• Programme: Horizon 2020; Call: H2020-ICT-2018-2020
  • Funding amount: €5 million, of which €690,000 is for Bavaria
  • Funding period: 01/2020-12/2023
  • Coordinator: Prof. Bart De Schutter, Center for Systems and Control at Delft University of Technology (NL)
  • Project number: 871295
  • Website:   

EU project SeaClear - Autonomous robots clean the seabed

The pollution of the oceans is becoming a global environmental disaster. The limits of ecological self-cleaning have long been exceeded; the marine flora and fauna have been contaminated by pollution. Of the 26 to 66 million tons of litter that the oceans currently contain, more than 90% end up at the bottom of the sea1. However, most efforts to clean up the oceans focus on the litter found on the surface of the sea. So far, only divers have been used to collect underwater waste - a very cost-intensive measure. A solution to replace divers with autonomous and inexpensive robots does not yet exist. This is where the EU project SeaClear comes in. The aim of the project is to develop an IT-based, collaborative robotic solution that collects underwater litter autonomously and without human intervention.

SeaClear: the inexpensive and efficient solution for collecting underwater litter

SeaClear stands for "SEarch, identificAtion, and Collection of marine LittEr with Autonomous Robots". As part of the EU project, an international team of researchers is developing a solution consisting of unmanned vehicles operating underwater, on the surface of the water and in the air. These intelligent, autonomous robots network with each other and scan the ocean floor for litter. The watercraft are supported by drones that can detect litter in the sea from the air. The underwater robots are also equipped with special sensors. These enable them to discern whether an identified object is actually litter and not a part of the maritime flora and fauna.

First of all, the robots jointly map the underwater pollution located on the seabed in the operational area. The robotic vehicle operating on the surface of the water autonomously takes on the coordinating role and performs detailed analysis using artificial intelligence. Items that have been classified as litter are then collected by the underwater robots. They suck up the smaller items immediately and use their special suction pads to collect the larger and heavier objects.

As part of the project, the hardware and software system that has been developed will be tested in two case studies: in the port of Hamburg and in a tourist area near Dubrovnik (Croatia). When the SeaClear system is fully operational, it should be able to detect and classify underwater litter with a success rate of 80% and collect it with a success rate of 90%. The solution is supposed to be 70% cheaper than using divers.

International expertise in the consortium

The research team in the consortium is made up of eight European partners from Germany, the Netherlands, Croatia, France and Romania. In addition to the two end users, which are the Port of Hamburg and Dubrovnik, the consortium also includes an SME that provides tried and tested hardware for the platform as well as four academic institutions with complementary expertise in the areas of underwater and aerial robotics, sensors, mapping, control, and system integration. SeaClear has received €5 million in funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and is coordinated by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.


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  • Proofreading


1 Eunomia report “Plastics in the Marine Environment”



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Technical University of Munich
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