Building a robot to beat beach mess

FUTURE: 15-year-old E Wen Wong is developing a robot to collect plastic from beaches in her bid to spread awareness about climate change.

E Wen Wong doesn’t want to grow up in a world polluted by plastic.

So the 15-year-old Burnside High School student has begun designing a robot to detect plastic in beaches, rivers and the ocean.

“While it’s still in early stages, I’ve already had a lot of support and direction from experts like Brendon and Chris from NIWA, Brendon from ThisDesign and April from Limitless who have been super keen to push my project along and offer their expertise which is really exciting,”
E Wen said.

She’s named her robot BIRD, which stands for Biomimicry Identification Robot Device and fortunately it’s also shaped like a bird.

“As part of this, I am designing an unmanned aerial vehicle capable of detecting and locating macro-plastics such as plastic bags and bottle tops using either laser diodes or machine learning software to rapidly autonomously identify rubbish from a camera feed,” she said.

The plastic will then be tagged and linked to a crowd sourced clean-up app that guides rubbish collectors to dispose of it, she said.

“It’s only in the design stage at the moment, but it’s pretty cool,” she said. “I like the way technology can be used to help the environment.”

E Wen has been working on the designs for her BIRD through the advocacy organisation she set up at school, P.S Our Beaches.

“It’s all about spreading awareness about the environment and climate change,” she said.

Her passion for the environment has been there for as long as she can remember. But E Wen said it was when she was 10-years-old she started looking into climate change.

“I got into meteorology and climatology. I’ve been hooked ever since then,” she said.