Robot Designed to Clean Ocean Tested in San Diego

Students from University of San Diego worked this summer to optimize FRED or the Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris.

Scooping up the garbage floating in our oceans using a solar-powered robot could be in our future thanks to research being done by a team of college interns in San Diego.

That future floated on the surface of the water in Mission Bay Park Friday, picking up trash placed there by interns from University of San Diego.

Approximately 3-feet tall, the protoype undergoing tests was a cross between a remote-controlled boat and Wall-E. 

On the shore were engineering students who spent the summer trying to optimize the robot known as FRED or the Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris.

Designed to float like a catamaran, FRED has a debris collection system in the center and a bin in the back to collect trash and keep it from being dumped back into the water.

A conveyer belt moves the trash from the water in front of FRED into the collection bin. The sun and a 12-volt battery power the process.

“This particular prototype can run 3 to 5 hours,” said Jessica Gottdank, Business Manager for Clear Blue Sea. “Some day in the future we want it to be 24/7 operations.”

Her organization works to end plastic pollution in the ocean and has supported interns working on the FRED prototype for two years. 

In Friday's test, FRED picked up approximately 45 percent of the trash placed in the test pool.

The students said it’s a start.

Gottdank said it’s estimated that 8 million metric tons are entering the oceans each year from land-based sources.

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