Aquabot

The plastic soup is getting bigger and bigger, and the problem is more urgent then ever. But where does all this trash come from? The answer is closer to us then we think; the cities. Trash is dumped on the streets or in overloaded trash cans. The wind blows all the litter in the waterways, which eventually end up in sea. 

Together with the Betafactory, we used the design strategy of biomimicry to find a solution for this problem. The concept had to scoop and store the captured plastics, while involving the citizens of The Hague. The concept had to be interactive, while also using different mechanisms of (one or more) organisms. 

The final concept is called ‘Aquabot’. A robotic scoop, operated by people, using the mechanism of the basking shark and Florida manatee.

Biomimicry; the baskinshark and mannatee

“How to capture solid particles (litter) from the waterways, with the help of citizens?”

Using this problem statement and the biomimicry taxanomy, we looked at the functions “capture, absorbe, or filter solid particles”, and “Store solid particles”. Using websites like asknature.org, we found a lot of potential organisms to learn from. The two best mechanisms to use where the basking shark and the Florida manatee. 

The basking shark is a suspension feeder; it filters food out of the ocean. To do so, the basking shark swims with an open mouth, so water will flow through its mouth out of its gills. In its mouth the structure of the gill rakers creates a vortex, which prevents clogging.

Mechanism manatee

The Florida Manatee has unique control over its mouth, body and facial vibrissae. The vibrissae help the manatee locate food. Once located it brings the ends of its upper lip together, extends the vibrissae covering it and rakes repeatedly toward the mouth. Once the food is close to the mouth the bottom lip directs it farther in the mouth and closes, thus completing the capturing process of the food.

The design process

To test the two mechanisms in our context, we made some quick prototypes. One for the gill rakers structure of the basking shark, and one for the mouth of the Florida manatee.

We used the prototypes to test if the mechanisms worked the same in a different context; capturing plastic instead of food.

The prototype of the Florida manatee shows the plastic bottle caps are moved to the whiskers (mouth) and spit out on the other side (in the belly).

The prototype of the Basking shark shows sugar particles (solid food particles) are captured within the rakes, on the side of the openings. This leaves room for the water to flow through, meaning this mechanism won’t clog. 

We ideated on all different aspects of the context. Questions like ‘How do we collect sunken trash?’ or ‘How do we get the trash out?’. ‘How can we store trash?’ and ‘How can we collect floating trash?’.

Using dot voting and SCAMPER we picked the most fitting ideas and combined them into a complete concept.

The complete concept

The final concept, called aquabot, uses both the mechanism of the Basking shark and the Florida manatee to capture and store the litter in The Hague waterways. Because it is operated by citizens (or tourists) the concepts raises awareness among humans about the origin of the plastic soup.