The Ocean Cleanup

Plastic detection in rivers using AI

Every year, millions of tons of plastic waste enter our oceans. The majority of these plastics spill out of rivers, around which most people find their home. The plastic increasingly impacts our ecosystem, kills wildlife around the world, will get into our own diet, and naturally also affects our economies. At least 1400 marine species are affected by plastics, everywhere and in every part of the food chain.

The Ocean Cleanup

The mission of The Ocean Cleanup is to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. Last October, The Ocean Cleanup unveiled the Interceptor, a solution that extracts plastics from rivers, the expected major contributor to ocean plastics.  The Ocean Cleanup believes that before you can effectively tackle a problem, you need to fully understand a problem. And this is where we gladly collaborate.

The Problem

It is expected that 80% of the plastics in the ocean have derived from rivers. However, how much exactly, and when and where, is largely unknown. Global river models based on secondary data provide a first-order estimation, but heavily rely on approximations. Manual methods such as visual counting provide more detailed insight, but are difficult to scale due to labor intensity. There is a need for a scalable method that provides detailed insight into the movement of plastics in rivers through space and time.

The Solution: Machine Learning

Together with The Ocean Cleanup, we developed a data science solution that detects plastics in images collected by cameras that are mounted on bridges, looking down at the river. This solution depends on deep learning, or artificial intelligence, technology to make its predictions. By showing the machine examples of what plastics look like, it learns how to distinguish plastic objects from the water surface, and irrelevant objects such as organic waste.

What can you do with artificial intelligence and object detection?

A lot of cool stuff is already being done with computer vision. Think of individual animal tracking, deforestation prediction, solar panel maintenance automation and much more. Curious about how these technologies can be of benefit to your mission? Make sure to get in touch.

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