Protei: articulated, backward sailing robots clean oil spills

The Protei project aims to develop a robotic solution for oil-spill cleanup. [Cesar Harada] quit what he calls his dream job at MIT to work toward a solution to the ecological disasters that are oil spills. He had previously been working on Seaswarm, a swarm of robots that use conveyor belts of absorbent material to leech oil from seawater. But Protei doesn’t use legions of drones. It aims to use better design to improve the effectiveness of a small number of units.

The whole idea is well described in the video after the break. If a long trailing boom of absorbent material is towed in a serpentine pattern perpendicular to the flow, starting down current and moving upward, it can be quite effective at halting the spread of crude. Initial experiments have shown that a robotic vessel can do this efficiently with just a few improvements. First, to counteract the drag of the tail the rudder of the boat was moved to the bow. Secondly, the hull has been articulated as you can see above. This allows the robot to better utilize wind power to sail, making turns without losing the push of the wind.

The project is raising money through Kickstart as an open hardware project. Let’s hope this becomes a cheap and effective way to fix our costly drilling mishaps. [Read more...]

Unmanned ocean crossing

This is the Pinta, an autonomous sailboat built to attempt an ocean crossing from Ireland to Martinique (in the Caribbean). A group of researchers at Aberystwyth University built her as part of the Microtransat Challenge.

To keep tabs on the vessel her creators included an Iridium short burst data modem with a backup system made from a SPOT satellite tracker using a PIC microcontroller to trigger a transmission every six hours. The sailing systems are a conglomeration of a Gumstix board, GPS, a windshield wiper motor to control the sail, and a tiller pilot for steering. A set of solar panels helps to top off the lead-acid batteries that power the system.

Unfortunately the old gal has encountered problems. You can see from the tracking data that, although it sailed 500 km in the last twelve days, she is still just off the coast of Ireland. The primary tracking system has failed, which could signal a system-wide computer failure. We hope the team will eventually recover the vessel as we’re interested in finding out what caused this unfortunate turn of events.

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