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Autonomous Vehicle Collects Trash from Water Surfaces

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The Wing system is cleaning up city rivers.

In spite of growing calls to recycle and dispose of garbage properly over the years, the unfortunate truth is that a lot of garbage still finds its way into public water sources in cities all over the world. The obvious solution is to prevent the trash from getting there to begin with, but failing that, the next best thing is to automate the process of cleaning it all up. It’s for this reason that a team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have given a boat “wings.”

Dr. Yu Daoyang and his team have created the Wing system, a new kind of autonomous water vehicle designed with the express purpose of clearing floating refuse from China’s waterways. While there are autonomous water-cleaning devices already, most of them are pretty small, making them unable to retrieve the larger hunks of trash. The Wing system, on the other hand, utilizes a two-pronged attack to spread a massive net that captures all kinds of waste.

“The system can significantly improve work efficiency, reduce labor costs and meet cleaning needs,” Dr. Yu explained in the study.

The way it works is two small motors carry the net while also pulling a typical boat-sized vehicle behind them. The small motors cast out a net in a conical shape that draws trash toward the boat, which captures and holds it. The whole process is completely autonomous, and the motors can even automatically avoid large, unmovable objects.

“The cleaning efficiency is much far higher than conventional surface vehicles,” said Dr. Yu.