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Dubai is now home to a trash-eating 'shark' drone

A shark prowling the coastline is normally a worrying sight, but this waterborne drone terrorizes floating trash instead of people.

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Esan Swan
(CNN) — A shark prowling the coastline is normally a worrying sight, but this waterborne drone terrorizes floating trash instead of people.

Developed by Dutch company RanMarine the WasteShark takes nature as its inspiration with its whale shark-like mouth. But instead of vacuuming up krill, this device collects floating trash. First conceived in 2016, the marine drone will begin operations in Dubai Marina in November after a year of trials with local partner company Ecocoast.

According to RanMarine, the WasteShark is available in both autonomous and remote-controlled models. Measuring just over five feet by three and a half feet (1.5 meter by 1.1 meter), it can carry up to 352 lbs of trash (159.6 kg) and has an operational battery life of 16 hours.

As of 2016 there was approximately 150 million metric tons of plastic in the world's oceans, per a report by the World Economic Forum. One widely cited journal paper from December 2014 estimated over a quarter of a million tons of ocean plastic pollution was afloat.

WasteShark also has the capabilities to gather air and water quality data, filter chemicals out of the water such as oil, arsenic, and heavy metals through filtering pads, and scan the seabed to read its depth and contours, said Oliver Cunningham, one of the co-founders of RanMarine.

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Fitted with a collision avoidance system, the drone uses laser imaging detection and ranging technology that enables it to detect if an object in its path and stop or back up if the object approaches, he added.

"Our drones are designed to move through (a) water system, whether it's around the perimeter or through the city itself. The drones (are) that last line of defense between the city and the open ocean," said Cunningham.

WasteSharks are operating in Dubai, South Africa and the Netherlands and cost $17,000 for the remote controlled model and just under $23,000 for the autonomous model, said Cunningham.

Dubai-based operator Ecocoast has two WasteShark drones in the emirate. Co-founder Dana Liparts says that from November will begin cleaning waterfronts for clients including hotels and municipalities and environmental authorities. Lipart added Ecocoast's intention is to have the collected trash recycled or upcycled.

Liparts argues cleaning waterways doesn't have a one-size-fits-all solution and requires a combination of new technology, preventative measures and changing people's attitudes towards littering.

But not everyone is convinced by the WasteShark just yet. John Burt, associate professor of biology at NYU Abu Dhabi, said size may be an issue.

"In terms of the units that are currently being deployed, I think they're relatively small and going to have a minor impact. But if it's proof of concept for the principle, then potentially it could be used on a larger scale," he said.

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Burt said attaching environmental monitoring devices to measure water quality, temperature, and air pressure could be useful in collecting data in real time and allowing a more dynamic understanding of water quality but said that their size made them vulnerable to boat traffic.

"(The UAE) does have a large, significant problem with large scale microplastic pollution," he added. "There is a need for some sort of remedial action to limit the waste that we have on our shoreline."

According to Cunningham, RanMarine is also working on a larger ocean-going model.

But the WasteShark isn't the only "fish" in sea. Sharjah-based company Fenbits has also developed a waste collecting aquadrone called BluePhin. Displayed at Dubai's tech week convention GITEX 2018, a BluePhin utilizes AI technology and can collect 770 pounds (350 kg) of trash in 2 hours, according its website.

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Both devices join the likes of The Ocean Cleanup in an effort to curb the worldwide problem of floating marine trash. Plastic has reached even the most distant places, from the Midway Atoll to Antarctica.

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