Monitoring plastic pollution in our waters using AI and GoPros

Every year, millions of tons of plastic wind up in our seas, where they have a devastating impact on marine wildlife. Plastic pollution is one of the most serious problems facing our world today, but researchers have discovered a way that we may be able to combat it by utilizing GoPro cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

It is the mission of Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organization, to reduce the amount of plastic garbage in our seas. In most cases, ocean plastic density is monitored using methods like trawls, which are labor-intensive, or aircraft, which are both expensive and time-consuming. Recently, the Ocean Cleanup research team has been experimenting with new artificial intelligence technologies and GoPros to see if they might aid in the monitoring and detection of plastic garbage.

The Ocean Cleanup research team has been working on artificial intelligence-based item recognition software for more than two years. When used in conjunction with a series of automated time-lapse pictures with GPS tags, it is possible to identify and track the dynamic behavior of floating plastic from a distance.

In order to track hundreds of miles of water for marine waste, The Ocean Cleanup attached GoPro cameras to ships and sailed them around. It claims that more than 400 photographs of huge plastic goods were acquired using the latest artificial intelligence object detection system. This dataset was then sent to be analyzed, allowing researchers to determine where the majority of plastic garbage was accumulated.

monitoring plastic polution in ocean using gopro
Plastic garbage discovered in the water and photographed with a GoPro camera (Image credit: The Ocean Cleanup)

Object detection works by detecting a specific object of interest inside a picture – much like the face recognition software you might be familiar with from your smartphone. In order for artificial intelligence to be effective, it must first be educated for a certain purpose, which in this case necessitates the use of a large number of input photographs.

When the OCU team locates plastic hot spots in the water, they are able to estimate which cleaning system design would be the most effective, how much it would cost, and whether it is a financially viable option.

There are several ways in which the Ocean Clean up team combats plastic waste that ends up in rivers and oceans; one method is by constructing “artificial coastlines,” and another is by employing The Interceptor, a machine developed by the Ocean Clean up a team that extracts plastic waste autonomously using a 100 percent solar panel system.

As a novel technique, the use of artificial intelligence to monitor plastic build-up in the ocean is being tested. If it proves to be effective, it might aid in the creation of precise maps of plastic concentrations in remote regions all over the world. Until recently, the majority of ocean plastic research has depended on manual, on-site observation; nevertheless, this new form of data collecting has the potential to become a key tool in continually monitoring and reducing plastic contamination in the ocean.

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