Labs‎ > ‎Protei‎ > ‎Oil Spill‎ > ‎4. Design‎ > ‎

20100623 Protei

The early Protei concept is to build a robot that collects a lot of oil using the power of nature :
"the power of hurricane to clean the oil spill". The oil spill is a human accident that follows nature way of working (wind, currents, waves, tides, pressures, temperatures, acidity ...) therefore we should harness these energies in order to make the machine work most efficiently using what's available, quickly. 

Oil sheens go downwind, following the surface currents and waves. To maximize how much oil we collect, our machine must operate upwind, in the opposite direction. 

Oil Collector swarm boat

Now the vehicle must be able to go upwind, and only a streamline profile allows this.

Strange Hybrid
We drew influence from the most efficient designs in nature, clockwise : 
- Fly wing, like windsurfer sails
- Penguin head and spine system
- Tuna fin, for velocity and alignment
- Worm tail that absorbs and breathes food with the entire body

thanks to <Derek Nakano Jones>

Since we would love the tail of the machine to be as long as possible to collect a lot of oil, it would become impossible to steer with a traditional rudder at the back. We went for front steering. 

Oil Collector swarm boat

And now, in order to be cheap, solid, self-righting, It would have to be good quality inflatable.


The electrics on board would be very simple : one servo winch for the sail, another servo winch for the "nose".

Oil Collector swarm boat 
For mass distribution, we thought about inflating the sail with air, the body with air and water, the ballast with sand. 
It would be a very cheap and rugged design. 

Oil Collector swarm boat

Of course, It needs to be self-righting and that easily achievable with inflatables when you have such a great mass difference between air, water and sand.
Protei technical drawing

In the end it is about designing the propulsion head of a long sorbent boom.


The big uncertaincy is the pulling power of the sail. How many square meters of sails can pull how long of a tail?

sea insect

So we made this 3D representation.

SeaSwarm exotic colors

A more colorful one to emphases on the design of the propulsion head being mostly immersed, and "bullet" shaped. 

We built a quick test model, 1.20m long, 1.50m high and tested it in the Charles River in Boston MA.



Thanks to <David Lee>, <Eugene Lee>, <Phil Salesses> <Sey Min>


The test went surprisingly well. The boat was going well downwind without actuation with the remote controlling.

test of oil spill collecting drone 20100623

test of oil spill collecting drone 20100623

We also did some quick test of the long tail on a regular sailing boat and we found out that the tail really follows the trajectory of the boat, following the path, not extending so much. So the tail tests in Boston have been very positive so far. 

studying buoys drift (tail)
Now we need to get much more technical and precise about each of these factors and improve the design. 

Long test for

Even more testing at sea, off Port Sulfur, Louisiana. Working pretty well. 

Oiled marshland, Port Sulfur, LA

We did tests on highly polluted sites, soon we may be able to test the machine in real conditions. 
If the boat is well autonomous and powerful enough, one of the most interesting application is aerial photography : this is how this ground view looks from a helium balloon 1000ft  above the water : 
Bay Jimmy, 20100722, assembler001

We'll use aerial photography to assess the efficiency of Protei_Oil_Spill. Want to know more about the technique? 

Protei-001 is built and is a great success : it a modified standard model sailboat with a front steering : trying to verify if steering at the front improves maneuverability with a long load (tail). 

The answer is "YES", maneuverability is greatly increased, control and response speed.

Protei-002 has an entirely articulated body :

Protei-003 was of a good size (3 meters long, 5 meters high) with a 18kg ballast. But the test didn't go well, many problems - to learn from.