AI-Powered Drones Take on Ocean Pollution


When attempting to solve a problem, like the estimated 11 tons of plastic garbage that finds its way to the world’s oceans every year, it can be easy to look at the substance or technology creating the problem instead of the application, or misapplication of it.

That’s one thing that Plastic Tide Founder Peter Kohler is looking to make clear. He has nothing against plastic, just the manner in which humans dispose of it. While solutions to ocean pollution have ranged from net-like structures to special chemicals to customized boats, Kohler feels that in order to solve this problem, we first need to understand it better. This concept means knowing where all this plastic in the oceans is coming from so that the guilty parties can be held accountable.

With this in mind Plastic Tide uses machine learning, crowd-sourced data, and drone-mounted camera images to get a better look at the source of the pollution. The aerial photos taken by hundreds of volunteers with their drones are used to train an artificial intelligence algorithm to distinguish between trash and marine life.

These images can be used to coordinate cleanup efforts by focusing on the areas in greatest need. Longer term, with each image the AI gets a little smarter and could be used to build a system that can log the spread of plastics in near real time, and possibly link it back to the guilty parties.

If you’re interested in helping Plastic Tide’s efforts, you can check out the Marine Littler DRONET at:

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