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AI research: How we are even more effective with “PlasticObs+”

We are part of a new research project in which aeroplanes detect litter hotspots. It could revolutionise not only our work, but the fight against the plastic tide worldwide.

In the past few weeks, a few of our staff members have been getting a little restless: Where is it, the feedback? For months we have been fiddling with a project proposal with our partners and working out ideas – only the feedback was a long time coming. But then, last week, we suddenly received an email from the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUV)

Well, finally: the approval! everwave will thus become part of a three-year research consortium that will revolutionise the use of artificial intelligence in the field of environmental protection. The use of self-learning algorithms has the potential to be a gamechanger for the environment and for us in the fight against global plastic pollution. Not only will it make our work many times more efficient, but it will allow us to prevent plastic pollution and ‘litter hotspots’ from occurring in some places in the future. Collecting alone is not enough for us, because it still ignores the causes. So what makes “PlasticObs+” so unique for us and the market of clean-up technologies, you can find out in the following overview:

  • What exactly is the “PlasticObs+” research project about?

Admittedly: We already use artificially intelligent drones and cameras on our boats together with the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). But “PlasticObs+” takes the whole thing to a new level. “It’s about much more than just optimising our own operations and missions,” says our Head of Research Dr Tilman Flöhr. “In the research project, we are developing with our partners, which include the Jade University of Applied Sciences in Oldenburg and the company Optimare Systems, an artificially intelligent measuring system that records and evaluates the distribution of plastic waste on the water surface and on shorelines or coastlines for the first time on a large scale.” The special feature: The technology is particularly efficient and can be used worldwide as it can be integrated into already existing systems. This includes, for example, routine flights for oil monitoring, environmental monitoring or coastal protection. So the technology is not only used on drones – as before – but also on aircraft. They not only fly more frequently, but also cover much longer distances. So we collect more data than before.

Water, plants – or plastic after all? The tiles provide answers: the algorithm recognises how much and what kind of rubbish is floating in the river or on the coast based on the images taken by aircraft.

  • What happens with the data?

More data on the location, quantity and composition of plastic waste in global waters first of all opens up the unique opportunity for our consortium to train neural networks – what is often described in everyday life as artificial intelligence – more precisely and thus draw even more reliable conclusions about the causes and origin of the waste. “But we go even further,” says Tilman. “We make the data publicly available in an online library, which contains not only data sets but also the methods we use to automatically detect and classify plastic.” Developers and operators of remote sensing systems worldwide, stakeholders and even government agencies can use the data and adapt it to their regional characteristics. “This is how we support a growing community that uses artificial intelligence for the benefit of people and the environment.”

  • And how does “PlasticObs+” contribute to everwave’s work?

First of all, it makes it easier for us to find out where our clean-up missions are most needed. This is because the aircraft equipped with the AI technology cover such large areas that it becomes cheaper and more efficient for us to identify particularly affected areas worldwide. But that’s not all: from the very beginning, we have taken a holistic approach, which, in addition to collecting waste with CollectiX and HiveX, consists of tackling the causes as well. “The technology and data from the “PlasticObs+” research will allow us to find out even more precisely where the collected litter comes from and what measures we can take together with local stakeholders to prevent even more plastic in rivers and coasts,” says Tilman.

  • What is everwave’s role in the consortium?

As already indicated, we bring important prior experience to the table because, together with DFKI, we use AI technology with drones that accompany our cleanup missions. This experience and our findings in litter collection will benefit the research. In addition, similar to our other research project MIX-UP, we will use blog articles, interviews and contact with science media to raise public awareness of why artificial intelligence is also so important for environmental protection.