Breakthrough device takes first large bite out of Great Pacific Garbage Patch

4 Oct 2019

Image: The Ocean Cleanup

This week in future tech, a company hoping to take on the scourge of microplastic has successfully caught tonnes of ocean plastic.

After a year’s worth of testing, a large device developed by The Ocean Cleanup has caught its first haul of plastic from the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Launched from the Canadian city of Vancouver in June, this new device uses the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastic for collection later on by teams.

In addition to collecting plainly visible pieces of plastic debris – as well as much larger ghost nets associated with commercial fishing – the device, called System 001/B, has also successfully captured microplastics as small as 1mm.

While estimates vary, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is approximately twice the size of France and contains almost 2trn pieces of plastic.

“After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates that our vision is attainable and that the beginning of our mission to rid the ocean of plastic garbage, which has accumulated for decades, is within our sights,” said Boyan Slat, founder of The Ocean Cleanup.

Following this successful test, The Ocean Cleanup said that it now plans to test its latest device – System 002 – which will be a full-scale cleanup system able to both endure and retain the collected plastic for long periods of time.

Autonomous cars take to the streets of London

A company called Oxbotica is trialling autonomous cars on the streets of London as part of its plans to release driverless taxis next year in partnership with Addison Lee, The Times has reported.

Oxbotica founder Prof Paul Newman said that while completely driverless cars are still many years away, these trials are an important step in expanding from the confines of its base in Oxford.

“We had trialled in Oxford, but … being able to show these cars working in a mega-city is about confirming that they can operate smoothly, safely and legally in complex real-life situations,” he said.

“In a major city there are all sorts of unexpected things that can happen, so at the moment we still need a human to take over in those scenarios.”

New printed electronics open door to electrified tattoos

Researchers from Duke University in the US have revealed a new technique for printing electronics gentle enough to work on delicate surfaces and human skin. Such a technology could allow for embedded electronic tattoos and bandages filled with patient-specific biosensors.

“When people hear the term ‘printed electronics’, the expectation is that a person loads a substrate and the designs for an electronic circuit into a printer and, some reasonable time later, removes a fully functional electronic circuit,” said researcher Aaron Franklin.

“Over the years there have been a slew of research papers promising these kinds of ‘fully printed electronics’, but the reality is that the process actually involves taking the sample out multiple times to bake it, wash it or spin-coat materials onto it. Ours is the first where the reality matches the public perception.”

The researchers’ work has been published to the journal ACS Nano.

Space could be about to get silky

A team from the University of Oxford has shown that silk can thrive in outer space temperatures, making it ideal for a variety of different purposes. Writing in Materials Chemistry Frontiers, the team said it tested spider silks, but mostly focused on the thicker and much more commercial fibres of the wild silkworm Antheraea pernyi.

Put into temperatures as low as minus 196 degrees Celsius, the team was able to show how silk increases its toughness under conditions where most materials would become very brittle. It seems that silk contradicts the fundamental understanding of polymer science by not losing, but gaining, quality under really cold conditions by becoming both stronger and more stretchable.

“We envision that this study will lead to the design and fabrication of new families of tough structural filaments and composites using both natural and silk-inspired filaments for applications in extreme cold conditions such as space,” said Prof Fritz Vollrath.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic