MIT unveils autonomous, oil-skimming robots

Yesterday, MIT showcased an oil-skimming, autonomous robot dubbed the Seaswarm. As the devices site explains, “Seaswarm uses a photovoltaic powered conveyor belt made of a thin nanowire mesh to propel itself and collect oil.” The robot, which is meant to hunt oil in packs (hence Seaswarm), costs around $20,000 and is powered by solar cells on the top of the device. Multiple robots can self-organize their swarm, without human support, using GPS and Wi-Fi. The device, which CNN describes as, “a treadmill conveyor belt that’s been attached to an ice cooler” drags around nanowire mesh that can absorb 20 times its weight in oil without absorbing any water. When the material is saturated with oil, it can be rolled up and left in the ocean for later pickup (it floats) or can be burned off using a heater located in the robot’s body. The nano-material used releases oil when heated to the proper temperature; which will allow skimmed oil to be recycled and repurposed. MIT estimates that 5,000 skimmers, running 24-hours a day (which they are designed to do), could have cleaned up an oil spill the size of the Gulf of Mexico in one month. MIT plans to continue researching and improving the robot over the next year before looking for a potential buyer. Not exactly mobile technology, but pretty cool technology nonetheless. We’ve got a video explaining how the device works queued up for you after the break.

Read [MIT] Read [CNN]

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