Will Biorobots Clean Up the Seas?

In a paper published on 13 January 2020, researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University discuss computer-designed, novel organisms called Xenobots. Xenobots consist of skin and muscle cells. The skin cells stabilize the organisms, the muscle cells enable them to perform different activities. A nervous system is not present. An AI system calculates the optimal structure and ratio of the cells in relation to a specific function. The Xenobots are assembled according to the resulting construction plan. In fact, the cells appear to work together. The researchers see different areas of application. One could build Xenobots that move forward in the sea and have a pocket inside in which they collect microplastics. Once the biorobots are filled, they can go to a place where they die, whereby it is not clear whether they live at all, like classical organisms. In any case, all that would remain in this place would be the plastic particles and functionless cells. Both can easily be disposed of. However, Xenobots would also be swallowed by marine animals like fishs and turtles during their work and would be exposed to other dangers. In addition, normal robots are better suited for the removal of macroplastics.

Robots against Plastic Waste

WasteShark is a remotely controlled robot by Ranmarine Technologies that collects plastics from the surface of lakes and oceans. “Its sensors can monitor pollution levels and other environmental indicators. It is electrically powered, emission-free and can collect hundreds of kilos of rubbish at a time.” (Euronews, 15 December 2019) According to Euronews, Richard Hardiman, the founder of the start-up-company, said: “What we’re trying to do is create a small enough vessel that will get into tight spaces where waste collects, particularly in the harbours and the ports, and stop all that waste being taken out into the greater ocean.” (Euronews, 15 December 2019) The project received support from the European funds allocated to making plastic circular. An overview of the most important projects against plastic waste in water can be found here.

The Interceptor in the Cengkareng Drain

Plastic in rivers and seas is one of the biggest problems of our time. Whether bottles or bags, whether macro or micro plastic – the flora and fauna is impaired and destroyed. Six projects against plastic waste have already been presented here. The focus was on the seas. One of the initiatives is now also active in the rivers. This is very important because what is fished out in the rivers no longer ends up in the oceans. The magazine Fast Company reported on 26 October 2019: “In the Cengkareng Drain, a river that runs through the megacity of Jakarta, Indonesia, tons of plastic trash flows to the ocean each year. But now a new solar-powered robot called the Interceptor is gobbling up the waste so that it can be recycled instead. The system was designed by the nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup, which spent the past four years secretly developing and testing the technology while it continued to work on its main project – a device that can capture plastic trash once it’s already in the ocean.” (Fast Company, 26 October 2019) This is good news. However, the most important thing is to avoid plastic waste. Otherwise, the destruction of the waters will continue unstoppably.