The goal of the SeaClear project is to develop autonomous underwater and surface vessels for mapping, classification and collection of marine waste. Hopefully in the future, robots will be cleaning our oceans continuously, but for now, periodic ocean clean-up actions performed by divers and manned vessels remain the only option. However, to test the efficiency of the autonomous vessels being developed through the project, a baseline must be used for comparison, making monitoring the efficiency of current ocean clean-up actions essential to the project.
On the 15th and 16th of September 2021, the first tests of the SeaClear robots took place in the Dubrovnik area, Croatia. This was the first time representatives from all the partners met live after the kick-off meeting of the project, due to the on-going pandemic due to CoVID-19.
The first round of public demonstrations of the SEACLEAR system took place in Hamburg Port on the 8th of June 2023. This was the first time that the public, through media outlets and stakeholders, had the opportunity to interact with the SEACLEAR system, try different scenarios, and discover the potential and possibilities for autonomous litter detection and collection.
Prior to the demonstration, the SEACLEAR team did final tests and fine-tuning on various components of the system. The autonomous navigation of the SeaCAT and ROVs was tested in both lawnmower patterns and navigation with waypoints. This is crucial for creating the bathymetry map of the area, for detecting litter, and later on collecting it without the need for human intervention.
The litter placed by our team at the beginning of the trials, was later 'discovered' by the observation ROV, and the discovered coordinates of the litter were compared against observations made from the air using the drone of the system. The accuracy of the detection has improved significantly since our last trials, due to upgrades in the sensory system of the underwater ROVs.
The system not only detected the location of the litter, but was also able to pick it up for transfer to the storage basket. During the demonstration, we were able to successfully pick almost all the litter placed by our team.
The trials and the public demonstration was covered by ZDF, one of the biggest German public-service television broadcasters. The footage that was captured will be featured in 'Plan B', a show about alternatives to some of humanity's biggest problems. Furthermore, several stakeholders from the port of Hamburg visited the demostration, including the Harbor Masters, representatives from (amongst others) the Environmental, Port Strategy, and Hydrographics departments. This was important so that we get relevant feedback and ideas about the operation of the SeaClear system.
The second round of trials of the SEACLEAR system took place in the port of Hamburg between 10 and 12 of May 2022. The port of Hamburg is the second test site of the project, offering completely different conditions and challenges compared to the first test site in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Underwater visibility is considerably lower, often lower than a few centimetres, while there is heavy traffic present from commercial ships. This makes the use of vision cameras for detecting the litter unusable, with the only reliable detection alternative being sonar sensors.
During these trials we included the latest developed components of the SEACLEAR system, such as the LARS for the underwater robots, a more sturdy version of the gripping system, and the final version of the collection basket. You can get a feeling of these trials from our video and pictures below.
The event created a significant interest in the local media, and several news outlets visited the test sites to cover and report on our progress. Following the tests and media appearances, we discussed the current progress and future steps until the next meeting in Marseille, in September 2022.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 871295.
The SEACLEAR project spans four years, running from January 1st, 2020 to December 31st, 2023.