Seaswarm is pretty similar to Ocean Therapy Solutions' device which filters crude oil from sea water, because it is designed to specifically siphon crude oil from sea water at a spill site. Ocean Therapy Solutions' largest device could siphon up to 200 gallons a minute, but Seaswarm claim that as a collective group, their machines can work together to clean even larger areas of ocean.
The machines are around five metres long and two metres wide, and resemble something similar in appearance to a treadmill. Costing $20,000, each machine requires no human intervention and can work independently, and according to Seaswarm can locate a spill and transmit its location to other machines using WiFi and GPS. Collectively the machines will work through polluted ocean, and collect all the oil.
The machines are able to do this by soaking up oil with the tread as it skims over the surface, which uses nanotechnology which attracts oil and repels water. Once the tread has collected its fill - around 20 times its own weight in oil - it will deposit the oil collected in the ocean in a bag which can be collected and reused.
The robots are friendly to the environment too; they only require 100 watts of power, the equivalent of a bright light bulb. They also work autonomously and don't need to return to the shore for constant maintenance.
Assaf Biderman, who supervised this project at MIT says, "Because it (conveyor belt) adheres to the surface of the water, it cannot capsize. So it can withstand quite severe weather. Imagine this like a leaf that lands on the surface of the water and moves with the waves and the currents and cannot be flipped over."
The team at MIT have calculated that if the Seaswarm robots were deployed during the current Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the costs of collecting the surface oil would have been significantly reduced. Biderman claimed that 10,000 Seaswarm robots could have cleaned up the oil in two months and the cost of the whole operation would have amounted to $100 million to $200 million.
"Ideally, when spillage happens, the best thing to do is to contain it right where the spillage occurs. But quite often the oil goes out of containment, and this is where this technology would be most effective," he said.
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