Plastic Sensing Robot


How do we sense plastic in the ocean today? What do we propose to investigate?As of today (2014 July) we take big ships out, extend a long arm at the end of which there is a fine net (manta trawler) to capture plastic bits. Plastic pollution research with nets has been very slow, dangerous and time-consuming because all this plastic has been sorted by hand under a dissection microscope.

This project was awarded the Jane Goodall Roots and Shoot Prize for best environmental Innovation.

In this instructables we investigate the possibility of developing an optical sensor, so instead of "collecting stuff" (plastic but also plankton) with a net, we collect the "image of stuff" and convert it immediately into "data" (Timestamp, localise, qualify, quantify). Marine biologists have been doing this technology for decades for plankton using LOPCs (Laser Optical Particle Counter).

How are we doing it?

We're hacking a radio-controlled sailing robot to carry a webcam that video records water and plastic particles flowing though it. The plastic is then collected with a net attached to the end of the contraption so we compare what we estimate from video feed VS what we actually physically collect - so we can establish how accurate our system is (tolerance). The current prototype is very rough but confirms that it is possible remotely operate a compact platform to capture video of plastic particles.

We are working on :

  • improving the sensor (watertightness, optical quality, size, energy usage)
  • improving the transport of the sensor (power boat, perhaps wind-powered)
  • process video, isolate moving bits
  • use laser diode that help us distinguish plastic from plankton
  • develop an on-board software to process the data (on the Banana Pi)
  • communicate the data online in real-time

Who are we?

This instructables was made by students of the Hong Kong Harbour School : Brandon Wong, Riccardo Ricci, Aiyana CampbellLara Bevan, Matteo Griffiths, Hector Soekarno, Alexander Paul, Max Wilson, Andreas Zhang, and Akasha Campbell guided by Johnson StanleyCesar Harada and our principal Christine Greenberg. The parents also helped a great deal and deserve a lot of credits. Thanks to Edward Fung (Hong Kong), Taivo Lints (Estonia). Original research proposal by Cesar Harada here. Thanks to the richly illustrated book "UNDERWATER ROBOTICS: Science, Design & Fabrication" By Dr. Steven W. Moore, Harry Bohm, and Vickie Jensen, Westcoast Words Editor.

Top image of dead whale credit : http://www.pelagosinstitute.gr