My WODCON 2019 Presentation: Launching Robotic Dredging

Me, presenting my WODCON 2019 contribution.
Me, presenting my WODCON 2019 contribution.

Yesterday, I gave my presentation at the WODCON 2019 in Shanghai1. The WODCON is the triannual world dredging conference, were everybody in the dredging industry meets and exchanges knowledge and ideas. Just as I mentioned in my New Year’s post, I sometimes like to delve into some old archives, get inspiration and hatch new ideas2. So did I for this presentation.

Overview of the ‘Ketelmeer’ (Credit: Google Maps).
Overview of the ‘Ketelmeer’ (Credit: Google Maps).

A seminal dredging project concerning environmental dredging is the ‘Ketelmeer’ clean up dredging project, resulting in the creation of the contaminated sediment storage depot in the artificial island ‘IJsseloog’3. As careful removal of the contaminated sediment required novel dredging techniques, the government challenged the dredging industry to test four innovative concepts. The results were evaluated by the institute now called ‘Deltares’ and published in a report4. The original conclusion of the report was, that the auger dredge was the best in reducing the turbidity. Later, the bigger auger dredge ‘HAM291’ was constructed and used to actually clean up the lake. With the knowledge and the experience of the auger we also developed a range of auger attachments for our DOP pumps5.

Traditional auger attachment for a DOP pump excavator combination.
Traditional auger attachment for a DOP pump excavator combination.

Reading the Ketelmeer report again, it occurred to me, that one parameter had not been properly accounted for: the size of the dredge. The auger dredge was by far the smallest dredge in the game. With a weighed scoring method, the dredges were also compared in size and installed power. The reasoning is that a bigger dredge has more interaction with its environment. Naturally, the environment gets more disturbed and turbidity levels should be higher for a bigger dredge. And the data was there to support this hypothesis. Smaller is better! Still, this does not undermine the initial results of the concept, as that was evaluated for turbidity per cubic meter. The bigger dredges also delivered more production. But when comparing dredges of the same concept might the smaller ones will perform better on turbidity. And this is in accordance with our experience. Every project where we’ve supplied these auger dredge units, the contractor and the client where surprised and happy about the achieved turbidity levels. Now, we know why: smaller is less turbidity.

The next step in performance might be reached by further decreasing the size of the dredge. However, the DOP is already as small as it is for a viable application on an excavator. The conclusion is to have an auger operating directly on the bottom: an unmanned submarine dredging machine!

Possible general arrangement of a robotic dredge submarine.
Possible general arrangement of a robotic dredge submarine.

This machine should navigate by itself and self-supporting. The wear parts of the auger should be exchanged by itself and solar panels can provide extra energy for extended missions. It has only a small hopper and discharge should also be done quick and automatically. An unmanned barge or even a dump truck trailer at the shore of the waterway can be replaced at longer intervals. Obstacles and other tricky spots can be alerted to a human supervisor for later intervention. One machine alone does not have an impressive production. The real power is in applying them in numbers. As we are standing on the brink of a revolution in robotics and artificial intelligence, this scenario may be not as farfetched as from your first impression. Imagine a whole school of these mechanical fishes cleaning up your waterway, while you sleep…

Working method of robotic dredge submarine (Credit: Judith Korver).
Working method of robotic dredge submarine (Credit: Judith Korver).

References

  1. WODCON, Damen
  2. New Year’s post 2019, Discover Dredging
  3. Ketelmeer project, Wikipedia
  4. Rapportage baggerproeven Ketelmeer. RIZA Rapport, 97.023, ISBN 9036950708
  5. DOP Pumps, Damen

See also