MIT unveils prototype oil-skimming robots

Here’s a new way of looking at oil spill clean-up: Forget the big ships, massive work crews and hefty price tags.

Instead, just deploy an army of autonomous, oil-scrubbing robots. They can find the oil on their own. And when they reach the site of an oil spill, they talk to their robot friends to figure out the best way to get the whole thing mopped up.

That’s the vision the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put forward on Wednesday as the school announced the development of a prototypical robot called Seaswarm. The $20,000 robots will be unveiled officially to the public on Saturday at an event in Venice, Italy, and will be ready to deal with oil spills in about a year, said Assaf Biderman, who oversaw MIT’s research team on the project.

The Seaswarm robots…look like a treadmill conveyor belt that’s been attached to an ice cooler. The conveyor belt piece of the system floats on the surface of the ocean. As it turns, the belt propels the robot forward and lifts oil off the water with the help of a nanomaterial that’s engineered to attract oil and repel water…

The material on the robot’s conveyer belt, which MIT calls a “paper towel for oil spills,” can absorb up to 20 times its weight in oil.

Once it has absorbed the crude from the surface of the ocean, the robot can either burn off the oil on the spot, using a heater on the “ice cooler” part of its body, or it can bag the oil and leave it on the surface of the water for a later pick-up, Biderman said. That oil could be reused or recycled…

The Seaswarm robots operate on solar energy and require only 100 watts of power, or about that of a bright light bulb. They could stay at sea for months, Biderman said, and could operate around the clock.

The science silver lining rolls out, once again. Too bad it took a disaster to prompt research along this and other lines, research to deal with oil spills.

Consider what could have been if the ever-greedy oil corporations spent a fraction of one percent of their profits on remediation and prevention of environmental disasters? Instead of turning their tame Congressional pimps to churning out taxpayer-paid subsidies to exploration schemes?

One thought on “MIT unveils prototype oil-skimming robots

  1. cantueso says:

    Yes, the congressional pimps are a problem, but the voting pimps are another one. Look how people have given up. They say it is not worth it, nobody will listen to them anyway.

    Not worth what? Their time?

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