A project with drones to clean up rubbish in Denmark could point the way to saving the oceans from an environmental disaster caused by the enormous volume of plastic that pollutes them. (Part two of a two-part series on using drone images and machine learning software to cleanse the environment. See Part 1 here.)
The project combines the use of flying, floating drones for garbage identification and collection in order to clean up Danish waterways
By Jim Magill
Denmark has launched a unique experimental project combining both unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned watercraft to tackle oil spills and floating litter in the country’s waters.
The CityShark program to coordinate the use of the two different types of drones began in July 2019 with the use of WasteShark by the Danish coastal city of Aarhus, an unmanned sailing ship manufactured by RanMarine Technology from Rotterdam.
In the first phase of the project, the WasteShark, owned by the Port of Aarhus, autonomously roamed the water at the mouth of the Aarhus River, where the river flows into the port, collecting solid waste – plastic bottles, disposable cups, plastic bags and other floating debris . The WasteShark can collect 500 kilograms of waste every day.
Recently the floating drone was paired with a flying drone, a DJI Mavic, owned by the city of Aarhus. The Mavic, along with its powerful software package, can improve the sailing drone’s ability to clean the waterways and enable the system to detect and clean up oil spills on the water.
The organizers chose the Mavic because they wanted to demonstrate that the water purification project can be duplicated elsewhere using inexpensive drones for the mass market, said Martin Skjold Lind Grøntved, special advisor to an agency of the Danish Ministry of Climate Change and one of the project’s organizers.
“Unless you’re looking for solid waste, the sailing drone is networked with a flying drone that is mounted with a camera,” said Grøntved.
With its on-board camera, the Mavic can detect even small amounts of oil or gasoline waste on the water surface using an oil detection algorithm developed by the Danish Technical University and cloud-based image recognition software from the streaming data analysis company Kinetica. The Mavic can then send a signal to the WasteShark and give it the location the water-based drone needs to sail to in order to clear the spill.
“The sailing drone will be equipped with an oil removal unit that will enable it to clean up oil spills, and the two drones will coordinate their efforts in real time,” said Grøntved. The communication system between the two drones is managed using the TAPAS (Testbed for Precision Positioning and Autonomous Systems) platform – a network of 11 reference stations that improves data from global satellite navigation systems such as GPS and the European Space Agency’s Galileo satellite – and the Oracle’s cloud technology and algorithms developed by Kinetica.
“With an on-site weather station that feeds data via the local open data platform, the CityShark project – when fully implemented – will likely be almost completely autonomous and even take ultra-local weather conditions into account when calculating the routes to be taken into account to get to the oil spills, ”said Grøntved.
Image data collected by the flying drone is downloaded and analyzed by Kinetica’s graphics processors (GPUs) and permanently stored on a central server in the city of Aarhus, on which all European data protection protocols apply.
Kinetica’s technology, which allows the images to be processed by GPUs rather than central processing units (CPUs), greatly speeds up the analysis of the images, said Nick Alonso, director of global solutions engineering at Kinetica.
“Time is really of the essence. The ability to ingest and analyze data at the same time is one of the big improvements, ”he said in the Kinetica software package.
The data transferred from the flying drone to the sailing drone consist exclusively of oil pollution locations, which were derived from the analysis of the images recorded by the Mavic. This data is combined with data from other sources, including weather-related data such as wind speed, to help the sailing drone make its way to the oil spill.
Although the CityShark ship will be able to operate autonomously once the clean-up project goes into operation, under Danish law it still has to be watched by a person from the shore with a kill button to ensure safety.
Sponsors for the demonstration project for the rehabilitation of waterways are the city of Aarhus, the Danish agency for data supply and efficiency, the port of Aarhus, RanMarine, Kinetica and Oracle. The total cost of the project, including the cost of the two drones and software, is expected to be less than $ 200,000. In the coming months, the project’s developers plan to expand the program by adding more drones and installing more sensors on the drones to measure additional parameters such as water quality.
Drones for Garbage Cleaning: A Global Solution
Grøntved said if the local Aarhus project proves successful, organizers hope to expand the drone-backed maritime clean-up program nationally and eventually globally. “Aarhus is definitely not a city with huge waste problems,” he said. “The aim is to develop a viable technology that can be exported to areas with higher levels of waste and pollution than Aarhus, thereby helping to clean up the oceans.”
The project is in line with UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, which aims to preserve marine life in the Earth’s waterways by preventing an environmental disaster caused by the massive volume of plastic in the oceans, Grøntved said.
“We hope the project will provide a technical solution that can be powered by low-cost equipment so that it can be scaled up and deployed in other regions of the world to reduce litter in our oceans,” he said.
Miriam McNabb is editor-in-chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a marketplace for professional drone services, and a fascinating observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Author of over 3,000 articles focusing on the commercial drone space, Miriam is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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