Drones used in fight against plastic pollution on UK beaches

Tom Cheshire at SkyNews: “On a beach in Kent, Peter Koehler and Ellie Mackay are teaching a drone how to see.

Their project, Plastic Tide, aims to create software that will automatically pick out the pieces of plastic that wash up here on the shingle.

“One of the major challenges we face is that we can only account for 1% of those millions and millions of tonnes [of plastic] that are coming into our oceans every year,” Mr Koehler told Sky News.

“So the question is, where is that 99% going?”

He added: “We just don’t know. It could be in the water, it could be in wildlife, or it could be on beaches.

“And so what the Plastic Tide is doing, it’s using drone technology to image beaches in a way that’s never been done before, on a scientific scale. So that you can build up a picture of how much of that missing 99% is washing up on our beaches.”

Mr Koehler and Ms Mackay use an off-the-shelf drone. They select the area of beach they want to film and a free app comes up with a survey pattern flight path – the drone moves systematically up and down the beach as if it were ploughing it.

The images taken are then uploaded to a scientific crowd-sourcing platform called Zooniverse.

Anyone can log on, look at the images and tag bits of plastic in them.

That will build up a huge amount of data, which will be used to train a machine-learning algorithm to spot plastic by itself – no humans required.

The hope is that, eventually, anyone will be able to fly a drone, take images, then computers will automatically scan the images and determine the levels of plastic pollution on a beach.

This summer, Mr Koehler and Ms Mackay will travel all 3,200 miles of the UK coastline, surveying beaches….

There’s no new, groundbreaking piece of technology here.

Just off-the-shelf components, smart thinking and a desire to put a small dent in a huge problem….(More)”