Humans of TU Delft Giuseppe Deininger
(Photo: Giuseppe Deininger)

Using swarming robots to get rid of toxic algae and duckweed on waterways. Bachelor’s student Giuseppe Deininger is helping to make that a reality.

“I’m Brazilian, from João Pessoa, which is the most eastern place on the continent so it’s easy to spot on the map. When I was in high school, I started tinkering with electronics, I built my own FM radio and at that point I realised I wanted to do something with engineering. I really liked maths and physics so in 2014 I started studying electrical engineering. I was just 16 years old then and I started living by myself in a city called Campina Grande.

In Brazil the bachelor’s degree takes five years, so it’s kind of like the bachelor’s and master’s together here. I always had the idea of doing an exchange. Around 2017 to 2018 I started working on a lot of robotics projects and it was not the strength of the university there. There was a lot of hardware but I felt like I was missing programming. I knew then that I wanted to do something with embedded systems and computer engineering which is right between electrical engineering and computer science. When I was considering the options at TU Delft, I noticed a small tab on the website about an honours programme in Next Generation Robotics (NGR) and that sold me. I knew that I could merge everything together to have the full scope of what I wanted to study.

In my second year here, there was this one project that caught the attention of a few of us at NGR which was a water collection sampling boat. It was a project that was already being worked on but there were some problems. We saw a lot of potential and started discussing it and we came up with the project idea that we have been working on since then. The project is called Krill and it has now been in our hands for one year. We work together with Deltares and Royal IHC.

Initially, the idea was to collect duckweed and blue-green algae. Blue-green algae is toxic for humans and some animals. Duckweed and algae both block the sun so they limit the nutrients that can enter the water and that causes some issues. Some of the water boards that have this problem want to remove the duckweed and blue-green algae from their canals. It takes quite a lot of human labour to do so and they don’t have enough manpower to manually remove it. So, the intention is to try to automate the process.

‘Our first idea was to use swarming’

Deltares started with this project, then The Hague University of Applied Sciences (Haagse Hogeschool) started working on it and then it was a project for the minor in robotics here at TU Delft. They all ended up with a prototype that was way too big and heavy and wouldn’t fit on the canals. When we saw that problem our first idea was to use swarming. Swarming in this case is having a large amount of very small robots that are cheaper to manufacture, behaving as a swarm. If you look at ants or beetles and take them individually it seems like they don’t do much but when you put them together you really see there is a bigger mission.

The boat that they had before had to be transported by car and the one that we have right now can be carried on a bike. We also decided to specialise each robot so now we have one boat that is just collecting, one that is just taking measurements, like checking water turbidity, checking if the water is too acidic or if there is enough oxygen. These are all things that are important for the water boards.

There are a few long-term plans in terms of achieving better water quality in the future. Summer is when most of the algae and duckweed shows up so that’s when we actually have to show that we can do it. So, our main goal right now is getting ready for a pilot project this summer with some water boards to prove that it works.”

Who are the people who work and study on campus? We meet them in Humans of TU Delft. Want to be featured in this series? Or do you know someone with a good story to tell? Send us an e-mail at humansoftudelft@gmail.com