Protei is an autonomous, low-cost, open-source, shape-shifting robot developed by Scoutbots as part of the robotics project "Protei". It was originally designed for cleaning up oil spills like the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The way Protei works is different from the traditional way of cleaning up oil spills.
Traditional oil skimmers cut random linear paths through seas of oil making the oil cleaning inefficient.
Protei, however, sails upwind, past the spill. As it is sailing downwind again, it intercepts the oil sheens making the Protei more effective than these traditional cleanup vehicles.
Protei Cleaning Pollution - Picture: Cesar Harada
Protei features a number of innovative design tweaks that make it a cost-effective way to control pollution and conduct research, including the ability to expand and carry multiple sets of research and cleanup equipment at the same time.
The biggest innovation of the Protei is the shape-shifting hull, which allows the sailing robot to control a long and heavy payload. No rudder or centerboard is needed: the Protei features a level of trajectory control never before seen in sailing.
Hypothetical advantages of a shape-shifting hull
Environmental protection is not Protei’s only benefit. The robot can be deployed in areas that are hazardous for human beings. Workers who cleaned up the BP spill by skimming the oil from the water were exposed to toxic chemicals.
At this moment they are working hard to add new features to Protei. Protei will be expandable to carry multiple experiments at the same time. This will make Protei the ideal platform for oceanic research.
Protei will be equipped with Radio Control using Arduino software, able to connect to an Android phone or to an iridium phone for global coverage.
Swarm technology will be used to have multiple Protei robots work together as a team. By communicating and coordinating with each other the research or cleaning up will be much more efficient.
Protei Schematic - Picture: Cesar Harada
The name "Protei" comes from the plural for "Proteus", the Greek sea-god and son of Poseidon. Proteus was known for his mutability, his capability of assuming many forms or shapes. The word "protean" evokes flexibility, versatility and adaptability.
Scoutbots is a Hong Kong-based non-profit organization dedicated to develop Open Hardware technologies to explore and protect the Ocean. For the moment Scoutbots is focused primarily on Protei, but they plan to eventually develop more technologies for exploring and protecting the ocean.