Autonomous Draper Drone to detect microplastics in the water

February 27, 2020 by  
Filed under Eco, Green

Microplastic pollution is everywhere, but its size — less than five millimeters in length — makes the threat almost invisible to the naked eye. That’s why Cambridge-based research and development lab  Draper  has teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency and design firm Sprout Studios  to create the Draper Drone, a concept for an autonomous underwater vehicle that implements Draper’s portable microplastics sensor. Engineered to rapidly count, measure the size of and determine the material makeup of microplastics in real-time, the Draper Drone could help create a global microplastics database for analyzing pollution trends, identifying sources and informing possible solutions to the problem. Microplastics  are created in one of two main ways: the breakdown of larger plastic debris, or from industries that make small plastic particles such as microfibers in clothing and microbeads. These tiny particles, which readily absorb toxins such as DDT and flame retardants, are often ingested by marine life and can potentially have negative effects on human health through the food chain. To provide an easier and more cost-effective way of analyzing microplastic risks and trends, Draper teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency to create an affordable portable  sensor  to measure microplastics in real-time. The team is also developing the Plastic Particle Pollution Index, a standardized microplastics identification system for logging environmental samples. The prototype sensor has been tested in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the technology is expected to be available via open-sourcing.  Related: Microplastics accelerate cell death at 3 times the normal rate, study says Taking the sensor technology a step further, Draper asked Sprout to help design the Draper Drone, an autonomous underwater vehicle equipped with the microplastics sensor that could independently scan the top nine meters of the water for microplastics. The conceptual battery-powered drone would be paired with a self-docking,  wind-powered  charging buoy. The project was recently recognized in the 2019 TIME Best Invention List. + Draper Images via Sprout Studios

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Autonomous Draper Drone to detect microplastics in the water


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