Cleaning oil spills with robotic sailboats

The oil spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, was a great human catastrophe which led to severe damage to the planet and human life. Some people lost their lives while others were seriously injured. By the month of July 2010, when cleaning of the oil spill was capped, almost 4.9 billion barrels of oil covered the Gulf in a layer of toxic slick.

This destruction greatly affected Caesar Harada, an engineer at MIT, Boston. He left MIT to develop a solution for this carnage. The answer was ‘Protei’ a robotic sailboat that can clean oil spills.

The current method of cleaning oil spills include private boats fitted with skimming equipment and manned by skimmers. They are able to collect only 3% of the total oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover, this method poses health risks to humans and involves heavy economic costs. ‘Protei’ was created with a vision to overcome these hurdles.

The word Protei is derived from ‘Proteus Anguin’ which is the scientific name for Olm, that is a large white salamander who is blind but has an highly developed sense of smell and hearing. Proteus, the plural form of protei has connotations in Greek mythology. Propteus was the godson and herdsman for ‘Poseidon’ the Greek god of the sea. God Proteus was revered for his many qualities such as ability to assume different forms and mutability.Protean also symbolises ability to adapt, versatility and flexibility. The name ‘Protei’ is thus apt for the robotic sailboat which can clean oil spills.

Protei is autonomous, unmanned and comparatively cheap. Another attribute is that anyone can use, distribute and modify its designs. Protei thus promises to be a great potential weapon in handling oil spills without exposing humans to health risks. With further development other possible uses for the Protei can be surveillance and oceanography.


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