Diversity in Tech
5 min read
August 23, 2021

Student Essay: Using Computer Science and Robotics to Clean the World’s Oceans


Dilice Oliveria

Future Leaders in Tech scholarship winner and Worcester Polytech Institute student, Dilice Oliveria, sees the possibilities of reversing the effects of hyperconsumption by using robots.

Eight million metric tons. 

That’s how much plastic is dumped into our oceans every year. That’s equivalent to 57,000 blue whales or 17.6 billion pounds. Fast fashion, microplastics, and the growing trend of hyperconsumption are killing our oceans at a rapid pace. We are destroying the ecosystems of species yet to be discovered and ignoring the climate crisis. The effects of what we do to our oceans will soon be felt when our sources of nutrition become contaminated by microplastics, our beaches become dumping grounds, and our drinking water becomes toxic. 

Using my computer science and robotic engineering degrees, I want to facilitate the design and production of biomimetic AUV’s (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles) to clean up our oceans and reverse the effects of hyperconsumption. Biomimicry has become an increasingly popular addition to the world of Robotics, and I genuinely believe it is the key to saving our oceans. 

The robots could have the following abilities.

Trash collection:  The robots will launch a sequence for trash collection that would launch a net and begin a lawnmower sequence that moves horizontally to collect trash. Once the bags fill, the AUVs will tie off the net and bring them to a pre-programmed location to be disposed of properly. 

Microplastics collection: We can also use robots to collect microplastics in a similar approach to the trash collection process. The AUVs will have filters that entrap microplastics within the bot and empties once the filter is full. 

Deadzone Detection: Due to pollution, excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are causing a surplus of algae in our oceans. When Algae die, their decomposition sucks up the oxygen in the water, leaving very little for the other organisms and causing them to die. The robots would detect the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and – if levels elevate – remove the algae, therefore stopping the creation of another dead zone. 

Video: Due to biomimicry, we would have the ability to use these AUVs for other research, such as data collection. The AUVs would be equipped with video cameras to monitor the ocean from a remote location. 

GPS: The robots will need to be equipped with GPS to keep track of it. The robot will use GPS to help with maintenance. If there’s an issue, the robot will be able to find its way back to its launch point or a new point written into its system. Environmental researchers can use GPS to track species of other animals and the currents of our oceans to see where pollution originates. 

AUV/ROV mode: The robot would switch between an AUV mode and an ROV mode. This mode will allow the robot to complete tasks for research, clean-up, and tracking on its own and be redirected and controlled by a scientist if research needs change. 

I have always had a passion for computer science (specifically AI) and robotics, and I believe that my idea can help save our oceans. While obtaining my degree, I plan to conduct research and write the code and the design features needed to bring my idea to life. I want to change the world, and I know using computer science and robotics is the way to do it. 


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