Drones for Trash Clean Up in Waterways Could Save the Oceans

A project using drones for trash clean up in Denmark could show the way to saving the oceans from an environmental disaster caused by the massive volume of plastic that pollutes them.  (Part two of a two-part series on the use of drone-captured images and machine-learning software in the cause of cleaning up the environment.)

Project combines use of flying, floating drones for trash ID and collection, to clean up Danish waterways

Denmark has launched a unique experimental project, combining both unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned watercraft to combat oil slicks and floating trash in the nation’s waters.

The CityShark program, designed to coordinate the use of the two different types of drones, began in July 2019, with the use by the Danish coastal city of Aarhus of WasteShark, an unmanned waste-gobbling sailing vessel, manufactured by Rotterdam-based RanMarine Technology.
In the first phase of the project, the WasteShark, owned by the Port of Aarhus, autonomously roamed the waters at the mouth of the Aarhus River where the river flows into the harbor, and scooped up solid waste — plastic bottles, single-use cups, plastic bags and other floating debris. The WasteShark is able to collect 500 kilograms (about 1,100 pounds) of debris each day.
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These drones look for trash in waterways

In a river in the Danish city of Århus, a small machine called the WasteShark now autonomously sails through the water collecting trash, bringing it to shore, and then recharging itself. Soon, a drone will begin flying through the air to help: Using a special lens that collects data to be crunched by a machine learning algorithm, that drone can identify pieces of plastic or other garbage and direct the sailing drone to pick them up. The system can also identify oil spills, which the WasteShark can help clean up with a special filter.

“We’re testing a technology that can be scaled in a lot of different ways,” says Martin Skjold Grøntved, a special consultant for the Danish Climate Ministry. While the small trash-eating drone isn’t new, the addition of the flying drone makes it possible to find more garbage more quickly. The sailing drone also hasn’t been used to clean up oil spills in the past, because without the drone overhead scanning the water, it wouldn’t be able to identify the oil.

he tech startup Kinetica worked with the agency to provide a data platform, running on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, that makes the trash detection algorithm run quickly. This isn’t the first time they’ve helped equip drones to detect trash. Kinetica also worked with the nonprofit San Francisco Estuary Institute to test another project that uses drones to track how much waste is entering waterways to help understand how well waste-prevention efforts are working. In the past, that data was difficult to gather at a large scale. “Resources are limited, and city programs have only so much to put towards these efforts,” says Tony Hale, program director for environmental informatics at the San Francisco Estuary Institute. “Nonprofits have only so many people to put towards these efforts. And it’s a very time-intensive process to go out and just do the cleanups, first of all, let alone to count the amount of trash and then characterize it by certain categories. What this drone-based and machine learning-based method offers is a way to expand the geography.”

Read the full article by Fast Company – article