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Startup to launch new fleet of self-driving boats with important mission: 'We are hoping that we will make a real impact'

"We want to be the leader that brings in the electric revolution, like Tesla has done for cars."

"We want to be the leader that brings in the electric revolution, like Tesla has done for cars."

Photo Credit: Clearbot

If having autonomous robots clean up polluted waterways in India and Hong Kong sounds futuristic, then we live in the future, because Hong Kong startup Clearbot already has a fleet up and running, the South China Morning Post reported.

Clearbot got its start in 2022 with a $4 million valuation during its seed funding round. A year later, in September 2023, it ran a pilot program on a lake in the northeast Indian city of Shillong.

There, over the course of three days, the company's self-driving electric boats collected trash floating on the water's surface, the SCMP reported. They gathered between about 1,320 and 1,540 pounds of trash, including plastic packaging and other debris. The items were then deposited at designated locations for recycling and disposal.

Right now, trash cleanup in India's waterways is done by people on polluting, diesel-powered boats, the SCMP said. It's not enough to keep up with all the waste, which, despite recent plastic bans, accounts for 13% of the plastic in the world's oceans, according to a 2021 study.

"There's a huge potential for disruption in this space because we see that the current boats that are operating for all kinds of marine tasks are very polluting," Utkarsh Goel, co-founder and CTO of Clearbot, told the SCMP. "We want to be the leader that brings in the electric revolution, like Tesla has done for cars."

Clearbot is off to a good start. According to the SCMP, it started with 13 boats, each with a capacity of around 550 pounds. But a fleet expansion was scheduled for March, when Clearbot was to add more boats with twice the carrying capacity.

Once these boats hit the water, Clearbot rents them out to clean up spaces such as marinas. Not only is that good for business and more appealing for beachgoers, but it's also better for marine life and everyone who makes a living from the fish, shellfish, and other fauna and flora in the ocean.

"Most of the growth that our company expects to have is in India. We expect to scale up in India because there is enough demand," Goel said. "In India there's huge volumes of trash [in the waters], and this year we are hoping that we will make a real impact with the product that we have."

This isn't the only futuristic waterway cleanup project out there, as 4Ocean and its Pixie Drone have also made headlines in recent years. Perhaps most adorable is Baltimore's Mr. Trash Wheel, showing the impact one locality can have. And The Ocean Cleanup has turned a lot of heads for multifaceted water trash collection efforts, which include barrier collection systems and automated robots in rivers along with massive ocean surface nets that target the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

While we're still a long way from cleaning up all the oceans, this is a step toward turning over that dirty job to robots instead of leaving it to people such as the Pandawara Group. In the meantime, you can help by cutting back on plastic in your daily life.

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