sensors: micro-controllers, GPS, long range wireless communication, solar panel, wind turbine, accelerometers, anemometer, pressure gauges, batteries, servo/step motors, winches etc. Many of us will gather 3 months this summer in Rotterdam (Netherlands) to build our next prototype and publish the full online documentation so others can build their own versions too.


Oil spills are happening all the time across the world. In many of these locations, access to effective yet inexpensive remediation technology is lacking. Thus, Protei is Open Hardware so anyone can use, modify, and distribute Protei. Currently Protei is being developed as a team effort by Open_Sailing in the UK and France, V2_ in the Netherlands, randomwalks in South Korea, Amorphica in the US and Mexico and contributors from all around the world. If you cannot back us, you can work with us :)

Protei is the plural for Proteus, Greek sea-god and son of Poseidon. Proteus was known for his mutability, his capability of assuming many forms. The word protean evokes flexibility, versatility and adaptability. The machine we are developing now is Protei for collecting spilled oil at sea, but being an open source project, other versions may be designed in the future for other purposes : to harvest the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, to capture heavy metal pollutants in coastal areas, extract toxic contaminants from urban waterways, perform oceanographic research, monitor marine life etc.

We hope that developing Protei Open Hardware will contribute to ocean studies and pollution remediation. Help us build our next prototype. Thank you!

Share our website: Our video : Our Vimeo : We're also on : and Hackaday :

Protei teamProtei Core team :

  • Coordinator : Cesar Harada (Fr, Jp), TED Senior Fellow, Open_Sailing Coordinator
  • Project Manager V2_ : Piem Witz (NL)
  • V2_ Lab Manager : Boris Debackere (Belgium)
  • Maritime Engineer and Academic coordinator : Etienne Gernez (France, Norway), DNV Veritas Oslo
  • Head Engineer : Qiuyang Zhou (China, Denmark), Mechatronics, University of Southern Denmark.
  • Engineer 1 : Roberto Melendez (El Salvador, USA), Mechanical and Ocean Engineering , MIT.
  • Engineer 2 : TBC
  • Collaborator, Industrial Product Designer : Sebastian Müllauer (Germany).
  • Collaborator, Interaction Designer & Sensors : Sebastian Neitsch (Germany).
  • Collaborator, Mechanical Engineer : Henrik Rudstrom (NL, Norway).
  • Data Analyst and Visualization : Sey Min (randomwalks, Korea) : ; Kasia Molga (UK).
  • Webdesign : Bianca Chen Costanzo (Brazil, China, USA), Apple California.
  • Communication : Joris van Ballegooijen (NL), Pinar Temiz (Turkey), Hunter Daniel (USA), Li Yu (China), Carla Colet Castano (Spain), Ollie Palmer (UK), Yoko Kasai (JP).

Protei team

  • Mechanical Engineering : Joshua Updyke (USA), Logan Williams (USA), Antonio Fernandes (Portugal)
  • Design : Kisoon Olm 엄기순 (randomwalks Korea) : ; Sunghun (randomwalks Korea) : ; Jieun Yoo (randomwalks Korea) : ; Amorphica Design Research Office, Aaron Gutierrez (Mexico, USA) ; Julia Cerrud (Mexico, USA) ; Mario Saenz (Mexico, USA) ; Kiran Gangadharan (India), Gabriella Levine (USA).
  • Architecture : Tyler Survant (USA) Yale School of Architecture.
  • Prototyping, Manufacturing : Dooho Yi, Leon Spek, Jiskar Schmitz
  • Testing at sea : Steven Jouwerma (NL)

Supervisors & Advisors

  • Ocean Engineering Supervisor : Peter Keen (New Zealand, UK), University of Southampton.
  • Sailing Supervisor : Maia Anthea Marinelli (Italy, USA).
  • Sailing advisor : Maia Anthea Marinelli (Italy), Gianluca Giabardo (Italy).
  • Electronic supervision : Simon de Bakker, V2_ (NL).
  • Manufacturing Advisor : Dominic Muren, University of Washington, The Humblefactory.
  • Underwater Advisor : Dr Sarah Jane Pell, Artist, Researcher and Commercial Diver (Australia).
  • Design Supervision : Prof Jennifer Gabrys, Goldsmiths University, Design & Environment, London.
  • Business advisor : Jean Vallet, Pedagic Coordinator of Paris

Special thanks to

Risks and challenges