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  • Translator: Morton Bast Reviewer: Thu-Huong Ha

  • In the ocean,

  • what is the common point

  • between oil, plastic and radioactivity?

  • On the top line, this is the BP oil spill:

  • billions of barrels of oil gushing

  • in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • The middle line is millions of tons of

  • plastic debris accumulating in our ocean,

  • and the third line is radioactive material

  • leaking from Fukushima nuclear power plant

  • in the Pacific Ocean.

  • Well, the three big problems have in common

  • that they are man-made problems

  • but they are controlled by natural forces.

  • This should make us feel very, terribly awful

  • as much as it should make us feel hopeful,

  • because if we have the power to create these problems,

  • we may as well have the power

  • to remediate these problems.

  • But what about natural forces?

  • Well, that's exactly what I want to talk about today,

  • is how we can use these natural forces

  • to remediate these man-made problems.

  • When the BP oil spill happened,

  • I was working at MIT, and I was in charge

  • of developing an oil spill-cleaning technology.

  • And I had a chance to go in the Gulf of Mexico

  • and meet some fishermen and see

  • the terrible conditions in which they were working.

  • More than 700 of these boats,

  • which are fishermen boats repurposed

  • with oil absorbent in white

  • and oil containment in orange, were used,

  • but they only collected three percent of the oil on the surface,

  • and the health of the cleaners

  • were very deeply affected.

  • I was working on a very interesting technology

  • at MIT, but it was a very long-term view

  • of how to develop technology,

  • and it was going to be a very expensive technology,

  • and also it would be patented.

  • So I wanted to develop something that we could

  • develop very fast, that would be cheap,

  • and that would be open-source, so, because

  • oil spills are not only happening in the Gulf of Mexico,

  • and that would be using renewable energy.

  • So I quit my dream job,

  • and I moved to New Orleans,

  • and I kept on studying how the oil spill was happening.

  • Currently, what they were doing is

  • that they were using these small fishing boats,

  • and they were cleaning clean lines in an ocean of dirt.

  • If you're using the exact same amount of surface

  • of oil absorbent, but you're just paying attention

  • to natural patterns, and if you're going up the winds,

  • you can collect a lot more material.

  • If you're multiplying the rig,

  • so you multiply how many layers of absorbent

  • you're using, you can collect a lot more.

  • But it's extremely difficult to move oil absorbent

  • against the winds, the surface currents and the waves.

  • These are enormous forces.

  • So the very simple idea was to use the ancient technique

  • of sailing and tacking of the wind

  • to capture or intercept the oil

  • that is drifting down the wind.

  • So this didn't require any invention.

  • We just took a simple sailing boat

  • and we tried to pull something long and heavy,

  • but as we tacked back and forth,

  • what we lost was two things:

  • we were losing pulling power and direction.

  • And so, I thought, what about if we just take the rudder

  • from the back of the boat to the front,

  • would we have better control?

  • So I built this small sailing robot

  • with the rudder at the front,

  • and I was trying to pull something very long and heavy,

  • so that's a four-meter-long object just to pull,

  • and I was surprised with just a 14-centimeter rudder,

  • I could control four meters of absorbent.

  • Then I was so happy that I kept playing with the robot,

  • and so you see the robot has

  • a front rudder here.

  • Normally it's at the back.

  • And, playing, I realized that the maneuverability

  • of this was really amazing,

  • and I could avoid an obstacle at the very last second,

  • more maneuverable than a normal boat.

  • Then I started publishing online, and

  • some friends from Korea, they started being

  • interested in this, and we made a boat

  • which has a front rudder and a back rudder,

  • so we started interacting with this,

  • and it was slightly better,

  • although it was very small and a bit off balance,

  • but then we thought,

  • what if we have more than two points of control?

  • What if the entire boat becomes a point of control?

  • What if the entire boat changes shape?

  • So — (Applause)

  • Thank you very much. (Applause)

  • And so that's the beginning of Protei,

  • and that's the first boat in history

  • that completely changed the shape of the hull

  • in order to control it,

  • and the properties of sailing that we get

  • are very superior compared to a normal boat.

  • When we're turning, we have the feeling of surfing,

  • and the way it's going up-wind, it's very efficient.

  • This is low speed, low wind speed,

  • and the maneuverability is very increased,

  • and here I'm going to do a small jibe,

  • and look at the position of the sail.

  • What's happening is that, because the boat changes shape,

  • the position of the front sail and the main sail

  • are different to the wind.

  • We're catching wind from both sides.

  • And this is exactly what we're looking [for]

  • if we want to pull something long and heavy.

  • We don't want to lose pulling power, nor direction.

  • So, I wanted to know if this was possible

  • to put this at an industrial level,

  • so we made a large boat with a large sail,

  • and with a very light hull, inflatable,

  • very small footprint,

  • so we have a very big size and power ratio.

  • After this, we wanted to see if we could

  • implement this and automate the system,

  • so we used the same system but we added

  • a structure to it so we could activate the machine.

  • So, we used the same bladder-inflated system,

  • and we took it for testing.

  • So this is happening in the Netherlands.

  • We tried in the water without any skin or ballast

  • just to see how it works.

  • And then we mounted a camera for controlling it,

  • but quickly we saw that we would need

  • a lot more weight at the bottom,

  • so we had to take it back to the lab,

  • and then we built a skin around it,

  • we put batteries, remote controllers, and then

  • we put it in the water and then we

  • let it go in the water and see how well it would work,

  • so let some rope out, and hope it's going to work,

  • and it worked okay, but we still have a long way.

  • Our small prototype has given us good insight

  • that it's working very well,

  • but we still need to work a lot more on this.

  • So what we are doing is an accelerated evolution

  • of sailing technology.

  • We went from a back rudder to a front rudder

  • to two rudders to multiple rudders

  • to the whole boat changing shape,

  • and the more we are moving forward,

  • and the more the design looks simple and cute. (Laughter)

  • But I wanted to show you a fish because --

  • In fact, it's very different from a fish.

  • A fish will move because -- by changing like this,

  • but our boat is propelled by the wind still,

  • and the hull controls the trajectory.

  • So I brought to you for the first time on the TED stage

  • Protei Number Eight. It's not the last one,

  • but it's a good one for making demos.

  • So the first thing as I show you in the video is

  • that we may be able to control the trajectory

  • of a sailing boat better,

  • or we may be able to never be in irons,

  • so never facing the wind,

  • we always can catch the wind from both sides.

  • But new properties of a sailing boat.

  • So if you're looking at the boat from this side,

  • this might remind you of an airplane profile.

  • An airplane, when you're moving in this direction,

  • starts to lift, and that's how it takes off.

  • Now, if you're taking the same system,

  • and you're putting vertical, you're bending,

  • and if you're moving this way forward,

  • your instinct will tell you that you might go this way,

  • but if you're moving fast enough,

  • you might create what we call lateral lift,

  • so we could get further or closer to the wind.

  • Other property is this:

  • A normal sailing boat has a centerboard here

  • and a rudder at the back,

  • and these two things are what creates most

  • resistance and turbulence behind the boat,

  • but because this doesn't have either

  • a centerboard or a rudder,

  • we hope that if we keep working on this hull design

  • we can improve and have less resistance.

  • The other thing is, most boats, when they reach

  • a certain speed, and they are going on waves,

  • they start to hit and slap on the surface of the water,

  • and a lot of the energy moving forward is lost.

  • But if we're going with the flow,

  • if we pay attention to natural patterns

  • instead of trying to be strong,

  • but if you're going with the flow, we may absorb

  • a lot of environmental noises, so the wave energy,

  • to actually save some energy to move forward.

  • So we may have developed the technology

  • which is very efficient for pulling something long and heavy,

  • but the idea is, what is the purpose of technology

  • if it doesn't reach the right hands?

  • Normal technology or innovation happens like this:

  • Somebody has an interesting idea,

  • some other scientist or engineer,

  • they take it to the next level, they make a theory about it

  • and maybe they patent it,

  • and then some industry will make a contract

  • of exclusivity to manufacture and sell it,

  • and then, eventually, a buyer will buy it,

  • and we hope that they are going to use [it] for a good purpose.

  • What we really want is that this innovation happens

  • continuously. The inventor and engineers

  • and also the manufacturers and everybody

  • works at the same time, but this would be sterile

  • if this was happening in a parallel and uncrossed process.

  • What you really want is not a sequential,

  • not parallel development.

  • You want to have a network of innovation.

  • You want everybody, like we're doing now,

  • to work at the same time, and that can only happen

  • if these people all together decide to share the information,

  • and that's exactly what open hardware is about.

  • It's to replace competition by collaboration.

  • It's to transform any new product into a new market.

  • So what is open hardware?

  • Essentially, open hardware is a license.

  • It's just an intellectual property setup.

  • It means that everybody is free to use,

  • modify and distribute, and in exchange

  • we only ask for two things:

  • The name is credited -- the name of the project --

  • and also the people who make improvement,

  • they share back with the community.

  • So it's a very simple condition.

  • And I started this project alone in a garage in New Orleans,

  • but quickly after I wanted to publish and share

  • this information, so I made a Kickstarter,

  • which is a crowd-fundraising platform,

  • and in about one month we fundraised 30,000 dollars.

  • With this money, I hired a team of young engineers

  • from all over the world, and we rented a factory

  • in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

  • We were peer-learning, we were engineering,

  • we were making things, prototyping,

  • but most importantly we were trying our prototypes

  • in the water as often as possible,

  • to fail as quickly as possible, to learn from.

  • This is a proud member of Protei from Korea,

  • and on the right side, this is a multiple-masts

  • design proposed by a team in Mexico.

  • This idea really appealed to Gabriella Levine

  • in New York, and so she decided to prototype

  • this idea that she saw, and she documented

  • every step of the process,