Climate change is seriously impacting the world, sounding the alarm for nations and organisations to take the necessary measures. One of these measures is funding for novel solutions that deal with the causes of climate change. Plastic pollution is a challenging environmental issue that affects rivers, oceans and lakes throughout the world, but it still has not seen any impactful solutions. The EU-funded Flyflic project aims to change this by developing a novel flying robot for floating litter collection, especially in rivers, which will be able to overcome most obstacles that hinders current state-of-the-art solutions.
Plastic pollution is considered one of the most challenging environmental risks globally, and rivers have been identified as a dominant pathway for the accumulation of plastic in the oceans. The Flyflic (FLYing companion for Floating LItter Collection) project addresses this global challenge by deploying a first-of-its-kind robotic platform composed of multiple unmanned aerial robots to effectively collect litter from rivers and canals, thus preventing such litter from reaching our oceans. Chiara Gabellieri will carry out the Flyflic project under the supervision of Prof. Antonio Franchi at the University of Twente (UT), The Netherlands. The project contributes to European strategic priorities (Horizon Europe Mission on healthy oceans, seas, coastal and inland waters) and global strategic priorities (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals). Compared to state-of-the-art solutions, which are boat-like robots or fixed trapping mechanisms, a flying platform can target desired spots, can easily discharge the collected litter, is low cost, and is not hindered by non-navigable spots such as dams and low bridges. The general vision of the Flyflic project will be accomplished through four specific objectives: a novel prototype composed of two physically connected aerial robots and a net to be dragged in the water to collect the litter will be assembled; the dynamic model of the complex manipulation aerial system embedding the water-related disturbances will be computed and a model-based control law designed accordingly; all the components for autonomous functioning will be integrated, especially the control law and state-of-the-art algorithms for object recognition and trajectory generation; finally, a user interface will be created to let a human monitor the task execution and possibly select actions, and the cooperative human-robot discharge of the litter will be made possible through the design of an advanced physical interaction control algorithm.