Vacuuming plastic from the ocean sounds oddly impossible, but Clear Blue Sea, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to cleansing the oceans from plastic pollution, is working on doing as much of this as it can.
Meet FRED, a solar-powered catamaran that was built by Clear Blue Sea. FRED is, in essence, a vacuum machine for the ocean. The goal is for it to retrieve plastic debris from the seas. “We’re just happy that it floats,” Justin Ho, a mechanical engineering major at the University of California at San Diego, told The Washington Post. He remotely steered FRED around the bay using a modified video-game controller.
Clear Blue Sea is a nonprofit with a mission to cleanse the oceans of plastic pollution using our solar-powered, semi-autonomous Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris, FRED. #plasticpollution pic.twitter.com/yEcXfFSBIW
— Clear Blue Sea (@ClearBlueSeaOrg) September 8, 2019
FRED is an acronym for Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris. It’s a large catamaran-based robot and is built that way to ensure stability while at sea. FRED gets most of its power from solar panels and doesn’t emit any type of pollution. In order to collect plastic from the ocean, the robot moves at around 2 knots, which is a speed that enables it to collect floating plastic in a manner similar to a conveyor belt. It also has a built-in alert system that will let it know when marine animals are close. The types of plastic FRED picks up range from about 10mm long to 1m long.
The Washington Post reports that by next spring, the team that is behind the engineering of FRED is hoping to have completed a proven design for a 50-foot version of FRED that can autonomously collect trash on open bodies of water. For the test run of FRED, the team kept it within 100 feet of the boat ramp and offered very visible targets such as painted water bottles and styrofoam tubes.
One thing the team learned was that the vessel created its own eddies, which scattered the items before FRED could get to them. The team collected most of the water bottles and styrofoam, but hopefully identifying this challenge will enable the team to fine-tune FRED.