Hismar, a hull-cleaning robot developed at the United Kingdom's Newcastle University, could save the shipping industry from excess drag, fuel consumption, and pollution.
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Since cleaning a ship's hull of marine growth and debris reduces drag, the robot can reduce a ship's overall fuel consumption. Ultimately, it could save companies money, while reducing the shipping industry's impact on the ocean environment, according to Tony Roskilly, a professor at the School of Marine Science and Technology at Newcastle University and the Hismar project leader.
The robot self-navigates the surface area of a ship's hull with a mapping system that identifies "every weld, thickness change, rivet, and indentation on the ship's surface." As a result, the robot is also capable of reporting back info on a hull's condition. It can identify things like small cracks or corrosion, according to Roskilly.
Hismar also offers an alternative to coating a ship's hull in chemically treated paint to prevent marine growth. Tributyltin (TBT) has been a common biocide used for ship hulls since the 1960s. It's been found to be so dangerous to ocean life that the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations international shipping regulatory agency, has outlawed the chemical's use.
The TBT ban took effect Wednesday. Hismar offers shipbuilders and ship owners a viable alternative, according to Rokilly.
The robot would also prevent far-traveling ships from bringing nonindigenous species and ocean contaminates from one region to another.