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An Autonomous Sailing Robot To Clean Up Oil Spills 62

rDouglass writes "Protei is a low-cost, open-source oil collecting robot that autonomously sails upwind, intercepting oil sheens going downwind. This crowd sourced, open source hardware, collaboratively developed project could help prevent the tragedy of the next oil spill. Furthermore, it is a prime example of what people can do together when they collaborate, working together on the research and development, design, and funding. Licensed under the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) license guarantees that as many people in all parts of the world will benefit from this effort as possible."
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An Autonomous Sailing Robot To Clean Up Oil Spills

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  • Re:OSHW (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Saturday April 09, 2011 @03:44PM (#35769338) Homepage

    It looks like it discharges cleaner water into the ocean. That might make it illegal in the US, due to some bizarre interpretation of EPA regulations.

    I was reading that European and Middle-East cleanup ships were turned away from helping with cleanup. This was due to their principle of operation - they would skim muck from the surface, separate the oil and water, and discharge the water back into the ocean, keeping the oil in a holding tank. The problem is that they didn't clean the water they discharged up to EPA standards. Cleanup ships were required to store the mostly-clean water they would otherwise discharge, which means they would have to make frequent trips to dump their tanks.

    This is of course absurd, since a ship that takes in a 50% oil solution and outputs a 0.1% oil solution can operate indefinitely and only make things better. The regulation was meant to apply to devices that prevent oil spills in the first place (dumping nothing into a clean ocean is better than dumping 0.1% oil solution).

    Utterly amazing. Clearly regulation is necessary (otherwise there is no incentive to not pollute in the first place), but such strict application of law is something right out of Kefka or Wikipedia... :)

  • by Hairy1 ( 180056 ) on Saturday April 09, 2011 @04:31PM (#35769632) Homepage

    They want tens of thousands of dollars to make a prototype that will be "low cost"? This isn't a story about something that has been actually made. How much is actually required to make a autonomous boat? Well, I guess I know a little more than most, since I've actually built a prototype - the budget needed for all the parts easily comes in under $3000.

    My latest efforts are here: []

    The "Open Boat" project is intended as a research platform; eventually to permit long term sea going boats to perform research such as weather monitoring. It is also the first step towards investigating autonomous cargo vessels. All the software is open source, and currently running on a Linux based ARM.

  • Re:OSHW (Score:5, Informative)

    by mdfst13 ( 664665 ) on Saturday April 09, 2011 @09:51PM (#35771424)

    Devices (perhaps less energy efficient and certainly not as automated) like this already exist and were available during the oil spill crisis. The Dutch offered to loan some of their skimmer boats to the US early in the crisis. The US turned them down as not being efficient enough (<sarcasm>obviously, it's better to let the spill keep growing rather than skim out a mere 98% of the oil</sarcasm>). Once the spill had already spread, the US government then granted a waiver to allow the Dutch ships to be used.

    The article doesn't touch on the question of whether or not these particular devices would meet US environmental requirements. Even if they existed, it's not clear that the US government would have allowed them to be used in the early days of the crisis.

    Note that the delay made the existing devices less effective in a couple ways. First, they reduced the amount of time the skimmers could be used before the oil became too diffuse. Second, they would have been most effective at the beginning of the crisis when the oil was at its most localized. When working in an area that is 50% oil, it doesn't matter as much that they leave 2% contamination (or whatever the actual number is; I can't find a citation for the actual efficiency at the moment). That's still a removal of 96% of the oil. However, if there is only 4% oil, then leaving 2% is leaving 50% of the oil that was present.

    Example citation for the refusal of the Dutch help (based on a Google search): []

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"