With the Deepwater Horizon oil spill staining the Gulf of Mexico to a disastrous extent, we can see the market for remedial technologies pitching up at an unimaginable rate. Well, this time around the solution providers are researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who have developed innovative swarms of oil-absorbing robots. The prototype of the SeaSwarm technology is scheduled for unveiling at the Venice Biennale festival of architecture this week.
The oil-absorbing robot comprises of a 6-foot-long, 7-foot-wide solar-powered conveyor belt that is made from oil-slurping nanowire mesh. The nanofiber belt that is stretched across rollers propels the floating unit through the water while slowly skimming its surface. The belt cycles through the device’s head, where absorbed oil is heated and separated from the mesh, and then rotates back into the water to collect more oil. It is capable of isolating and absorbing up to 20 times its weight in oil. The scientists plan to build thousands of these devices to clean up the water quickly.
Each robotic S.W.A.T. team will be 5,000 to 10,000 units strong and will responding to real-time satellite data about the presence of oil. Individual robots will interact and coordinate with each other using global-positioning and wireless technology. The oil-absorbing robot based on the principles of swarm robotics is expected to cost nearly $20,000, which means a leak similar in size to the BP spill could be contained for $100 million to $200 million. The M.I.T. licensing office has patented the technology and plans to enter the recently announced oil cleanup competition from the X-Prize Foundation.