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An Autonomous Sailing Robot To Clean Up Oil Spills

Roblimo posted more than 3 years ago | from the sailing-without-human-help dept.

Earth 62

rDouglass writes "Protei is a low-cost, open-source oil collecting robot that autonomously sails upwind, intercepting oil sheens going downwind. This crowd sourced, open source hardware, collaboratively developed project could help prevent the tragedy of the next oil spill. Furthermore, it is a prime example of what people can do together when they collaborate, working together on the research and development, design, and funding. Licensed under the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) license guarantees that as many people in all parts of the world will benefit from this effort as possible."

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All your oil slicks (4, Funny)

fred911 (83970) | more than 3 years ago | (#35768990)

.. are belong to us

Re:All your oil slicks (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769204)

wow. you're witty you little fucking turd. and with that sig? you must be really fucking 1337. i wouldn't want to fuck with you. bitch.

Crowd sourced! Collaborative! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769012)

This crowd sourced, open source hardware, collaboratively developed project could help prevent the tragedy of the next oil spill. Furthermore, it is a prime example of what people can do together when they collaborate, working together on the research and development, design, and funding.

Be still, my beating heart!

Re:Crowd sourced! Collaborative! (2)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769294)

... could help prevent the tragedy of the next oil spill.

Prevent the tragedy of the next oil spill? How about forcing anyone who owns and operates an offshore oil rig or tanker to learn some booming [youtube.com] ? How about forcing them to have teams of boomers on standby? This project might be good for last stage cleanup, but it does not negate the need for proper spill containment.

Re:Crowd sourced! Collaborative! (1)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769358)

s/Prevent/Reduce/ - still worthy of funding, imo.

Re:Crowd sourced! Collaborative! (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769876)

there many types of oil spils. this project approaches to find a solution to a more "light end" spill. I think the BP incident has shown us that entire regions of the planet can now be grossly affected; that's worth considering.

Grammar (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769022)

Whoever wrote that copy needs to learn how to use a hyphen.

Re:Grammar (5, Funny)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769048)

But-why?

OSHW (1)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769068)

Licensed under the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) license guarantees that as many people in all parts of the world will benefit from this effort as possible.

Or it guarantees that no one will make this in enough quantity, only 20 of them from 3 hackerspaces...

Re:OSHW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769150)

Or, remediation companies wanting cheaper alternatives to their expensive boats and crews, outsource the manufacturing of these things.

It may be open hardware, but the tooling, machinery, and manufacturing know how aren't.

And even then, when one actually builds one of these, I can guarantee you that things that the designers never thought of and bugs in the design will pop up; which will become proprietary knowledge of said manufacturer.

Oh yeah, PROFIT!

Re:OSHW (4, Informative)

Rich0 (548339) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769338)

It looks like it discharges cleaner water into the ocean. That might make it illegal in the US, due to some bizarre interpretation of EPA regulations.

I was reading that European and Middle-East cleanup ships were turned away from helping with cleanup. This was due to their principle of operation - they would skim muck from the surface, separate the oil and water, and discharge the water back into the ocean, keeping the oil in a holding tank. The problem is that they didn't clean the water they discharged up to EPA standards. Cleanup ships were required to store the mostly-clean water they would otherwise discharge, which means they would have to make frequent trips to dump their tanks.

This is of course absurd, since a ship that takes in a 50% oil solution and outputs a 0.1% oil solution can operate indefinitely and only make things better. The regulation was meant to apply to devices that prevent oil spills in the first place (dumping nothing into a clean ocean is better than dumping 0.1% oil solution).

Utterly amazing. Clearly regulation is necessary (otherwise there is no incentive to not pollute in the first place), but such strict application of law is something right out of Kefka or Wikipedia... :)

Re:OSHW (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769488)

"It looks like it discharges cleaner water into the ocean."

Bullshit. Quote, please.

Re:OSHW (1)

funwithBSD (245349) | more than 3 years ago | (#35773918)

We are from the Government, and we are here to help.

Re:OSHW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35775280)

Where did you read this? This honestly sounds like you have been duped into repeating some dishonest, right-wing paranoia. I heard this story about cleanup ships being turned away, but it involved a different law and was an event fabricated out of whole cloth. I suspect that someone fabricated the story you have repeated as well because ships were not turned away. It sounds like reflexive, anti-government/anti-regulation propaganda.

Re:OSHW (4, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769164)

Unless oil drillers are required by law to pay someone for devices like this one. In that case, there'll be lots of people making them in quantity, especially without the intellectual "property" obstacles and costs.

And if they're not required by law, it doesn't matter how closed or proprietary they are: oil driller will never spend a cent on them, no matter in whose interests (including their own) it would be.

Re:OSHW (4, Informative)

mdfst13 (664665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35771424)

Devices (perhaps less energy efficient and certainly not as automated) like this already exist and were available during the oil spill crisis. The Dutch offered to loan some of their skimmer boats to the US early in the crisis. The US turned them down as not being efficient enough (<sarcasm>obviously, it's better to let the spill keep growing rather than skim out a mere 98% of the oil</sarcasm>). Once the spill had already spread, the US government then granted a waiver to allow the Dutch ships to be used.

The article doesn't touch on the question of whether or not these particular devices would meet US environmental requirements. Even if they existed, it's not clear that the US government would have allowed them to be used in the early days of the crisis.

Note that the delay made the existing devices less effective in a couple ways. First, they reduced the amount of time the skimmers could be used before the oil became too diffuse. Second, they would have been most effective at the beginning of the crisis when the oil was at its most localized. When working in an area that is 50% oil, it doesn't matter as much that they leave 2% contamination (or whatever the actual number is; I can't find a citation for the actual efficiency at the moment). That's still a removal of 96% of the oil. However, if there is only 4% oil, then leaving 2% is leaving 50% of the oil that was present.

Example citation for the refusal of the Dutch help (based on a Google search): http://www.eagleworldnews.com/2010/06/15/obama-refuses-dutch-help-for-gulf-oil-crisis/ [eagleworldnews.com]

AAHAHAH!! (0)

Servaas (1050156) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769070)

Are you fracking kidding me? That isn't cost effecient for a task that's cheapest if you just shrug! And how much can one such an "eel" carry? Coke can of oil? No... no this will not do.

Re:AAHAHAH!! (1)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769108)

You're right. No need to innovate. An autonomous sailing boat that can carry a load can't possibly be useful for anything.

Re:AAHAHAH!! (1)

Servaas (1050156) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769138)

Maybe they shoudn't talk about it like its the second coming then. It was a fun experience for all, but that is all. Forgive me for hoping there was an actual solution to the problem.

Re:AAHAHAH!! (1)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769160)

They're trying to change the world. Of course they're excited =) Did you look at Cesar's other project? "Open_Sailing group which aim is to build the International_Ocean_Station" https://sites.google.com/a/opensailing.net/www/ [google.com]

Re:AAHAHAH!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769346)

There is a solution: Reduce energy consumption, improve energy efficiency and use less catastrophic sources of energy.

We choose not to implement this solution.

Re:AAHAHAH!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35772586)

I know of a few organizations in Central and South America that may find some uses.

Re:AAHAHAH!! (1)

tzot (834456) | more than 3 years ago | (#35782916)

> And how much can one such an "eel" carry? Coke can of oil? No... no this will not do.

Um. Of course this will not do. This is a prototype. Nobody intends to unleash countless prototype-sized Protei into the sea. Their target is to make 10-20 m long Protei.

Just read their site, and then you can try to come back with other failings of larger Protei in order to validate your unbased initial "this will not do".

$150 pledge gives me more than just a hoodie. (3, Interesting)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769090)

I pledged $150 to this project and look forward to wearing the Protei hoodie that they'll send me. I couldn't believe that it hadn't gotten more attention. I'm not affiliated with the project in any way, but I know that I'm going to weep with bitter joy when I see one of these skimming oil from an oil spill. I hated the feelings of helplessness and desperation that I hada when watching the tragedy of the Gulf spill. Supporting this project at least gives me something concrete to do which just may one day help keep our oceans clean.

Re:$150 pledge gives me more than just a hoodie. (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35820806)

I pledged $150 to this project and look forward to wearing the Protei hoodie that they'll send me.

Congratulations ; a positive contribution.

I couldn't believe that it hadn't gotten more attention.

It's news to me too, which annoys me more than a little as I work in the industry. But it doesn't particularly surprise me - the industry is notoriously discussion-of-risk averse.

I'm not affiliated with the project in any way, but I know that I'm going to weep with bitter joy when I see one of these skimming oil from an oil spill.

Not affiliated, except by being a funder? ... well, it's your slice of cake ; it's up to you to choose whether you wish to eat it. (But it doesn't keep!)

I hated the feelings of helplessness and desperation that I [had] when watching the tragedy of the Gulf spill.

Which one of the many was that? Oh, you mean the relatively recent one in the American Gulf, not the routine and continuing ones in the Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea, South China Sea, etc, etc ad nauseam. Let alone the many continuing leaks in and around ports, from small shipwrecks, etc. Or is this only a tool suitable for use in big events?

It's an interesting technology.

Supporting this project at least gives me something concrete to do which just may one day help keep our oceans clean.

When did you sell your last car and revoke your driving license? How many flights are you foregoing this year and using video-conferencing instead? Does this week's food shopping have a lower food-miles bill than last week's shopping?

Did I mention it's open sourced? (2)

zill (1690130) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769094)

...low-cost...open-source...crowd sourced... open source...collaboratively developed... collaborate, working together ...Licensed under the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) license

It's like an infinite number of monkeys on typewriters collaborated by working together to crowd source this open-source summary.

I think simply mentioning OSHW once is sufficient for the slashdot crowd, considering our familiarity [slashdot.org] with the topic [slashdot.org] .

Re:Did I mention it's open sourced? (2)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769186)

Yeah, you're mostly right. But it's easier for the indoctrinated to filter it out than it is for others to "pick up" on the significance of the fact. People have to be told, repeatedly, and in demonstrable terms, that open source is important. This sank in for me when I saw Richard Stallman speaking to a crowd of technology deciders in San Francisco. I was amazed that even the people who control budgets in the Valley don't "get" open source. So when I speak about OS projects, I really lay it on thick, to make sure that such a vital aspect of their being doesn't get overlooked.

Re:Did I mention it's open sourced? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769440)

People have to be told, repeatedly, and in demonstrable terms, that open source is important.

Babbling incoherently about a mishmash of esoteric freetard jargon isn't going to convert anyone. Especially not those Silicon Valley execs. You saw Richard Stallman as an iconic visionary that they didn't get. They saw a looney hippie with ridiculous idealism and zealotry whose ideas are obviously unworkable for them. You're never going to see software companies suddenly "get it" en masse and open source everything they do, as Stallman desires. Most of them would go out of business because the only known successful profit models in Open Source only work for fairly narrow categories of software.

Also, in what way is anything these people are doing important yet? They have made a few toy boats by processes which appear to involve precious little engineering. Great, they're having fun building odd RC models by the seat of their pants. Wake me up when they actually have a real world saving technology, by which I mean something full size that has proven its ability to not sink or be damaged by rough seas and has also proven its ability to usefully replace existing oil cleanup systems.

You probably aren't actually an engineer, so you probably aren't aware that scaling problems and refining a concept technology (especially a somewhat out-there one like this) so that it is useful in practice are both enormous problems. They're not 90% there, they're not 50% there, they're probably not even 5% there, and they certainly haven't proven that they'll be able to get good results with more funding. But this FA tries to make it sound like it's a sure thing, or maybe already accomplished, and it's Super Awesome that Open Source Did This!!!!

Re:Did I mention it's open sourced? (2)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769516)

I'm optimistic that they'll achieve what they state is their goal - to build a larger prototype. They have a list of engineers working on the project, and I trust that the funding they get here and the extra publicity, along with the publicity they have gotten from the TEDx event, will help propel the idea, if it is indeed worthy. I agree about Stallman - I sat there the whole time thinking "You're doing it wrong!" But that doesn't mean there isn't a need for evangelizing about open source principles.

Re:Did I mention it's open sourced? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35771170)

It's like an infinite number of monkeys on typewriters collaborated by working together to crowd source this open-source summary.

And one, that while invoking all the 'right' buzzwords, fail to make clear the key point - this project is largely vaporware. Yeah, they've made some cute models and a cool website... but the actual engineering accomplished in real world is roughly zero. They want to build a Concorde, but so far all they've demonstrated is a paper airplane.

Unsinkable (4, Insightful)

seepho (1959226) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769104)

Haven't we learned by now not to call any sort of seafaring vessel unsinkable?

Re:Unsinkable (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769854)

"Haven't we learned by now not to call any sort of seafaring vessel unsinkable?"

No.

Plastic? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769122)

It says oil, but can it be made to do plastic too? Or can it be modified to do plastic? Oil does disperse over time. Plastic does too, but plastic takes a lot more time. Birds can pass some oil. They choke on plastic (so do fish and whales). Oil breaks down faster than plastic. I'm just thinking of the 300 mile diameter toilet bowl of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I always dreamed of sailing the Pacific, but floating in a schmantzy boat through mile after mile of trash takes a lot of the joy out of it. Worse, if you collect it, noone wants you to park in their port, since they think you might want to return (what is part of their problem) to them, and thats how the crap got out there in the first place.

Re:Plastic? (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35770154)

Think about it. That's where these things will wind up floating dead if they are ever produced at all.

BTW if you are sailing and competent you would stay in the trade winds and hence out of the patch.

Re:Plastic? (2)

jbengt (874751) | more than 3 years ago | (#35770580)

I always dreamed of sailing the Pacific, but floating in a schmantzy boat through mile after mile of trash takes a lot of the joy out of it.

If you sailed through it, there's a decent chance you wouldn't notice it, as it is composed of small, widely dispersed particles. Which is just the size for pieces of plastic to cause problems for a lot of hungry sea life.

Cleaning Up the Appearance of Tragedy (4, Insightful)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769152)

could help prevent the tragedy of the next oil spill.

The slick on the surface isn't "the tragedy" of these oil spills. Most of the tragedy is below the surface, where TV cameras and congressmembers won't see it.

I welcome anything good at cleaning up our messes. Especially a device this open and energy efficient. But let's not pretend that cleaning up the surface could possibly "prevent the tragedy". By the time this thing is out there cleaning up, most of the tragedy has already gone down. And pretending it's OK is exactly what the oil drilling biz depends on people thinking so the oil drillers don't have to invest anything in actually preventing the next tragedy.

Re:Cleaning Up the Appearance of Tragedy (2)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769198)

Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly. Show me a Kickstarter project to fund where we can actually prevent the real tragedy, and I'll increase my pledge by an order of magnitude. I'm just happy to see something innovative come along that returns a modicum of power and control to normal people - caring people who are out to make a difference.

Re:Cleaning Up the Appearance of Tragedy (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769210)

The problem is that if you don't remove the surface coat of oil everything below ends up suffocating. Mind you cleaning up the oil on the surface really isn't enough, but you're not going to have anything left if you don't deal with it in some fashion.

Re:Cleaning Up the Appearance of Tragedy (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769954)

The problem is that what you just said is one of the stupidest things I've heard about an oil spill.

Re:Cleaning Up the Appearance of Tragedy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769584)

Actually, the oil does tend to stay on the water surface until you spray it with dispersants like corexit. Then a fraction of it sinks out of view (and as no doubt intended, out of mind). Anything you can skim off the surface before it hits beaches or tidal marshlands is worth doing.

Cleaning up below the surface with oxygen. (3, Interesting)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769858)

Last summer, when the oil geyser had been flowing uninhibited for over two months, I posted here about my idea for using the US Navy's portable nuclear reactors [teslabox.com] to power air pumps that would oxygenate ocean waters affected by the spill. The oxygen would feed the bacteria already present in the water that happily consume seeped oil.

The slick on the surface isn't "the tragedy" of these oil spills. Most of the tragedy is below the surface, where TV cameras and congressmembers won't see it.

One of the visitors said that it'd be difficult to pump air to the depths of the ocean, and suggested pumping oxygenated surface water instead. I took that and other feedback to write a short followup piece on Cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico [teslabox.com] .

I welcome anything good at cleaning up our messes. Especially a device this open and energy efficient. But let's not pretend that cleaning up the surface could possibly "prevent the tragedy". By the time this thing is out there cleaning up, most of the tragedy has already gone down.

While this thing might be okay for little oil spills, like the one from a few weeks ago [chron.com] , effectively responding to future underwater blowouts will require massive infrastructure and power. Like what could be stored on, delivered and powered by a retired nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

I just want the politicians to order the Navy to get some guys thinking about the idea: When Disaster Strikes, Send the Enterprise [sendtheenterprise.org] . Or maybe I'll write the Japanese embassy to suggest that they offer to buy the Enterprise, thereby saving the US Navy $millions in decommissioning costs. They have the infrastructure to refuel it, if required, and the motivation to dedicate it to disaster response.

Re:Cleaning up below the surface with oxygen. (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35770194)

I was sort of following your logic until you got to the part about selling a worn out fleet carrier to the Japanese.

You realize the navy doesn't sell stuff that's still good enough?

You realize that humanitarian missions have no need for CAP and all that it entails?

Carriers are great at projecting power through portable air power. They are highly specialized and expensive as hell. It would be cheaper to start from scratch.

You also remember what happened that last time Japan had carriers? If you want to make the Chinese very nervous it might be a good idea. Then again the Japanese might just trade the Chinese the Enterprise for a few ships built to spec.

Re:Cleaning up below the surface with oxygen. (1)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#35770334)

I was sort of following your logic until you got to the part about selling a worn out fleet carrier to the Japanese.

It may be obsolete as a force-projecting aircraft carrier. But they just spent $600 million to refurbish it, so surely some use can still be found for it as some other type of boat. The Japanese wouldn't have to offer much: a token dollar would be fine by me.

If the Japanese Self Defense forces bought the boat, the US Navy could even remove the catapults and arresting wires as a condition of sale.

The main thing is to get some imaginative navy officers to do a study before the ship gets cut apart.

Re:Cleaning up below the surface with oxygen. (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#35771826)

Like what could be stored on, delivered and powered by a retired nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

In some universe where nuclear carriers aren't retired because they are worn out, that would be a useful concept. Here in the real world, it's a ludicrous idea.
 

I just want the politicians to order the Navy to get some guys thinking about the idea

It'll take the Navy about three months to reply - but while the executive summary of the report will actually be dry bureaucratase, it will pretty much say "ROFLMAO".
 

Or maybe I'll write the Japanese embassy to suggest that they offer to buy the Enterprise, thereby saving the US Navy $millions in decommissioning costs.

In some universe where the US would even consider selling the Enterprise... that might be a useful endeavor. Here in the real universe, your letter will be filed where it belongs - in the recycling bin.
 

They have the infrastructure to refuel it, if required, and the motivation to dedicate it to disaster response.

In some universe where the Japanese have any experience fabricating HEU fuel, let alone refuelling the reactors - you'd have a good point. Here in the real universe the Japanese not only lack the infrastructure, the lack even a fraction of the relevant experience.
 
Just as I said the last time you posted this nonsense - you haven't the foggiest clue what you're talking about. We even engaged in a lengthy discussion where it appeared you might be interested in and capable of learning - but now the truth is apparent... you're an ignorant nutjob.

my fixation on the Enterprise is about marketing (1)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#35772122)

Hi again,

I meant to email you about some feedback I received, but I didn't get around to it & then I forgot. Sorry about that.

A few weeks back I sent an email to a blog with a post about an aircraft carrier being used to power a city. He too thought it was a horrible idea, but said it was original so he put it out for discussion. The responders agreed that Enterprise was not appropriate. But many felt that a "dedicated disaster response ship" could be useful, and that either something purpose-built, or a retired LHA would be good. One of the posters at the USNI said LHA-1 is currently awaiting it's fate as a target.

Ideas of every type have to be marketed before they can be implemented, and "Send the USS Tarawa" doesn't market like Enterprise. :)

Here's those links:
http://conflicthealth.com/send-the-enterprise/ [conflicthealth.com]
http://blog.usni.org/2011/03/19/send-the-enterprise/ [usni.org]

I have a comment at each of those two links. I'll appreciate your response here.

Re:Cleaning up below the surface with oxygen. (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35821216)

Last summer, when the oil geyser had been flowing uninhibited for over two months, I posted here about my idea

Well, it's compactly presented and has obviously had fair thought applied to it, so it deserves a reasoned response.

for using the US Navy's portable nuclear reactors to power air pumps that would oxygenate ocean waters affected by the spill. The oxygen would feed the bacteria already present in the water that happily consume seeped oil.

... which would work until the [bacterial] populations reached the next limiting nutrient after oxygen. So you need to apply other nutrients than just oxygen, and you need to apply the right ones in the right quantities at the right times. That's going to vary from place to place, and possibly from time to time. The research programmes to provide this information will need to be started years or decades before the event occurs. So, someone, somewhere needs to get cracking on that problem yesterday, if not sooner. (Whether that someone is the consumer or the vendor is a different political issue, best left to politicians.)

The slick on the surface isn't "the tragedy" of these oil spills. Most of the tragedy is below the surface, where TV cameras and congressmembers won't see it. [SNIP] But let's not pretend that cleaning up the surface could possibly "prevent the tragedy". By the time this thing is out there cleaning up, most of the tragedy has already gone down.

Probably true. Unfortunately human nature isn't very good at giving a shit about things it can't see.

effectively responding to future underwater blowouts will require massive infrastructure and power. Like what could be stored on, delivered and powered by a retired nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

You did say "effectively" ; what's the undocking and sailing time for such a vessel from, for example, the USN docks on the West Coast to, for example, the source of much of America's energy in the Persian Gulf? A week, a month, six weeks?

Having resources on "hot standby" has costs, real costs. What's the annual leakage of pollution (nuclear, chemical, biological) from a crewed carrier already? Let alone the actual operating cost?

It's an idea ; I don't think it's a particularly good one, but it's an idea.

The Protei (wrong case, surely?), as an idea for a low-maintenance ocean-going platform, has a lot of interesting potentials. It might even be plausible to rapidly re-purpose one (or many) from their normal duties to perform clean-up.

An anonymous sailing robot??? (2)

stevegee58 (1179505) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769258)

Like from 4chan?

Oh. Nevar mind.

Wind Power (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35769362)

Why use wind power when there's all that juicy oil floating around??

the OTHER application of this... (2)

0WaitState (231806) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769432)

Mentioned in TFA but not the summary, is the idea that these could be deployed to work on the plastic fragments floating around in the pacific gyre. Don't know if the scope is feasible, but it's fairly original and more scalable than any other approach I've heard of.

Also, they've developed an articulating hull to deal with drag of a long tail--it's rather original. They're up front about not yet knowing howing it'll behave when the tail accumulates a full load of oil. That's why they're raising money for the next version (#6).

Re:the OTHER application of this... (1)

popeyethesailorman (735746) | more than 3 years ago | (#35774206)

... articulating hull to deal with drag of a long tail

The articulating hull is to assist with tacking (Moving the rudder forward is how they dealt with the drag of a long tow-load).

Why not gybe instead of tacking? I suspect that would risk entanglement with the long tail.

Another fine iRobot product?! (2)

the_skywise (189793) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769522)

But will it still have trouble finding home base to recharge?!

How much for low cost? (3, Informative)

Hairy1 (180056) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769632)

They want tens of thousands of dollars to make a prototype that will be "low cost"? This isn't a story about something that has been actually made. How much is actually required to make a autonomous boat? Well, I guess I know a little more than most, since I've actually built a prototype - the budget needed for all the parts easily comes in under $3000.

My latest efforts are here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zvC-CpljCc [youtube.com]

The "Open Boat" project is intended as a research platform; eventually to permit long term sea going boats to perform research such as weather monitoring. It is also the first step towards investigating autonomous cargo vessels. All the software is open source, and currently running on a Linux based ARM.

Re:How much for low cost? (1)

rDouglass (1068738) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769706)

That's awesome! What would you do with more budget? Have you considered collaborating with Protei? It seems like they're at a similar stage to you - they've done their initial prototyping on a shoestring and now need more $$$ to take the next step.

Re:How much for low cost? (1)

Hairy1 (180056) | more than 3 years ago | (#35769936)

Right now this is a "fun" project - I'm not trying to get too worried about the applications. The real issue with autonomous boats is the ability to visually detect and avoid other craft. While not important with small models like I've got now, once we start to get to a reasonable size it will need to be able to process visual information to identify and avoid collisions.

I think it is a mistake to try and build a boat like this around a specific application - especially cleaning oil. Energy would be better directed into developing systems to carry cargo. Think about cargo ships sailing into dangerous areas - such as those with pirates. If you have a ship that is autonomous there are no lives to risk, and if boarded the control systems could be buried under tons of cargo; impossible to reach, and with ability to control from on board.

Such vessels would be controlled by satellite. They would of course need the software to run autonomously, including interfacing with radar, GPS, visual etc. Another advantage with this approach would be that you could make them smaller, and make them sailing ships; or perhaps wind turbine or kite assisted. Plenty of possibilities to reduce the carbon emissions of international trade.

autonomy and liability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35771784)

I think the real problem with autonomous boats is the liability aspect. Admiralty and maritime law doesn't explicitly deal with this, so it's going to be very difficult to get insurance cover, so you'd basically wind up doing what cheap shippers do.. use a flag of convenience and make sure there's no assets to sue for.

There's several fairly good law review type articles discussing this issue out there on the web.

Nobody is going to pay for an autonomous ship that might run into a Disney cruise ship full of terminally ill children on their "make a wish" cruise.

Re:How much for low cost? (2)

Zerth (26112) | more than 3 years ago | (#35772150)

Think about cargo ships sailing into dangerous areas - such as those with pirates. If you have a ship that is autonomous there are no lives to risk, and if boarded the control systems could be buried under tons of cargo; impossible to reach, and with ability to control from on board.

So the pirates can just climb on, take the cargo, and sail off without anybody trying to stop them? Awesome.

Re:How much for low cost? (1)

Hairy1 (180056) | more than 3 years ago | (#35779354)

And exactly are they going to control a robotic vessel with it's rudder and propulsion at the bottom of the ship covered in tons and tons of cargo? Hell - they will need gear to cut into the hold just to get access to cargo, and then they need some way to carry it away. The ship won't stop, and if you do manage to disable the control systems you won't have any easy means to actually control the ship. It would be much more difficult to pirate such a ship.

can you say, "free parts". (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35770262)

How are they planning on protecting these anonymous devices on the high seas?
Can it dive for long periods of time?

Not enough power generation (1)

nonsequitor (893813) | more than 3 years ago | (#35771658)

If they want to use that boat battery to operate the winch and the micro controller, they'll need more than a solar panel to charge it. They should consider adding a forward facing prop under the hull to harvest power from the vessel's slip stream to run a small generator as an additional power source for the battery. Though in their design, I didn't see how they planned to actuate the rudder (did it have a rudder?) to maintain a steady bearing to harness the wind effectively.

Could it really work? (1)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | more than 3 years ago | (#35772354)

I watched the vid but I wasn't convinced that you could pull something through the water like a kite tail and have it pick up significant amount of oil. I used to mow a couple of acres of grass every week using a riding lawn mower. The width of the cutting deck was 46" but it still took a fair amount of time to cover the area. In all the pictures, the absorber looked really small in diameter. One of these trying to soak up a square mile of oil would look pretty ineffectual especially as viewed from above it would just be carving a thin line that would close back up after a few minutes. I would think you'd have to have many thousands of them working in concert to put a dent in any but the tiniest spills. BTM

Dear Subby (0)

AP31R0N (723649) | more than 3 years ago | (#35774276)

Robots are, by definition, autonomous.

Don't be confused by the pop culture tendency to call any machine that doesn't have a pilot inside it a robot. For instance, UAVs and the Battle Bots are not robots, they are piloted remotely like the RC cars you had as a kid.

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