Mapping the microplastic menace with drones at sea.
Draper solves enormous problems. Notably, aerospace, but inner space too. Sprout was engaged when their technology for precision undersea sensors aligned with the desire of the EPA to understand the scale and character of microplastics on our oceans. Micro is not the debris that clogs shores and dolphins. These microscopic particulates pose an invisible risk to our blue planet. Sprout worked closely with scientists at Draper to translate the requirements of the technology into a form consistent with the function of an autonomous craft. The drone Sprout conceived detects and analyzes microplastics, discerns their source, and relays heat map telemetry to the EPA for analyses.
More on the Project
Sprout teamed up with Draper and the EPA to combat one of the biggest problems in the world: microplastic contamination. The Mircoplastics-Sensing Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is the first-in-class for microplastic sensing drones. Microplastics in the ocean’s waterways are an ever-growing invisible threat, one that is increasingly becoming part of our everyday lives. Draper’s AUV can detect and analyze invisible microplastics, and enable scientists to understand where they are originating from, where they are most prominent, and how to prevent them from contaminating our waters. When the AUV is deployed, it skims the top nine meters of the water where most microplastics are located, scanning for microplastics, testing for specific types, and ultimately relaying GPS coordinates into a heat map.
They did this by creating the world’s first real-time microplastic-sensing system in the form of a full-size autonomous underwater drone. The drone will search, find, and analyze this invisible threat to the world’s oceans, coastal regions, and rivers. This will also enable scientists to understand where microplastics originate from and how to prevent them from contaminating our waters.
We designed a large intake on the front of the drone to filter a high concentration of microplastic into its internal processing unit while the excess water is flushed out the back. There are two proximity sensors located on either side of the intake that communicates with the GPS antenna to help the drone navigate the world’s waterways. The two thrusters located on either side of the processing unit that propels the drone and the rear rudders handle the steering. The large outer ring houses the batteries, control unit, and induction charger while the open chassis allows for easy deployment and retrieval. The battery-powered drone is both low-energy and self-sustaining when paired with its self-docking, wind-powered, charging buoy. The project is also part of a larger long-term strategic design initiative to develop an iconic visual brand language across Draper’s different divisions and product categories.
Draper hopes to launch a Plastic Particle Pollution Index (pppindex.info, akin to the World Air Quality Index waqi.info) posting measurements and trend predictions of microplastic particle concentrations in the world’s oceans, coastal regions, and rivers. Draper also plans to make its microplastic sensing technology widely available via open-sourcing so others can contribute to the ppp index.