Robot to keep ship hulls free of sea debris

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.

Candace Lombardi
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.
Candace Lombardi
2 min read

A team of roboticists led by the United Kingdom's Newcastle University are developing an automated robot to clean the hulls of ships.

The Hismar (short for Hull Identification System for Marine Autonomous Robotics), whose development was funded by the European Commission, attaches to a ship magnetically. It pressure-washes the hull with sea water, and it sucks up loosened growth and debris into a filter system that can process 150 liters of water per minute. The ship does not have to be in dry dock to work. The robot can work both above and below the waterline of a ship afloat.

Hismar's inventors claim that the robot can keep a ship free of marine growth and debris. Hismar

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.

Hismar is set to be demonstrated on September 23 at the Shipbuilding, Machinery, and Marine Technology International Trade Fair in Hamburg, Germany.