Trading radio for ocean-cleaning drones: Richard Hardiman’s new adventure

If you’re a native Capetonian, you probably know Richard Hardiman as a radio DJ — he was a host on commercial radio station KFM for the best part of 16 years. And if you’re in the South African tech space, you might be familiar with his involvement in online radio station 2OceansVibe. But now the guy once known as “the party man” is on a mission to clean up the world’s oceans and waterways using autonomous drones.

For the past couple of years, Hardiman has headed up a startup called Ranmarine with the ultimate goal of building what are essentially nautical versions of the Pixar character WALL-E.

Running with little or no human intervention, the nautical drones will be able to clean the water surfaces in harbours and canals by scooping up detritus, marine waste and chemical substances. Those are pretty busy spaces, so to ensure that the solar-powered drones (dubbed WasteSharks) are equipped with sensors to feed back the water quality, weather and depth of the harbour basin to authorities, geo-mapping to ensure the drones don’t get in the way of waterway traffic, and swarming capabilities so multiple drones can hone in on major spills and problem areas in the harbour.

There’s clearly a need for this kind of intervention too. Scientists estimate that there are more than 5.25-trillion pieces of plastic polluting the world’s oceans. And it’s not just the visible stuff that’s a problem. Small plastic particles, such as the microbeads found in some cosmetics, can actually choke and kill krill, affecting the whole foodchain.

“Humans are very good at forgetting where waste truly ends up. If it’s not going into some landfill somewhere then odds are it has ended up in a storm-water drain, river or outlet and then off into the ocean never to be seen again; by humans that is,” says Hardiman.

But according to Hardiman, the reasons for developing the WasteShark were a little more prosaic.

“I am not sure that the idea was born out of being ecologically-minded”, says Hardiman, “It was more of a case of seeing how harbours and marine waste management currently deal with the problem. I just saw a more effective solution to the problem. The end result, though, is a greener planet, which was achieved by developing a sustainable idea which also delivers on good business practices.”

The concept was strong enough to get RanMarine Technology selected from a pool 1700 global startups and marine companies to take part in the world’s first Port Accelerator Programme (PORTXL) in Rotterdam.

PORTXL is a mentorship programme that focuses on developing innovation in port related industries. The course/trial includes a 100-day intensive program, with world experts in the field, developing business plans – and ideas – that eventually culminates in pitching the business idea to audience of customers, venture capitalists, and journalists to get funding for the idea.

According to Hardiman, the WasteShark doesn’t present a job threat, because it does something that humans can’t effectively do right now. Furthermore, he says, “it will require some interaction from those collecting waste from their offload stations. RanMarine also has plans to up-skill workers, especially from South Africa, to build and operate the drones, creating employment opportunities.”

Looking forward, Hardiman hopes to take the WasteShark into the real world and use partnerships to reach a global market.

“We need investment to grow and we are currently talking to a number of interested parties for the next stage. We are also obviously talking to global partners that can help us scale more easily globally.”



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