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MIT Unveils Oil-Skimming Robot Swarm Prototype

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the so-burning-harmless-eh dept.

Earth 123

destinyland writes "Today MIT reveals a swarm of autonomous floating robots that can digest an oil spill. The 16-foot robots drag a nanowire mesh that acts like a conveyor belt to soak up surface oil 'like paper towels soak up water,' absorbing 20 times its weight and then harmlessly 'digesting' the oil by burning it off. Powered by 21.5 square feet of solar panels, the 'Seaswarm' robots run on the power of a lightbulb, and with just 100 watts 'could potentially clean continuously for weeks' without human intervention, MIT announced. The swarm uses GPS data and communicates wirelessly to move as a coordinated group to 'corral, absorb and process' oil spills, and MIT researchers estimate that a fleet of 5,000 could clean up a gulf-sized spill within one month."

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Yeah! (3, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404692)

Burning oil is well known for being harmless!

Re:Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404714)

And burned oil is well known for being far more dangerous than crude oil.

Re:Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404826)

If you had watched the video in the article, you would know that they aren't actually combusting any oil. As far as the video showed, heating the nanofiber material releases the stored oil, which means reclamation I'm understanding correctly, and that's actually pretty cool.

Re:Yeah! (3, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404918)

FTFA: http://web.mit.edu/press/2010/seaswarm.html [mit.edu]

By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused.

Notice the URL - it's MIT saying this, not someone mis-quoting them.

Also, good luck with that during hurricane season.

Additionally, bad math alert. To clean up 5 million barrels in 30 days with 5,000 units, each unit would have to pick up 33 barrels a day. 16'x7'= 112 square feet. A barrel is 42 gallons, and there are 7.5 gallons in a cubic foot. So, 33 barrels is 1,385 gallons, or 184.5 cubic feet. Your skimmer will be towing a chunk of oil-soaked nanofibres half a yard thick - you're not going to be making much headway dragging that with only 100 watts (1/8 horsepower).

It might start out okay, but as you collect oil, it will get worse, so take that 1 month and make it a year.

Re:Yeah! (1)

aGuyNamedJoe (317081) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405196)

Also, it seems unlikely the 100W skimmer is going to be doing much burning itself. So I presume it has to deliver the skimmed oil to some other location -- which takes time and power as well.

Re:Yeah! (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405356)

Last I checked burning oil didn't require energy.

Re:Yeah! (1)

aGuyNamedJoe (317081) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405762)

Did you ever try to light it? Once it's going good, it's exothermic, no doubt. But spontaneous combustion while floating on water isn't as common as you might think.

Re:Yeah! (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408002)

Ok, so what you are saying that instead of nuking the well now we should nuke the whole gulf? :D

Re:Yeah! (1)

aGuyNamedJoe (317081) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408938)

And while most of the socks in the drawer are red, that one is blue!

What? Are we into non-sequitur foo? ;D

Re:Yeah! (1)

cynyr (703126) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405294)

1) it's a prototype, if you have a 50% cleanup duty cycle, you'll need 10k units not 5k.
2) If you notice it doesn't drag the nano fibers, it uses a conveyor belt of them to move. By ensuring that the belt if hard to move in one direction, and easy to move in the other, should should be able to crawl your way forward.
3) True, there seems to be some dubious math, but are you saying that is a reason to not let them test it out? hmm seems like the worse that could happen at this point is they flounder around in the oil, o be rescued by the observation boat.

The thing i'm curious about, is how one turns one of those. It's not like they move fast and could use some sort of rudder...

Re:Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33405482)

As far as i can tell, they aren't claiming it would work during hurricane season

Additionally, bad math alert. The article doesn't say they could clean up the gulf oil spill in 30 days. What it says is that a team of 5000 could clean an area the SIZE of the gulf spill in 30 days. See the difference?

Re:Yeah! (0)

xedd (75960) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405784)

I bet waves from a good-size storm would capsize or damage those things easily. Needs some redesign, IMHO.

Nice idea, though!

Re:Yeah! (0)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405786)

They (MIT) state in their video a spill of 5,000,000 barrels. I'm using MIT's own figures. So no, the only bad math is theirs, not mine. Just like they think that it would be easy to heat the collected crude to the point of combustion. It's not, and they only have 100 watts (300 btu) to play with. You can't even light up a puddle of refined #2 diesel by throwing a lit match on it. How much worse a waterlogged mat? All you'll do is liquify a small area, which will then flow, and dissipate the heat.

If it would burn on its own, there wouldn't have been a problem - the entire gulf would have burned off instead of spreading in a widening slick.

Re:Yeah! (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408632)

They (MIT) state in their video a spill of 5,000,000 barrels. I'm using MIT's own figures. So no, the only bad math is theirs, not mine. Just like they think that it would be easy to heat the collected crude to the point of combustion. It's not, and they only have 100 watts (300 btu) to play with. You can't even light up a puddle of refined #2 diesel by throwing a lit match on it. How much worse a waterlogged mat? All you'll do is liquify a small area, which will then flow, and dissipate the heat.

If it would burn on its own, there wouldn't have been a problem - the entire gulf would have burned off instead of spreading in a widening slick.

FTA

The Seaswarm robot uses a conveyor belt covered with a thin nanowire mesh to absorb oil. The fabric, developed by MIT Visiting Associate Professor Francesco Stellacci, and previously featured in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, can absorb up to twenty times its own weight in oil while repelling water. By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused.

  I'm assuming burnt locally isn't necessarily the same as burnt onboard, and also note the absorbent wire repells water so it will only pick up oil. Heating the nanonwire absorbent may not be that energy demanding either, a laser can heat things quite efficiently especially if your need is for a higher temperature for a short time, lots of degrees but not many calories. I'd like to see a number of things operating in the real world to prove the concept.

Re:Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33408426)

Their wording has you a bit confused I believe. They don't mean that 5000 robots can clean up 5 million barrels in 30 days. They mean that 5000 robots can clean up the surface oil of a 5 million barrel spill in 30 days. There is a HUGE difference.

Re:Yeah! (1, Informative)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408526)

Here's the actual text from MIT:

MIT researchers estimate that a fleet of 5,000 Seaswarm robots would be able to clean a spill the size of the gulf in one month

Not "the surface".

The video also makes the claim - that 5,000 could clean up a 5,000,000 barrel spill in one month. Not "the surface" of a 5,000,000 barrel spill.

Stop getting your information from other mis-informed comments - read the mis-informed MIT article instead :-p

Re:Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33408802)

What is missing here are rates. What is the rate of collection? What is the rate of burn off from the fabric?

FTA "By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused."

If the material is being heated to burn the oil, can it also be capturing or is this a 2 stage process. Does it have to float around absorbing oil to a certain threshold and then stop, burn off collected oil?

I agree with others that using the oil as a fuel source adds complexity and weight. The solar/battery solution for propulsion and ignition is good.

Re:Yeah! (1)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408892)

I believe the oil is heated up and burnt off the mesh on board the skimmer. So they don't need to tow the 33 barrels or have a nanofibre net that big. It would also allow it to run for a longer time unattended. .

Also you would think 21.5 square feet of solar panels would generate more than a 100 watts, even if your saving power for night time running. .

its a pity they cant generate some power from the oil burning to power the craft, or maybe its capturing a lot of the heat energy which is why the heating bill is so low.

Re:Yeah! (1)

fyoder (857358) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404920)

From the article:
"By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused."

That's not entirely clear and the video doesn't add anything regarding delivery of captured oil to a 'local' repository for disposal. It looks like they're glossing over this part.

Re:Yeah! (1, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404960)

What, is this a global-warming remark? All that oil was destined for burning anyway. It's doing a hell of a lot less harm being burnt than it is choking off marine life.

But nuance is dead in the climate-change "debate"; go figure.

Re:Yeah! (1)

Icculus (33027) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405398)

Well the how of the burning is significant. Think of the smoke produced burning oil in a Diesel engine des vs lighting a pan of it on fire in your garage. The combustion could be just slightly bad instead of extra bad. Otherwise, agreed. Better to turn it into smoke and CO2 than kill the sea critters.

Re:Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33405430)

All that oil was destined for burning anyway.

Sure, as gasoline in someone's car, or as heating oil in someone's home, etc. This just means that even more oil is being burned, because those late-for-work drivers and those freezing-cold homeowners are still going to be burning gas or heating oil.

Re:Yeah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33407106)

Yea and if they are burning the oil, they might as well use that to move these robots around. Why bother with additional solar panel and a meager 100w motor?

Re:Yeah! (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 4 years ago | (#33407988)

It was bound to happen anyway. Better than having it in the ocean.

Only problem I assume is that the oil isn't at the surface.

Well, that and they don't have 5000 robots, and I don't see how they would "catch 'em all"(it).

Okay... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404706)

So what about a swarm of autonomous floating robots that can digest a swarm of smaller autonomous floating robots that can digest an oil spill

"clean up a gulf-sized spill within one month." (4, Informative)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404716)

sure, maybe, if you exclude all the sub-surface oil. And there's a lot of subsurface oil.

Who's gonna pay? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404726)

I don't see BP investing in alternative ways to clean their own mess up. We'll see what they do with these robots.

Re:Who's gonna pay? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33405224)

You don't see it because you're not looking, asshat.

but what will they do when they finish? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404736)

probably form skynet

Re:but what will they do when they finish? (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405686)

IF those movies were about the inevitability of machines turning on us, that joke might have been funny!

F?AILZORS! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404744)

performing.' Even Fuck The Baby world will haDve I'll have offended cycle; take a These early 8isk looking even the above is far

Re:F?AILZORS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404796)

Looks like an engineered subliminal message. Is it? If so, fuck you scum.

burn where? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404752)

I'm confused to how/where those small robots will burn off the collected oil. And I'm wondering whether, if they burn it off in/at the robot, whether the generated heat can't be used as an extra power source.

That's a lot of oil to burn (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404754)

Isn't that a lot of oil to burn? If we don't actually mind burning oil you could power the robots with some/all of the oil they collect instead of using solar power.

Next thing you need is an electronic sensor that can smell and taste oil in the air and water. Then working as a swarm they can find oil spills, move to them autonomously and consume them.

Re:That's a lot of oil to burn (2, Interesting)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404862)

Solar is much simpler. You just need a panel and a battery.

Burning oil is more complicated. You need an engine that can burn crude mixed with whatever it mixes with in the water (some rugged diesel engine maybe?), a pump, a tank to have the ability to move through clean water, an electric generator to power the circuitry, a battery as well (for starting the motor for instance). It's going to be heavy and complicated, more prone to failure, and harder to keep afloat. And definitely more expensive. And it'll still need to burn oil anyway, because it must collect more than it needs for itself (otherwise it wouldn't go anywhere), but that means the tank will become full at some point.

Re:That's a lot of oil to burn (1)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 4 years ago | (#33409064)

solar is nice and simple, if it wasn't for night time it would be perfect.

.

I don't think you could get a very good explosion out of the crude oil, but it should burn hot enough to heat and turn a steam turbine. It has plenty of water when its in the ocean. it doesn't have to burn very hot. there aren't many moving parts. it makes sense to use the oils energy if your burning it anyway, but it wont always be on top of oil.

Awesome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404782)

A couple days after they are released, I'll finally have my Tricycletops.

Re:Awesome (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405594)

You'll need to get trilobots first.

OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (2, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404798)

OK, each unit sops up some oil, using "nanowires". Then what? The oil then has to be transferred to some collection boat. That part isn't implemented.

A fleet of semi-autonomous skimmers that deliver oil to a collection ship or a shore station would be useful. Operations like that are risky for small boats, as are operations near shore, near rocks and reefs, and such. So it's a good robot application.

The "nanowires" just sound like the usual hype from MIT's PR operation (which has gotten out of hand enough to be an embarrassment for MIT.)

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (3, Informative)

hipp5 (1635263) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404844)

Then what? The oil then has to be transferred to some collection boat. That part isn't implemented.

The way I read it was that each bot disposed of the oil by burning it on-site. No need for central collection.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405602)

Oh great, just what we needed. Pyromaniac robots.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (2, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404966)

The math doesn't work. 16'x7' is 112 square feet. 33 barrels of oil (which is how much would have to be removed each day by a fleet of 5,000 skimmers) covers that to half a meter thick, and weights 4 tons. You won't be going very fast towing that with a 1/8 hp (100 watt) motor.

So, skip the self-propelled aspect, just attach floaters to the absorbent, toss them in the sea, pick them up, pass them through a wringer to squeeze out the oil instead of heating it, rea-attach the floaters and toss them back in.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

ChinggisK (1133009) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405342)

As a few other people have pointed out, the idea is that each robot burns the oil as it collects it, it doesn't tow it around. Whether or not that is feasible is still up in the air, but your math is irrelevant as far as their design concept is concerned.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405648)

Right. So the key here is downward scalability. In the proposed system concept, the oil/water separation process doesn't take energy input. You only have to put energy into the process when you've collected enough oil to make it worthwhile to bootstrap a process whereby you burn the oil you recover to power further separation.

The alternative would be to build somewhat larger robots that had some kind of centrifuge separator. That'd work too, but only if you could drop the robot right on a nice thick oil slick. Otherwise you'd have to tanker the water/oil emulsion until you had enough oil to get net energy yield from running the centrifuges. That still might be a worthwhile system to build, but it would be operated differently. You might air drop the system onto a known oil slick, rather than waiting for large specialized recovery vessels to be moved to the site. It wouldn't work in an oil spill that was so vast you didn't know where most of it was.

Of course, the first thing we should do is fix the incompetence and unconscionable negligence that led to the DWH spill and *killed eleven men*. We're talking belt and suspenders *but we have no pants*.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408846)

power can be had, something like the SEADOG [www.inri.us] or the OPT [oceanpower...logies.com] would work well near shore, booms could channel any oil to the centrifuge for processing on a cheap semi-permanent basis. Something like the Pelamis WEC [pelamiswave.com] looks like it wound be towable and able to power processing on the open sea.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405740)

And I would suggest you get some facts - yo can't just burn waterlogged crude oil by putting a match to it, any more than you can burn a puddle of diesel fuel by throwing a lit match on it.

So forget the idea of burning it on site - even if you divert ALL the energy to heating the mat, 100 watts won't do it - that's 300 btus. Nowhere near enough to get ignition started. The heat will just be conducted away as the crude turns to semi-liquid state before re-congealing.

The design doesn't work.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

ChinggisK (1133009) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405874)

I never said burning it on site would or wouldn't work, I just pointed out that that is what their design calls for. Towing it somewhere else was never part of the design and therefore whether or not it can do that is irrelevant.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

shawb (16347) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406356)

The article says the oil will be burned locally... basically all these robots would keep bringing oil to a collection point where it is removed by heating the fabric, and then burned by traditional means. I assume at this point the collection point will be a larger ship of some sort where it would be feasible to use the heat from burning the oil to remove oil from other skimmers. The numbers they used don't say that each skimmer would carry 33 barrels of oil at a time; what is realistically meant is that each robot can sop up oil at a rate that after a month of operation it would have collected 33 barrels. On a rough estimate, that works out to about 4 gallons an hour. That sound reasonable, and of course probably assumes constant running in conditions of maximum efficiency and ignores time losses in going out to heavier patches of oil and returning it to the collection points.

This basically sounds like an advanced form of the skimmers currently being used. Rather than one large net that has to be dragged in, the "net" is made of several small robotic boats which carry the oil back to the boat for processing. Whether that oil is burned or stored would depend more on the ships used than the robot. But that's really not important to the students prototyping this robot... that's more for when the whole system is being implemented. This skimmer is just a proof of concept that would allow other people to move on with the other parts.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (0, Troll)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406526)

No, it's 33 barrels a day to arrive at the 5,000 robots can clean up 5,000,000 barrels in one month. Do the math. It's not hard - unless you're an MIT "scientist".

Otherwise, each robot would have to collect 1,000 barrels at one time. That would represent a layer 45 feet high on their 16'x7' fabric. Do you really believe that a 1/8 hp electric motor could tow that much?

Their math sucks. Their thinking does too,

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33406546)

Waterlogged? Did you miss the part about the breakthrough material that absorbs oil but not water? Also igniting oil doesn't require power, just a spark.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406694)

Waterlogged? Did you miss the part about the breakthrough material that absorbs oil but not water? Also igniting oil doesn't require power, just a spark.

Did you miss all those videos of the red oil foam? As well as the fact that there's still going to be mechanical mixing of the two?

Also, you can't even light refined diesel fuel with a spark. Make a puddle of diesel on the ground and throw a lit match on it. The match will go out. Room-temperature crude is a lot harder to burn than refined diesel.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33406904)

The person you're yelling at is an idiot, but so are you. I light refined diesel oil every day with a spark. It's a pretty hot spark, and it's atomized, but it's most certainly lighting. Otherwise my CFM-56's would get me to work. If the magic material works as advertised, which is plausible, it will absorb the oil out of the oil/water mixture. Further, there are catalysts which help burn heavier oils onboard. This thing might be possible, but I suspect the cost will be prohibitive.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408470)

Let me guess - you're in the southern US or a similar warm climate, where they only sell #1 diesel. #2 diesel (also sold as home heating oil - its the same thing, which is why they add dye to diesel sold at the pumps) will put out the match every time. Crude oil is a LOT harder to light. You need a blowtorch. A spark just won't do it. It's like trying to set a cold lump of tar on fire with a spark.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33409164)

Whatever. The thing is setting crude oil on fire takes a fixed amount of energy, and once the fire is started you can burn an arbitrary amount of oil after that (just think of the well fires in Iraq).

In your post 2 levels up you argued that burning oil required continuous electrical power (and more than 100W), which doesn't make sense.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408018)

If it has already started burning then?

Because I can't see how anyone can claim how much energy 100 watts is.

What if it got enough solar cells to produce 100 watts for 24 hours before using the stored energy within 0.2 seconds to ignite the oil?

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408498)

It's not "oil" - its more like tar. It's only self-sustaining under certain conditions - like you need to be able to enclose it with a chimney-like chamber so that the heat of combustion isn't dissipated too quickly, but heats up the rest of the lump. Otherwise you get very incomplete combustion, your mat turns into a lump of asphalt-like glop, and you need to incinerate it to get the tar out. Look at how the ships that burn it off are set up.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408010)

The robot moves around on the skimmer and not the other way around? Moving the robot is probably much easier =P

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33407522)

Which part of "burn" didn't you understand. Also, the word you want is "weighs", and just in case, "heighth" and "weighth" are not words.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408188)

And which part of "It isn't that easy to burn" don't yu get?

Why isn't the gulf a sea of flames? Because you can't just toss a match on crude and expect it to burn - you need enough heat to vaporize a portion of the oil - your 100 watt PV array isn't going to give you enough energy to start a fire - all that will happen is that you'll liquify a small (very small) portion, which will then flow away, conducting the heat with it.

Try this - take a puddle of diesel fuel (a LOT easier to burn than crude) and throw a match on it. It'll put out the match.

Crude is a LOT harder to burn than diesel.

So this idea is dumb.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (0, Troll)

slick7 (1703596) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405204)

Why bother? According to BP the oil is gone and everything is hunkey dorey.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405422)

The "nanowires" just sound like the usual hype from MIT's PR operation (which has gotten out of hand enough to be an embarrassment for MIT.)

*sigh*. I wish that I was back up in the 'Tech on Boylston Street...

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

gweihir (88907) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406662)

Exactly my point. They cannot burn the oil, that would not work and damage the fabric. The video says you "heat up" the fabric and it releases the oil. So what is missing from the video is an expensive, energy hungry tender that these things have to go back to whenever they have soaked up the, maybe, half barrel they can hold.

Suddenly this does not look too good anymore. It certainly does not look fast and "autonomous" goes right out the window with the tender.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#33407366)

Exactly my point. They cannot burn the oil, that would not work and damage the fabric. The video says you "heat up" the fabric and it releases the oil. So what is missing from the video is an expensive, energy hungry tender that these things have to go back to whenever they have soaked up the, maybe, half barrel they can hold.

Once the oil is released from the fabric, then you burn it. They don't need to hold the oil.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

gweihir (88907) | more than 4 years ago | (#33407630)

They do need to hold the oil until they get back to the tender Ship and it is removed there. Burning the oil directly destroys the collector fabric.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#33407740)

They do need to hold the oil until they get back to the tender Ship and it is removed there. Burning the oil directly destroys the collector fabric.

They plan to remove the oil from the fabric first, then burn it. Since the oil is no longer in contact with the fabric, the fabric won't be harmed.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406840)

You stick around slashdot, you'd think MIT is this giantic grant-sucking corporation.

Re:OK, so it sops up some oil. Then what? (1)

dominious (1077089) | more than 4 years ago | (#33407068)

Then what? The oil then has to be transferred to some collection boat. That part isn't implemented.

FTFA:

The fabric, developed by MIT Visiting Associate Professor Francesco Stellacci, and previously featured in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, can absorb up to twenty times its own weight in oil while repelling water. By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused.

Yeah, we need someone to point out "FTFA" replies on /.

Vaporware? (1)

ze_foster (1888690) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404894)

Sounds like an advertisement for the next generation of vaporware projects. So what's its carbon footprint?

Yet Another Unlikely Invention Saves The World (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404930)

Well, if nothing else the Gulf spill has bought out the inventors/crazies. Since BP's Deep Horizon oil rig accident and subsequent spill, everybody and their redneck brother in law has come out of the woodwork with the silver bullet fix. Every bizarre and off the wall idea has been proposed as THE solution. From human hair to straw mats, from tankers turn skimmers to mutant man made microbes. Now, even MIT wants in on the madness.

The irony of it all seems to be that after all the berating of BP's efforts, it seems that good old chemical dispersants, combined with natural factors like evaporation, microbial consumption, and wave action, has already turned the largest oil spill in U.S. history into a thing of the past. There is no need for oil skimming robot swarms.

re Hell No! It's not a 'thing of the past'! (1)

jelizondo (183861) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405012)

has already turned the largest oil spill in U.S. history into a thing of the past

You migh want to check out the consequences of the oil spill and the use of dispersants before making such comments!

From a scientist a the scene: The oil spill's toxic trade-off [ted.com]

Re:re Hell No! It's not a 'thing of the past'! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33409178)

I think that it is you who might want to check.

As someone who plies the Gulf of Mexico on a near daily basis and catches and eats its sea food on a regular basis, I can tell you that there is little to no sign of oil anywhere. Even environmentalists who are searching the entire water column as they scream about the sky falling are unable to produce evidence of meaningful quantities of oil or dispersant.

I'll admit that it seems down right miraculous but, the oil is no where to be found and the histrionics over it seem quite pathetic. These people would have us believe that, since they don't know what's happening, it must be bad. They are unwilling to believe that the dispersants have done exactly what they were designed to do, break down the oil and evaporate without a trace.

I do not follow the calculation (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404938)

5000000 barrels and 5000 robots, that gives 1000 barrels for each robot and month??
so in one day one single robot will take up approx 30 barrels: that is more than one barrel per hour
day and night?
Seems to me as some MIT miscalculation or am I missing something?

Wow! (5, Funny)

ironnation (1888780) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404942)

SeaWow holds twenty times its weight in liquid, doesn't drip, doesn't make a mess, you burn it off. Made by MIT, you know MIT makes good stuff. Okay, here's some oil stains. Not only is that damage going to be on top, there's your plumes underneath, that's gonna get into your sand, see that. Now we're gonna do this in real time, look at this, it goes on a spill, I don't even have to control it, it just does the work. You following me, camera guy? It acts like a vacuum. SeaWow -- you'll be saying WOW every time. And if you call right now, cause you know we can't do this all day, you get 4999 more SeaWows, that'll clear up a spill in a month. Here's how to order!

Anyone ever read "Watermind"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404944)

Check it:

http://www.amazon.com/Watermind-M-M-Buckner/dp/076532024X

how does this compare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404964)

to Kevin Costner's machines? Anyone hear of any success of those?

"Real Conditions" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33404970)

I wonder how this will work under real conditions with 6 to 8 ft seas and wind churning up the gulf.

Re:"Real Conditions" (1)

shawb (16347) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406374)

Probably no worse than with standard skimmers in the same conditions.

Harmless? Not likely... (3, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 4 years ago | (#33404974)

Let's see... they're tiny robots, they consume raw materials...

Mark my words - pretty soon some bright lab jockey will come up with the idea of giving them the ability to build more of themselves using those raw materials. And we all know what'll happen next.

Re:Harmless? Not likely... (1)

DMUTPeregrine (612791) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406420)

We get artificial bacteria?

Re:Harmless? Not likely... (1)

BraksDad (963908) | more than 4 years ago | (#33408576)

... And we all know what'll happen next.

Good thing we have sharks that can zap those buggers with their lasers. Hopefully the don't reproduce too fast.

Heed the words of Michael Crichton (1)

MadGeek007 (1332293) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405020)

Ready the electromagnets!

Looks like BS: missing critical component (1)

gweihir (88907) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405024)

It seems this thing (and the video) is pure fantasy: It does not show anywhere how in practice the oil is going to be removed and how much oil each robot can carry. In my view, that leaves an absolute critical component out and makes this whole thing a publicity stunt and nothing more. Especially its power consumption is a pure lie, as the stated ratings are never going to be enough to remove the oil from the mat. Think of a swarm of these things and a large tender with huge energy needs that they have to go back to every few hours. Then it becomes more realistic, but not anywhere near as pretty...

Re:Looks like BS: missing critical component (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33406644)

I'm not a material absorption expert but you seem to be. How many joules are needed to remove 1 liter of oil from a mat?

solar power? (1)

Lust (14189) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405050)

Collecting and burning oil but using...solar for power? Seems odd. Maybe a mech eng can explain.

Re:solar power? (1)

Raptoer (984438) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405284)

The oil being collected is generally very heavy, but can vary in composition. Oil of that type cannot be used in any normal type of combustion engine. That limits you to engine that rely solely on difference in temperatures rather than ones that try to control combustion. You could run a sterling engine off of this, but you have to consider what happens between oil slicks in the same area. If the slicks are too far apart, your robots run outta energy and just sit.

Solar energy on the other hand will always be there tomorrow. I don't know what conditions are required for these bots to get enough power out of their solar panels, but if it's cloudy and they can't do much you just have to wait a couple of days.

New From Shamwow! (0, Redundant)

deathtopaulw (1032050) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405104)

It's the Nanowow! Holds 20 times its weight in oil! Doesn't drip! Doesn't make a mess!

Why solar? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33405218)

Why solar power when it can generate plenty of power while burning it?

I already got one (1)

pakuni (1696328) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405424)

oh, wait... I have an oil powered solar collector. It seats seven and even has cup holders. It uses collected solar radiation to warm the seats and the beverages in the cup holders, but that feature only works during the day time.

Re:I already got one (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33408206)

Your car doesn't burn crude oil, jackass.
What do you think all those things called refineries are there for? To look pretty and make the air smell good?

Menace to navigation? (1)

Max Hyre (1974) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405958)

As shown, there's no provision for navigation lights.

I believe under the maritime Rules of the Road [boatingsafety.com] [PDF], one of these would be classified as a ``vessel not under command'', in which case it should display two red lights, one above the other, at night, and two black balls ditto during the day. (Rule 27 (a)) I don't know whether these are large enough to require such displays, but hit one of them in a sailboat at good speed, and you could be in real trouble.

Additionally, a radar reflector would be a Very Good Thing. Unfortunately, that might be impractical due to wind resistance.

Re:Menace to navigation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33406328)

These things are intended for cleaning up oil spills. I should imagine in that situation you'd be keeping other boats away from the area anyway. In any case I'm sure this detail would be sorted out if it gets past the prototype stage.

Re:Menace to navigation? (1)

ISoldat53 (977164) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406516)

The dark black cloud this thing generates would mark it during the day.

5000 Autonomous Vehicles??? (1)

offrdbandit (1331649) | more than 4 years ago | (#33405984)

I don't think the designers appreciate the difficulties what they are proposing.

First they suggest someone could/should have thousands of these autonomous vehicles sitting around (in an operational state) waiting for oil spills (with no auxiliary purpose).

Second they ignore the sheer chaos that would ensue as thousands of small, low-profile vehicles travel in and around other vessels necessary to actually stop/control an oil spill. These things wont show up on radar. They probably can't be seen at night, and are likely difficult or impossible to avoid by the large ships that get called to such oil spill areas. So either you have to drastically rework ship traffic to avoid the robots, maintain exclusion areas around the robots, or banish the robots to areas away from essential ship traffic.

Third, operating autonomous vehicles at sea is very difficult. Doing so on these scales is not only difficult, it's absolutely unheard of. Nigh impossible. Keeping small numbers of autonomous vehicles operational, launching them, and successfully recovering them is no easy task. The only way you can really hope to deploy autonomous vehicles in these numbers is if they are disposable and you have no intention of recovering them.

Finally, what happens when a storm or, God forbid, a hurricane decides to stroll by? Are you supposed to send out crews to wrangle up the 5000 vehicles bobbing around the increasingly rough seas? Do you leave them to their fate/demise?

This whole idea wreaks of idealistic nonsense and poor engineering.

Sodium chloride available here (1)

Max Hyre (1974) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406064)

Remember that any technology looks best a) when in development, and b) to its originators. Take any and all numbers and promises and scale them back from 50 to 80%.

Random thought: Put one in the water upside down---can it right itself? Because it's guaranteed that in heavy seas they'll be flipped over every so often.

On the other hand, given that the waves could flip it back up, as well, on average you'd have 50% of them rightside up at any time. It might be easier to double the number of gizmos than to design them to be self-righting.

Point? (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406176)

A superfluous invention. Why not just rely on Alcanivorax to clean up the mess? It's already there, it replicates itself in direct proportion to the amount of oil, it self-destructs when there's no oil left to clean up, is 100% bio-degradable and it costs nothing, doing the job in half the time.

Re:Point? (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406342)

Well, some googling suggests that it's aerobic, and needs extra nitrogen and phosphorus.

So, yeah, it'll happily munch on the oil, but it consumes oxygen, and it requires nitrogen, which is a recipe for an algal bloom for yet more deoxygenation. So not only everything gets to get poisoned by the oil while it's there, they'll also suffocate when the bacteria get to it. That sounds like an awesome plan.

Re:Point? (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 4 years ago | (#33406574)

Don't promote your hypothesis too widely. There are real-world observations in the Gulf of Mexico that falsify it.

Welcome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33406502)

I for one welcome our swarm of autonomous floating overlords

Solar Panels? Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33407014)

I'm no scientist, but it seems like humans should have developed a way to capture and store energy created by burning fossil fuels by now. It's so disappointing to hear we haven't figured it out yet.

MIT and solar powered nano autonomous robot swarms (1)

viking80 (697716) | more than 4 years ago | (#33407492)

Can MIT come up with something else than "solar powered nano technology autonomous robot swarms". Is this the "Build a really cool solution, and then spend a decade looking for the problem it solves"
Would be nice to see some innovation there. Are they not supposed to have the skills and intelligence to think outside the box and go in new directions?
- a NON-autonomous robot
- a FOSSIL powered something
- some new MACRO technology.

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