Abu Dhabi pupil invents marine robot to chew through the world's oceans plastic problem

Sainath Manikandan, who has won a string of awards, is in talks with Masdar about producing the prototype

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Sainath Manikandan, 11 has designed a robot to collect plastic from the sea at Gems United Indian School in Baniyas. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
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A young eco campaigner is taking a bite out of the planet's plastic problem - after developing a robot to devour waste clogging the oceans.

Sainath Manikandan was so affected by a documentary he watched at the age of just five on widespread environmental waste that he has been doing his bit to tackle the issue ever since.

Now aged 11, he is an active member of Emirates Environmental Group and has taken part in numerous initiatives run by the group and his even spearheaded his own campaign in his school and his community to collect recyclables.

He also writes about environmental issues and is an ambassador of Drop It Youth, a UAE campaign to raise awareness about the problem of single-use plastic.

His interest has culminated in an invention to address the original problem: a robot which ‘eats’ any plastic it finds while swimming across the surface of the water.

“I control it with the remote controller,” said Sainath, a grade seven pupil at Gems United Indian School, in Abu Dhabi, who is supported by his sister, Sai Sahana, in his campaigns.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Sainath Manikandan, 11 has designed a robot to collect plastic from the sea at Gems United Indian School in Baniyas. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

“There are three motors. The motor at the front collects the waste, which is kept in the back. The other two motors work like paddles to make it move. I have built a prototype. It works. It can hold 100kg to 200kg of plastic.”

He said Masdar, the UAE’s clean energy company, is even interested in producing it.

“Emirates Environmental Group are planning to help me. Even Masdar will help me with the robot’s development. And of course in my school I get a lot of support,” said Sainath, who also holds a brown belt in karate.

“My teachers and principal give me the opportunity to explore my capabilities. They are very supportive and motivate me in all my activities.”

The robot, which he designed for Innovator 2018, held as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, was recently chosen to be the Best Technology Project in the Future Entrepreneurs event running at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

But that is just one of a string of awards he has won.

“He won the Diana Award 2018 who believe that young people have the power to change the world,” said his mother, Lalitha.

And just this week, he was named an outstanding individual in the Beeah Environment Excellence School Award.

His mother, Lalitha, is proud of his efforts.

“My children Sainath and Sai Sahana mean the world to me and are my greatest resource. They are being guided in the right direction by their school principal, supervisors and teachers to move ahead and dream big,” she said.

Sainath isn't alone in his effort to combat plastic waste, as it is an issue being seriously by senior figures in the country.

At the World Ocean Summit, held in Abu Dhabi last month, regional officials, private sector chiefs and ambassadors agreed to confront the problem of plastic being recklessly dumped at sea.

The meeting also delivered a pledge to promote cleaning-up 10 major river systems across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. These systems are believed to cause 90 per cent of the oceans' plastic problem.

The pledges were non-binding with more details expected in the next few months but millions of tonnes of plastic waste are being dumped at sea each year. The UN has warned marine life faces irreparable damage from the problem.

“With statistics indicating that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050, the world must step up and commit to a more concrete action plan to generate solutions that can reverse these statistics,” said Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, at the meeting.