Three years ago, South African radio personality Richard Hardiman had an idea that would establish him as an entrepreneur in a new industry and allow him to pioneer unexplored ideas. He would also have to move different continent – and eventually settled in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
The idea: To create autonomous nautical drones to clean up waterways. These machines would be able to operate with little or no human supervision, and be able clean the water surfaces in harbours and canals by scooping up detritus, marine waste and chemical substances.
“Humans are very good at forgetting where waste truly ends up. If it’s not going into some landfill somewhere then odds are it has ended up in a storm-water drain, river or outlet and then off into the ocean never to be seen again; by humans that is,” says Hardiman.
RanMarine Technology was recently selected from a pool 1 700 global startups and marine companies to take part in the world’s first Port Accelerator Programme (PORTXL) in Rotterdam.
PORTXL is a mentorship programme that focuses on developing innovation in port related industries. The course/trial includes a 100-day intensive programme, with world experts in the field, developing business plans – and ideas – that eventually culminates in pitching the business idea to audience of customers, venture capitalists, and journalists to get funding for the idea.
“I am not sure that the idea was born out of being ecologically-minded”, says Hardiman. “It was more of a case of seeing how harbours and marine waste management currently deal with the problem. I just saw a more effective solution to the problem. The end result, though, will be a greener planet, which was achieved by developing a sustainable idea which also delivers on good business practices.”
The WasteShark (the drone’s name), has come a long way since its original concept over three years ago. The machine is powered by solar panels and batteries, is equipped with sensors to feed back the water quality, weather and depth of the harbour basin to authorities, GIO mapping to ensure the drones don’t get in the way of waterway traffic, and swarming capabilities so multiple drones can hone in on major spills and problem areas in the harbour.
“It is capable of 24-7 operations,” Hardiman says. “It won’t replace humans or threaten their jobs as it will require some interaction from those collecting waste from their offload stations. RanMarine also has plans to up-skill workers, especially from South Africa, to build and operate the drones, creating employment opportunities.”
Hardiman dreams of reaching a market on a global scale through partnerships. “We need investment to grow and we are currently talking to a number of interested parties for the next stage. We are also obviously talking to global partners that can help us scale more easily globally.”