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ORRCA Unmanned Surface Vessel

Project ORRCA was a project started after the BP Oil spill in 2010 with a goal of creating a robot to clean up water pollution. After 7 years, 4 prototypes, and a lot of duct tape we're proud to say that it's finally been done. The ORRCA USV is a fully functioning prototype capable of removing plastics, sediments, heavy metals, chemicals, and even oil from the water. It was designed for developing countries as an inexpensive system to clean the water bodies.


April 20th, 2010. 9:56 PM central standard time. An explosion rocks the BP Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform killing 11 people. Over the next 87 days the leaking well spilt over 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. An equivalent amount of water could support the average American family of 4 for over 917 years. The effects were devastating, animals were covered with black gold, and numerous died from poisoning and starvation. The spill took over 5 years and cost BP over 50 billion US dollars (including cleanup efforts and US government fines).

This was a key event in my young life. The horror and the devastation grasped me like amber grasps flies. However, I found it became a moment of inspiration. I watched CNN every day for the progress of the spill and later its cleanup efforts. I felt that the current cleanup methods were inefficient, and intrusive to the already damaged environment. Systems such as controlled burning and dispersal only spread the pollution to other parts of the biosphere. This is when the idea of ORRCA struck me.

ORRCA stands for Oceanic Research Reconnaissance and Cleanup Android. ORRCA is an Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV) that was built to filter and collect pollutants from the world's water bodies. For ORRCA I developed an advanced filtration system that could remove not only sediments and pollutants but oil as well. The filter is called STREAM (strategic efficient analysis module) and it has the ability to separate plastics, sediments, dirt, metal, garbage, and even oil from water. When installed in ORRCA the two make an efficient and effective solution to the problem of pollution.


ORRCA itself is an unmanned surface vessel and with STREAM installed it is capable of cleaning water pollution. ORRCA is oddly shaped like a shark but this design was chosen for a few specific reasons. First off, the shark shape gives ORRCA incredibly efficient aerodynamics and fluid dynamics helping it save energy. Second, the shape allows it to ward off animals during cleanup operations, most marine animals tend to be afraid of a shark shaped object and steer clear because of evolutionary instinct. ORRCA is made of an inexpensive and buoyant material I developed called WaterTEC. WaterTEC is a composite material with 3 layers. At the center is a foam core, then is a layer of fiber tape, and the final layer is a layer of plastic. This makes ORRCA incredibly strong, waterproof, light, and buoyant. In fact only 25 percent of ORRCA's weight is the shell, the rest is the filter and the power system. ORRCA is powered by a full electric engine developing 2.5 horsepower. The interesting thing about ORRCA though is that it has two power circuits. A control circuit that powers the small electronics and main control board, and a power circuit that powers the main motor, and speed controller. The two circuit system was designed to maximize efficiency. Large batteries and power system where power is needed and small power systems where it's not. This also ensures that the motor and ESC get the full power from the batteries maximizing performance. Because of this a disruption in one power terminal does not affect other power terminals. 

As with any solution, cost and implementation are both large issues. Current pollution filtration systems can cost over 50,000 US dollars and are intrusive for the environment. Current systems need to be installed permanently and cost countries a fortune. ORRCA however, costs less than 700 dollars to construct and can be implemented only when needed. For the same price of one filter 71 ORRCAs can be in operation. These crafts are not limited to one area and are safe to operate around any creature. ORRCA also runs on pure electric power and does not produce any emissions. ORRCA is also a quiet craft emitting low levels of noise that will not disturb wildlife. ORRCAs shape is not only beneficial for aero/fluid dynamics but for wildlife conservation as well. The shark shape wards off many curious animals who could acquire injury from pollution that ORRCA is trying to clean up. The best part about ORRCA is that it can operate completely autonomously or via human control. ORRCA's on board GPS system can be preprogrammed with an exact route to take through an easy to use graphical interface, water filtration occurs automatically. ORRCA overall is more cost effective, and safe.


STREAM, ORRCA's filter. What makes it so different from all the other filters out there? STREAM has two stages; the first separates larger pollutants, the second smaller pollutants. This results in a thorough clean. Stage 1 is mostly for solids and Stage 2 mostly for liquids. There are two major words that describe STREAM, small and diverse. Its small size and weight allow it to fit in a craft like ORRCA but its advanced interior design allows it to absorb and separate as many pollutants as possible. Inside STREAM I have maximized the surface area of absorption in Stage 2 by using a system similar to the interior of the human lung. STREAM is also diverse as it can operate multiple classes of pollutants. Most filters can only separate one or two classes of pollutants but STREAM is capable of separating almost anything thrown its way.

Most cleanup operations to date involve human workers entering the hazardous area cleaning up toxins and other pollutants from the water bodies. This is hazardous to their health even with the EPA's strict protection regulations. Systems such as ORRCA get rid of this problem entirely through remote cleanup. ORRCA can be remotely operated or function autonomously but in both circumstances operators can steer well clear of the toxins the craft is cleaning up. Less workers save Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the EPA time and money reducing the number of workers and amount of safety equipment required for the task.


Project ORRCA has reached great lenghts after 5 long years, but we are still just beginning. The project started at a school science fair and has evolved numerous times within its years. MakerFaire is the perfect place for a project like ORRCA because the next step for ORRCA is to show the world what robotics can do, and have them innovate upon my designs for a safer, cleaner world. ORRCA was designed for developing countries which lack the infrastructure to clean their waterways. ORRCA is a portable, inexpensive solution to the problem of water pollution. The access to clean water is an inherent right for all, but around the world today people and entire ecosystems are dying because of a lack of clean water. Through projects like ORRCA we can ameliorate the water crisis through efficient, effective cleanup operations that are not intrusive to the environment. With ORRCA the water bodies of the world can be a cleaner place for all plants, animals, humans, and microbes. It is time the human race gives back to the planet that it has taken so much from. It's time to take action.


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