WasteShark, the plastic-eating drone
Richard Hardiman, the accidental environmentalist, speaks honestly about his entrepreneurial journey, discovering a passion for drones and plastic recycling he never dreamed of, and how the creative, entrepreneurial side lies in each of us- waiting to be unleashed.
RanMarine Technology B.V. have just launched WasteShark, their first product. These fully autonomous drones swim through the water, collecting waste and other non-biodegradables, whilst gathering data about the environment.
Q: What’s unique or innovative about RanMarine Technology?
Waste removal and plastic recycling is not a ‘sexy’ subject but when you start using drones in water to start reducing the negative effects of pollution, that generally sparks a conversation, not only about just how bad pollution in our oceans has gotten, but how cool the future of technology really is.
Our products are unique but I think our innovation and understanding of what the future needs are our most differentiating aspects.
Q: What inspired you to start?
A few years ago, I was watching two men in a boat cleaning out an area of water with a pool net; a small and relatively ineffective pool net and the inefficiency in that process just drove me mad, especially given the amount of trash they were trying to collect with that net.
I started playing around with the idea of automated scoops to pick this up and filter the plastic out, eventually, I narrowed it down to USV’s (Unmanned Surface Vehicles/Vessels) and how we could use drone technology to automate this plastic collection.
As with any idea that speaks to current problems, everyone I spoke to about this solution got very excited, but an idea is one thing, committing to it and creating something that has never been done before is quite another.
“Eventually, I built a prototype in my garage; it was made of plumbers piping Arduino boards and some bilge pumps to act as motors – I put it all together with some crudely written code and tested the prototype in my pool; despite my skills, it worked!”
From there I joined an Accelerator (portxl.org) in Rotterdam and found new partners and investment and we have been building ever since.
Q: What’s your biggest achievement to date?
It may sound odd but the fact that we created a business from scratch, which was based on the idea of “what if”, and turned that into something that has a demand globally…that to me is pretty big. It sounds like a linear process, you have an idea, build a prototype, find investment and create a product, but the journey is far harder and path far more winding than that – we created something that never existed before and that always pleases me.
Q: What’s your plans for the next 6 months or year?
Our next two months is totally focussed on market readiness; we have a number of drones out in the field right now (The Netherlands, USA, Africa and India) been tested by launching customers and partners with a view to refining the requirements, usability and tweaking any parts of the software and hardware for customer-readiness. Along with this, we are into scale-up mode on our production lines and logistics into our launching markets; 2018 is the year we started sending our first product The WasteShark around the globe, so internally we are focused on making these steps as simple as possible. Parallel to this, we are working on our next two products, so its all systems go.
Q: What do you wish you’d known at the beginning? Has inspiration come from unexpected places?
I knew nothing about drones, maritime or even the huge problem that is plastic waste before I saw those two men in a boat with their net; My inspiration came from trying to solve a problem of inefficacy in a process, as many new innovations do – if you had asked me three or four years ago did I think I would be doing what I am doing now I would have laughed…but that’s because inspiration and innovation do come from the most unlikely of places and send you on a path that you can’t always predict, but that’s half the fun.
If we had to start over again there would, of course, be things I would change, decisions, partnerships or development paths that you would not have taken, but these are all learning processes, you try your best not to make the same mistake twice but quite often you do anyway. Part of being an entrepreneur is having the tenacity to live with your mistakes, choices and the constant threat of failure and learning to adapt to that and continue going forward.
“…If you had asked me three or four years ago did I think I would be doing what I am doing now I would have laughed…”
Is there a particular moment where you had to rethink things?
There have been many moments! Oddly though never one of giving up – with anything new and untested you invariably come up against problems that you thought would be simple to solve and become almost show-stoppers to the project, but I am big on solutions, you can find problems everywhere in life…I prefer that if I am shown a problem I am also given one or two possibilities on how we intend to solve the problem; too often we use a problem to mean that we no longer have to work or think, that is just lazy.
It is going well now but that doesn’t mean that problems do not arise, we are a small and growing team and we are working well together, but with a problem the size of the one we are trying to help solve, roadblocks and problems occur every day; its just how you manage your way around or through them.
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