Saturday MIT reveals a swarm of autonomous floating robots that can digest an oil spill. The 16-foot robots drag a nanowire mesh that acts like a conveyor belt to soak up surface oil “like paper towels soak up water,” absorbing 20 times its weight and then harmlessly “digesting” the oil by burning it off.
Powered by 21.5 square feet of solar panels, the “Seaswarm” robots run on the power of a lightbulb, and with just 100 watts “could potentially clean continuously for weeks” without human intervention, MIT announced. (“They require little to no maintenance and can work around the clock cleaning up spills,” notes one technology blog.) The swarm uses GPS data and communicates wirelessly to move as a coordinated group to “corral, absorb and process” oil spills, and MIT researchers estimate that a fleet of 5,000 could clean up a gulf-sized spill within one month. They were directed by Senseable City Lab, where an associate director notes that “Small oil leaks happen constantly in off shore drilling,” adding that their goal was to design “a simple, inexpensive cleaning system to address this problem.”