Researchers at MIT have invented a new robotic oil skimmer, called Seaswarm. Senseable City Lab is unveiling the first prototype at the Venice Architecture Biennale on Saturday. The hope's to produce a whole fleet of Seaswarms that'll be able to attack oil spills like a swarm of bees. A patented hydrophobic nanofabric devours as much as 20 times its own weight in oil without collecting water. To capture the oil, the nanofabric's draped over a conveyor belt that's then dispatched on the surface of the ocean like "a rolling carpet." The robot's entirely autonomous; it swims along, powered by a pair of solar panels.
Skeptics might wonder how they're different from the skimmers deployed on the Gulf this summer to trifling effect, with some 800 vessels collecting just 3 percent of the surface oil. Unlike traditional skimmers, which are moored to larger vessels and have to return to shore frequently for tune-ups, Seaswarms can work 24/7 for weeks on end. Researchers estimate that 5,000 Seaswarms working around the clock for a month would be able to scrub an area the size of the Gulf oil spill.
[via Co Design]