August 30, 2010
In the future, a swarm of autonomous robots might be able to handle oil spill cleanup.
"Robotic strategies are intriguing, and they create further opportunity to consider responses in the future," said Ron Kendall, director of the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University and professor of environmental toxicology. Although robots hold promise, Kendall cautions that they could have key limitations.
Kendall said that much of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf entered the water column, which would present a serious challenge to robots that stay on the surface. He also compares the surface oil he saw in the Gulf to extremely sticky chocolate mousse. Even nonwoven material developed at Texas Tech that can absorb 40 times its weight in crude oil couldn’t handle the substance.
“This demonstrates the need for new innovation in oil spill cleanup and remediation,” he said.