SeaClear cleans dirty coastal waters – tested in the port of Hamburg

Cleaning up on the bottom near the coast and without expensive and dangerous human diving operations: That is the goal of the SeaClear research project. A set consisting of a boat, a flying drone, two diving robots and a collection container is to remove the garbage in the water completely autonomously. This week, the project tested its prototype in the port of Hamburg. The project partners were satisfied – the poor visibility alone made it difficult to search for rubbish. An improved sonar AI should also solve this problem.

The complete SeaClear setup as a concept art.

Because it was an integration test of prototypes, the systems did not yet run fully autonomously, explained Cosmin Delea from the Fraunhofer Center for Maritime Logistics and Services (CML), which is involved in the project. Delea, who is responsible for system integration in the project, is quite satisfied with the test run.

Nevertheless: “The positioning has drifted a bit, a problem with the compass.” But that’s no reason to worry, everything is recorded, the problems can be traced in detail and what has been learned can later be used for the software, “so that we can synchronize the location and control of the robots.” Something like that happens with sensors: nothing is perfect.

The underside of the gripping robot: The current prototype only collects objects with the maximum dimensions of 30cm*30cm*30cm

He was positively surprised that with the help of additional lighting in the filthy Hamburg harbor basin, one could actually at least see something optically with the camera in the vicinity of the collecting basket. However, this is not enough for a thorough cleaning of the floor. The waste detection of the system runs via an artificial intelligence.

In previous tests in Dubrovnik, Croatia, thanks to significantly better visibility under water, existing labeled image databases could be used. In Hamburg, you have to use sonar or echo sounder technology instead, explains Stefan Sosnowski, team leader of the research group at the Chair for Information Technology Control at the Technical University of Munich, which is also involved. Pioneering work is required here: “We are now building the whole thing ourselves based on sonar data, because up until now there simply hasn’t been a separate database for this.”

The test run in the port of Hamburg on the Lübecker Ufer was just an interim test for that SeaClear project, which will continue until the end of 2023. It is part of the EU research funding program Horizon 2020. The acronym SeaClear stands for SEarch, identificAtion and Collection of marine LittEr with Autonomous Robots.

In addition to the Fraunhofer-CML and the Technical University of Munich, the regional development agency of the Dubrovnik-Neretva region, the Hamburg Port Authority, Subsea Tech, the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca and the University of Dubrovnik are also involved. The project coordination lies with TU Delft.

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