BOSTON and CAMBRIDGE, MA—The world’s oceans are vast, deep and slowly filling with microplastics—a situation that provided just the right inspiration for a team at Draper and Sprout Studios, whose sleek autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) concept has earned it a spot on the 2019 TIME Best Inventions list.
Designed jointly by Draper and Sprout, the AUV is meant to dive beneath the waves to ingest and analyze water at various depths. While the drone is still a concept, such a vehicle could ultimately be a platform for Draper’s microplastics sensor system under development.
Draper project lead Lou Kratchman says data gathered by the microplastic-sensing AUV could help fill the existing gaps in our knowledge of the global microplastics problem. “We need real-time microplastics data, from many locations throughout the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers,” Kratchman explains. “An AUV could help us create an updated ‘weather map’ of microplastic pollution.”
Jordan Nollman, CEO at Sprout Studios, said they were asked to envision what the body of the sensor could look like given the requirement to operate on its own underwater. “The goal would be to have a whole fleet of these sensors working at once with a single charging buoy nearby, equipped with satellite communications, to collect and share information,” Nollman said.
To assemble the 2019 TIME Best Inventions list, TIME solicited nominations across a variety of categories from editors and correspondents around the world, as well as through an online application process. Each contender was then evaluated on key factors, including originality, effectiveness, ambition and influence. The result: 100 groundbreaking inventions that are changing the way we live, work, play and think about what’s possible.