University of San Diego to Demonstrate Floating Robot to Pick up Plastics from the Sea

There are more than five trillion pieces of plastic debris in the sea, according to National Geographic. But on Friday, Aug. 9, University of San Diego Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering students will demonstrate a small-scale prototype of a floating robot designed to collect debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that threatens whales, turtles and other sea creatures. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to noon at Mission Bay Park.

Created in partnership with the local nonprofit, Clear Blue Sea[MS1] , the Floating Robot for Eliminating Debris (FRED), is a comprised of a four-foot-long conveyor belt attached to the top of two pontoons. The vessel has two small motors for propulsion and is powered by a 12- volt battery and a solar panel.

“These students are helping us with the critical first step of providing our concept and optimizing a design to clean up floating plastics,” explained Jessica Gottdank, business manager at Clear Blue Sea.

“Our students are very excited to demonstrate this project that aligns with USD’s commitment to sustainability and Pope Francis’ call for ‘Care for our Common Home’,” said USD Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering Dean Chell Roberts.

FRED was a senior design project last spring, generously sponsored by Clarity Design Inc., and Tom Lupfer, its founder and CEO.

“While the original prototype was great to see in action, it was far from perfect,” said USD mechanical engineering student Desmond Jones. “After initial testing FRED only collected around 45 percent of trash placed in a test pool. However, with improvements including booms on the front to guide trash to the conveyor belt we have seen[MS2]  amazing improvement. Our four-person team hopes to prove to the world and potential donors that FRED isn’t some intangible dream but a very real solution.”

About the USD Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering

Currently ranked 11th in the nation for non-doctoral granting engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report, the USD Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering offers a unique dual bachelor of science/bachelor of arts degree to develop thinkers and leaders with solid technical, communications and problem-solving skills. Along with undergraduate degrees in computer science and electrical, integrated, industrial & systems, and mechanical engineering, the school offers a master's degree in CyberSecurity Engineering. 

About Clear Blue Sea

Clear Blue Sea is a 501(c)3 nonprofit located in San Diego. Together with government, private companies, other nonprofits, and the public, we believe in implementing solutions to fighting the problem of ocean plastic pollution. 

About the University of San Diego

The University of San Diego sets the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative Changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges. With more than 8,000 students from 75 countries and 44 states, USD is the youngest independent institution on the U.S. News & World Report list of top 100 universities in the United States. USD’s eight academic divisions include the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, the School of Law, the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and the Division of Professional and Continuing Education. USD recently concluded our successful $317M Leading Change: The Campaign for USD, which represented the most ambitious fundraising effort in the history of the university. In September 2016, USD introduced Envisioning 2024, a strategic plan that capitalizes on the university’s recent progress and aligns new strategic goals with current strengths to help shape a vision for the future as the university looks ahead to its 75th anniversary in the year 2024.


Liz Harman
619 260-4682