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The future is this: drones pick up beach waste | Environment

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, called drones, to collect the waste deposited on Portuguese coastal beaches is the goal of researchers at the University of Coimbra (UC), which must be operational after 2022.

The team of researchers from the Institute of Systems and Computer Engineering of Coimbra (INESC) has been carrying out, since 2018, a project to locate and map marine litter in three sands of Figueira da Foz, but at the The idea in the future is that drones can collect debris accumulated on the beach and in the surrounding dunes, mostly made up of plastic waste.

“The future is obviously for drones to clean the beaches, we are not far away. This first step consists of mapping and locating the garbage and in a second step, a more powerful drone, equipped with a robotic hand, will take the garbage and bring it. Less heavy waste, ”Gil Gonçalves, professor at the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of Coimbra (FCTUC) and researcher at INESC, told reporters.

Speaking on the sidelines of a demonstration session, held in Praia da Leirosa, in the south of the municipality of Figueira da Foz, on the coast of the district of Coimbra, Gil Gonçalves estimated that after the end of the investigation in progress, in two years, it will be possible a project related to the collection of garbage by unmanned aerial vehicles.

According to information provided by UC, the ongoing research, which also includes scientists from the Center for Marine and Environmental Sciences (MARE-UC) and the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (NOVA.ID_MARE), uses “optical sensors and multispectral for the detection, search and autonomous inspection of marine litter in coastal areas ”.

On the other hand, the project encompasses two distinct aerial vehicles: a low-cost drone, identical to those commercially available for any interested party, which records the “abundance” of waste on the beaches, that is say it collects the existing quantity and another ‘more expensive’ device that serves to characterize the type of waste, for example whether it is plastic, polystyrene or some other material, said Gil Gonçalves.

According to Gil Gonçalves, the system also uses artificial intelligence components to “automatically categorize waste” and allow its collection, again using traditional means.

The biggest investment

If, on the one hand, the quantification of the abundance of litter on the beach (for which research has already produced sand maps under study) “may interest” a town hall “knowing where to mobilize the collection team” , using a drone with trash categorization capabilities will require a greater investment from all interested parties, such as autarchies or government entities, he admitted.

“They have to ask themselves whether it is worth investing or not. I think it’s worth it, ”argued the INESC researcher.

A drone with the capacity to remove garbage from the beach, like the one Gil Gonçalves plans to exist after 2022, “will be even more expensive, more expensive, because you have to robotize, you have to program it,” he said. he anticipated.

Asked about the state of the debris on the beaches of the Portuguese coast, the researcher based himself on conversations he had with colleagues from other countries such as Latin America or Asia, stressing that “the amount of waste [em Portugal] it has nothing to do with the problem they have ”.

Filipa Bessa, researcher at MARE-UC, pointed out that the results already obtained by the project, note that “drones are effective in mapping large plastic objects” found on beaches and can provide “a very rapid response” on the type of waste compared to human observation.

Protect the dunes

Research was not limited to sands but also to dunes: “They deserve to be protected because they are very fragile areas and with these rapid mapping methods we are able to know the quantity of existing waste, without having to walk on these fragile ecosystems, ”he said.

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According to Filipa Bessa, Leirosa – a beach defined by the project as “more industrial” because it is located near a large pulp industry – “accumulates waste all year round”, not just on the beach “Due to environmental factors”, but also in the adjacent dunes.

The project also focuses on the beach of Quiaios, in the north of the municipality, the furthest from urban pressure and considered to be “the cleanest beach” of the three that integrate the survey and that of Cabedelo, “more urban “And” recreational “, located next to the south jetty of the Mondego river and known to be very frequented by tourists and surfers” which receives more garbage in winter “.

“In summer, it is different garbage, it is more associated with recreational purposes”, explains the MARE-UC researcher.

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