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Cargo ship-scrubbing HullSkater robot is like a Roomba for the high seas

Hull Skating Solutions

By far the most common robot most of us come into contact with is the vacuuming Roomba robot, designed to scour our carpets hoovering up dust, dirt, and assorted other debris. A new robotic creation called HullSkater does something a bit similar — only instead of vacuuming the carpet in our apartment, it travels around on the outside of large cargo ships, cleaning the “biofilm” of algae and assorted microorganisms which attach to the hulls of these vessels as they sail the high seas.

The HullSkater sticks onto the hull of ships using magnetic wheels, which are equipped with electric motors for carrying out the propulsion and steering. It has multiple sensors and on-board cameras to carry out its navigation, alongside motorized brushes for carrying out the cleaning process. Cleaning a hull takes between two and eight hours depending on its size and condition. The robot can be used to remotely clean vessels anywhere in the world so long as there is 4G connectivity coverage.

hullskater 1

This isn’t just about keeping cargo ships looking swanky and new, however. This motorized cleaning robot is designed to protect hulls against erosion and damage that result from the “fouling” products that adhere to them. Amazingly, despite the comparatively thin layer of biofilm that accumulates on vessels, this can have a noticeable impact on the ship’s efficiency; meaning that it requires more energy to move.

This, in turn, has an environmental impact, which technology like the HullSkater could be used to help fight. Since massive cargo ships are huge polluters in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide they throw out, reducing this quantity would have an enormous impact. According to a report by Fast Company, over five years a single ship using a HullSkater robot could cut 22,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. That’s around 12.5% of the ship’s total emissions.

HullSkater is the work of Jotun, a world-leading provider of marine coatings, and Swedish technology consulting company Semcon. The robot has been tested on boats around the world, and is now ready to come to market. Will this become the Roomba of the oceans? We’ll have to wait and see. It certainly looks promising, though.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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