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This waste-eating shark drone is cleaning up waterways

There’s a new shark species patrolling waterways across the world in search of food. But unlike those that have swimmers running from the beach, the only thing this shark will be sinking its teeth into is rubbish.

The WasteShark is a 1.5 metre long drone that works like an aquatic vacuum cleaner. It’s modelled on the whale shark, which is a filter feeder that sucks prey like plankton into its mouth.

As it ‘swims’ through water, the WasteShark sucks in plastics and other rubbish, eating up to 200 litres of waste in a single trip.

The drone is capable of swimming for up to 16 hours and can be controlled manually or set to patrol a defined area.

Creator Richard Hardiman said he developed the WasteShark after watching two men attempting to collect rubbish from the harbour in Cape Town using a net.

“Not knowing anything about maritime practice or waste management in water … I thought I could do it better,” Hardiman said in a TEDx Talk earlier this year.

“The WasteShark is built on the same principles as a whale shark. It’s got an enormous mouth and it silently skims the water, tracks down its prey and keeps it in its belly,” he said.

According to Hardiman, 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean each year. He hopes the WasteShark will reduce this figure by vacuuming up rubbish in ports and harbours before it makes its way out to sea.

The WasteShark is also equipped with environmental sensors, which allow it to measure water depth, temperature and quality. This includes monitoring pH values, oxidation reduction potential (ORP), conductivity, turbidity, ammonium, chloride, nitrate and salinity.

“We’re taking out trash and harvesting data … These robots speak to us and tell us about their environment,” Hardiman said.

“As we send them across the world, we’re going to know more and more about our water.”

WasteSharks are currently deployed in the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.