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Robot gobbles up blue-green algae on Sudbury lakes

A newly unveiled robot is aiming to reduce the amount of blue-green algae scum on lakes in and around Sudbury – and perhaps one day in other parts of the world.

Working robot collecting algae blooms on Simon Lake in Sudbury

A newly unveiled robot is aiming to reduce the amount of blue-green algae scum on lakes in and around Sudbury – and perhaps one day in other parts of the world.

The robot is called Odin 1.5, and it’s the brainchild of a group of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School grads, all of whom were members of the robotics team when they were in high school.

A Sudbury company has come up with a robot that could help clean the algae from our waterways. 6:45

They’ve since gone on to university, but not before creating their own company, Northern Ontario Robotics Solutions and Equipment (NORSE).

“We’re all pretty passionate about robotics, so it’s nice to be able to do something you love and help the environment,” said Matteo​ Neville, one of the inventors.

Matteo Neville is one of the inventors of Odin 1.5. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Neville said they chose to target the blue-green algae problem after one of his co-inventors’ mothers raised the issue to the group. She is on the Simon Lake Stewardship Committee, the lake where the robot is currently gobbling up the algae.

The inventors say one advantage of Odin 1.5 is its size.

The robot resembles a small boat. It’s about 10 feet long, four feet wide, and has a conveyor on the front. That conveyor is what picks up the algae scum from the water, where it then stores it on a blue metal platform.

“There are other machines like this, but they’re the size of floating barges made of steel,” said Charles Ramcharan, an associate biology professor at Laurentian University, and an advisor of the project.

“Those other machines operate in very deep water, and take out everything, including all aquatic plants. This machine leaves that aquatic life in so it can shade the water and reduce the growth of blooms.”

One of the causes of blue-green algae is a high level of phosphorus in the lake.

“Hopefully in the long run we’ll be able to take out enough algae that it reduces the phosphorus level so it won’t be a problem anymore,” Neville said, talking about the cycle where in the algae grows, eats phosphorus, dies, and then releases the element back into the lake.

Encouraging innovation in young people

Ramcharan says the work Neville and NORSE are doing is impressive for such young entrepreneurs.

“This is a message to younger people that there are environmental problems that they can just get up and solve,” he said. “We need to start thinking about innovation.”

Laurentian professor Charles Ramcharan has been helping the inventors at NORSE find out more about the biology behind blue-green algae. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

The inventors feel as though their relative inexperience gives them an advantage.

“One of the big things we’re key on is keeping it simple,” said Neville. “We don’t know everything we could know, so we don’t over-design things … When we keep it simple like this, it’s just so much more cost efficient and easier to manufacture.”

Eventually, Neville said the inventors hope to sell Odin 1.5 to a larger market.

This summer’s working model is already the second re-design of the robot, and in the future the group is hoping to revamp the frame to create a better unit.

“There’s a big blue-green algae problem all around the world, so hopefully we can eventually expand into other countries, too,” Neville said.

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