This AI is working with a fleet of drones to help us fight ocean plastic

Female Hawksbill turtle in distress and unable to eat due to a plastic bag blocking her airways.

From the field: Plastic pollution choking world’s oceans, UN Environment, 2018.

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Briony Harris, Formative Content

An army of drones is joining the fight against plastic pollution.

Why? Because to fix a problem, you first need to understand it. Photos taken by the drones are being used by machine-learning algorithms to remotely detect plastic waste hotspots.

The world has been producing plastic since the 1950s, with extremely rapid growth in the amount of waste generated from the 1980s onwards. And yet it was not until the 2010s that governments and other international bodies really began to address the problem of plastic pollution. A recent UN report shows a huge spike in laws to limit single-use plastics in 2014, with very limited regulations before this.

Image: UN Environment

Part of the problem was that many people were unaware of the scale of the problem. It was not until social media users shared pictures of “plastic soups” in the ocean, together with television documentaries like Blue Planet, that many people realized the full extent of the devastating damage being done to our planet.

As the world now comes together to address this problem, ongoing monitoring of the scale of the problem – together with an understanding of how progress is being made – is vital.

Scanning the sea floor

Plastic Tide’s director, Peter Kohler, developed his vision for the company after a sailing trip in the South Pacific in 2008. Despite being miles from anywhere, the sea around him was full of rubbish. And since it is almost impossible to track marine litter, it was impossible to work out where it was coming from.

Since then Kohler has tried to harness technology to measure the scale of the problem, as well as monitor the success of initiatives to limit plastic.

The idea is to use drone-mounted cameras to take thousands of aerial photos. These photos are then used to train an AI algorithm to recognize images of plastic trash and distinguish between shells, jellyfish or plastic bags or bottle tops.

Drone photos are being used to train AI to recognize images of plastic trash.
Image: The Plastic Tide

Many volunteers and citizen scientists are involved in the project, including some to tag plastic they find on coastlines, and others to help the machine learn how to correctly identify plastic.

The end result will be an accurate, open-source map of the worst-polluted coastlines.

The technology is also scalable, and although the project has started in the UK, it has global ambitions. It also aims to monitor the seabed and the sea surface.

Targeted efforts

The map can be used to focus attention where it is needed most.

“In the short term, this can be used to help with clean-up events by making us aware of the worst-impacted areas for humans, marine life and bird life,” Kohler told Digital Trends.

In the longer term, the hope is for Plastic Tide to build a system which can document the spread of plastics in something much closer to real time.

And it will also provide a way to assess the impact of policies – for example a ban on plastic bags.

The build-up of plastic in our oceans is a complex problem that needs coordinated change on many levels. Increased and accurate information about the problem will be a significant step towards tackling it.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

How dearly will Germany pay for the Volkswagen emissions rigging scandal

Medicine in the 4th Industrial Revolution: the third entity of the new doctor-patient relationship

These countries create most of the world’s CO2 emissions

A European Discovers China: 3 First Impressions

Threat from petty criminals who turn to terrorism, a growing concern, Security Council hears

This woman solved one of the biggest problems facing green energy

An EU first: youth Ministers debate youth participation in live broadcast

TTIP is not dead as of yet, the 15th round of negotiations in New York shouts

World in grip of ‘high impact weather’ as US freezes, Australia sizzles, parts of South America deluged

Worldwide consumer confidence has shot up to its highest level for four years according to a survey of 130 Global Retail leaders

18th EU Eco-Innovation Forum in Barcelona shows the way for Europe’s new Environmental policy

End racist discrimination against Afro-European people in the EU

Why does the whole world want Britain to stay in the EU?

Climate adaptation could make the world more peaceful

EU out to conquer African Union summit

EU Parliament and Council: Close to agreement on the bank resolution mechanism

Trade: EU and 16 WTO members agree to work together on an interim appeal arbitration arrangement

GSMA Announces First Keynote Speakers for 2019 “MWC Los Angeles, in Partnership with CTIA”

Are we sleepwalking into a new global crisis?

Art, mental health and suicide: different strategies for increasing access to health services

How AI is shaping financial services

What do refugees really need from those who want to help? A refugee explains

Gender Equality as a platform to improve Medicine

The European Commission to stop Buffering

What we need is more (and better) multilateralism, not less

Restrictions, unmet promises, unbridled violence in Sudan, a ‘recipe for disaster’, says Bachelet

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: from cardboard beds to recycled medals, how the Games are going green

Peru is building a new international airport near Machu Picchu – and archaeologists are worried

CHINA: five letters that could mean…

Israel @ MWC14: Israel The Start App Nation

New EU rules to thwart money laundering and terrorist financing

UN member states express their will to tackle global migration but specific actions are still missing

UN political chief calls for dialogue to ease tensions in Venezuela; Security Council divided over path to end crisis

These are the United States’ most exported products

China has announced ambitious plans to cut single-use plastic

Fair completion rules and the law of gravity don’t apply to banks

Statement by the Brexit Steering Group on UK government White paper

‘InvestEU’ programme: big boost for jobs, growth and investment

EU citizens disenchanted with Economic and Monetary Union over rising poverty and high unemployment

Gender equality in STEM is possible. These countries prove it

Gender Equality and medicine in the 21st Century: we want the fair share

Bill Gates’ top 10 breakthrough technologies of 2019

Million across Yemen ‘just a step away from famine’, with food available but inaccessible

Is the ECB enforcing the will of the big Eurozone member states on the small? Can the euro area live with that?

Prospect of negotiated peace in Afghanistan ‘never been more real’ – UN mission chief

Mixed news about the Eurozone economy

If airlines were a country they’d be one of the world’s top 10 greenhouse gas emitters

How banking with blockchain can stamp out corruption and increase financial inclusion

Global Leaders Take The Stage At MWC Shanghai 2019, in association with The European Sting

EU: Tax evasion and fraud flourish under political protection

Khashoggi trial in Saudi Arabia falls short of independent, international probe needed: UN rights chief

Multiprofessional action against the indiscriminate use of antibiotics

Memoirs from a unique trip to China: “my new old dragon” (Part I)

Six children among 53 confirmed fatalities after Libya detention centre airstrikes: Security Council condemns attack

EU Justice Scoreboard 2019: results show the continuing need to protect judicial independence

Why Renewable Energy is an attractive investment

Righting a wrong: UN Fund helps thousands of sex abuse survivors rebuild their lives

Election 2019: New, Updated seat projection for new Parliament

Does research make sense any more? The dire need for new ways to measure success

Sustainable development demands a broader vision, says new OECD Development Centre report

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s