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Cesar HARADA & Protei on SCMP
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Yuen Extended farm an hour from the sea might not appear like the best place for a boat workshop, but it is exactly where French- Japanese environmentalist and inventor Cesar Harada is based.
That’s exactly where he is designing and constructing unique robotic boats with shape-shifting hulls and the capacity to clean up oil spills. The hull alterations shape to manage the path “like a fish”, Harada, 30, says. It is efficiently a second sail in the water, so the boat has a tighter turning circle and can even sail backwards.
“I hope to make the world’s most manoeuvrable sailboat,” he says. “The shape-shifting hull is a genuine breakthrough in technologies. Nobody has carried out it in a dynamic way before.”
Harada hopes 1 day a fleet of fully automated boats will patrol the oceans, performing all sorts of clean-up and information- collection tasks, such as radioactivity sensing, coral reef imaging and fish counting.
Asia could benefit greatly simply because, Harada says, the area has the worst pollution problems in the world. Yet the story of his invention started in the Gulf of Mexico, following one of the most devastating environmental disasters in current years – the 2010 BP oil spill. Harada was working in building in Kenya when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hired him to lead a team of researchers to create a robot that could clean up the oil.
He spent half his salary going to the gulf and hiring a fisherman to take him to the oil spill. Much more than 700 repurposed fishing boats had been deployed to clean up the slick, but only 3 per cent of the oil was collected.
It then dawned on him that since the robot he was creating at MIT was patented, it could only be created by one business, which would take a long time, and it would be so high-priced that it could only be utilised in wealthy nations.
This realisation created Harada quit his “dream job” to develop an alternative oil-cleaning technologies: anything low cost, fast and open-source, so it could be freely used, modified and distributed by anyone, as long as they shared their improvements with the neighborhood.
He moved to New Orleans to be closer to the spill, and taught nearby residents how to map the oil with cameras attached to balloons and kites.
Harada set up a business to develop his invention, originally primarily based in New York before moving to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and then San Francisco. Now, Harada says he will be based in Hong Kong for at least the subsequent 5 years. He built his workshop and adjoining office in Yuen Long himself in 5 months on what employed to be a concrete parking space covered with an iron roof right after acquiring the internet site in June last year.
He 1st visited Hong Kong last year while sailing around the planet on a four-month cruise for entrepreneurs and students. It is the ideal place for his ocean

robotics company, he says, simply because the city’s import-export capabilities and the availability of electronics in Shenzhen are the best in the globe. Also, Hongkongers are excited about technology, setting up a organization is effortless, taxes are low and regulations flexible, he says.
He named the boat Protei right after the proteus salamander, which lives in the caves of Slovenia. “Our very first boat actually looked like this ugly, strange, blind salamander,” Harada
says with a laugh. He later discovered that Proteus is the nameofaGreekseagod–oneof the sons of Poseidon, who protects sea creatures by changing form, and the name stuck. “He is the shepherd of the sea,” Harada says.
Harada constructed the very first 4 prototypes in a month by hacking and reconfiguring toys in his garage, and invented the shape-shifting hull to pull long objects. A cylinder of oil- absorbent material is attached to the end of the boat that soaks up oil like a sponge. The shape-
shifting hull permits the jib – or front sail – and the primary sail to be at distinct angles to the wind, enabling the boat to sail upwind much more efficiently, intercepting spilled oil that is drifting downwind.
“Sailing is an ancient technologies that we are abandoning. But it’s how humans colonised the whole earth, so it is a actually effective technology,” Harada says. “The shape-shifting hull is a superior way of steering a wind vessel.”
The prototype is now in its 11th generation. The hull, which measures about a metre lengthy, looks and moves like a snake’s spine. Harada built ten prototypes this month, which are sold on the internet to individuals and institutions who want to develop the technology for their personal uses.
He has collaborators in South Korea, Norway, Mexico and many other nations.
“The much more folks copy us, the greater the technology becomes,” he says.
Harada, who describes himself as an environmental entrepreneur, says investors have offered to purchase half of the organization, but he has turned them all down. “They do not realize the environmental aspect of the company,” he says.
“They want to build massive boats and sell them as expensively as feasible.”
Harada has a larger vision for Protei. He wants to create
a new market place of automated boats. He hopes that a single day they will replace the expensive, manned ocean-going vessels that are at the moment employed for scientific research. He says
1 of these ships can expense tens of millions of dollars, and a additional US,000 worth of fuel is burned each day. That does not contain the price of a captain, three or 4 crew members, a cook and a team of researchers.
The expense of these analysis missions is one of the causes we know so little about the ocean, Harada says. We have explored only five per cent of the ocean, even even though it covers 70 per cent of the earth. “We know more about Mars than we know about the ocean.”
He notes that there is no gravity in space, so we can send up huge satellites. But submarines that have attempted to discover the depths of the ocean have been crushed by the stress of the water. Ships are not totally free from risk, either.
“Seafaring is the most dangerous occupation on earth,” Harada says.
Far more folks die at sea
than on building internet sites.
An automated boat would
also prevent researchers
from becoming exposed to pollution and radiation.
Harada’s Japanese family members live 100km from Fukushima, and he will go back there for a third time
in October to measure the underwater radioactivity close to the internet site. Though he admits to getting scared, “it’s the greatest release of radioactive particles in history and nobody is actually talking about it”.
Harada is also functioning with students from the Harbour School, exactly where he teaches, to create an optical plastic sensor. “We talk a lot about air pollution, but water pollution is also a huge difficulty,” he says.
He says industries in countries such as India and Vietnam have developed so fast and many environmental problems in the region have not been addressed. “In Kerala [India], all the rivers have been destroyed. The rivers in Kochi are black like ink and smell of sewage. Now it’s fully not possible to swim or fish in them.”
Hong Kong has not been spared, either. Harada joins beach clean-ups on Lamma Island and says even months soon after an oil spill and government clean-up last year, they found crabs whose lungs had been complete of oil. He says locals fish and swim in the water and there are mussels on the seabed that are still covered in oil.
“The dilemma is as big as the ocean,” Harada says. But he believes if man created the difficulty, man can remedy it. The son of Japanese sculptor Tetsuo Harada, he grew up in Paris and Saint Malo and studied product and interactive design in France and at the Royal College of Art in London.
But he believes that at an sophisticated level, art and science grow to be indistinguishable.
“I do not see a barrier between science and art at the leading level,” he says. “It’s exactly where imagination meets details.”


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