It is estimated that the oceans contain around 26-66 million tonnes of waste. But, while most of the news focus on the waste near coastlines and in areas such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, approximately 94 per cent of this waste is actually located on the seafloor. This is why the European Union-funded SeaClear project is focussing on cleaning up the ocean floor.
The project plans to use autonomous vehicles to find and collect litter from the seabed, focusing on coastal areas where waste inflow concentrates. The system will consist of drones and remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) which will use AI-based algorithms to map, identify, classify and collect litter, using a combined suction-gripper manipulator.
The project also includes an unmanned surface vessel that serves as a “mothership”. The ROVs are tethered to the mothership, which supplies power and computation. SeaClear’s objective is to operate the entire system without remote human intervention.