Robocean engineers develop seagrass-planting robot to combat climate change

Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director at Converge

A TEAM of engineers, backed by the Converge initiative, is launching a £100,000 project to build a robot capable of planting seagrass, a critical element in the fight against climate change. Often referred to as “the lungs of the ocean,” seagrass meadows can absorb carbon dioxide 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. With over 90% of Britain’s seagrass depleted in the last century, endangering the nation’s net-zero targets, the team from the University of Edinburgh is working on a robot to plant seagrass seeds efficiently and affordably.

Seagrass meadows have been dubbed “the lungs of the ocean,” capable of absorbing carbon dioxide 35 times faster than tropical rainforests. Over 90% of Britain’s seagrass has vanished in the last century, hampering the nation’s net-zero targets.

A group of eight engineering graduates from the University of Edinburgh is developing a robot to plant seagrass seeds on the seabed more quickly and cost-effectively than existing methods.

Niall McGrath and Joe Ralphs, two of the engineers, are now working full-time at Robocean, the company they founded to bring their idea to life.

Robocean, winner of the 2022 Net Zero Challenge at Converge, secured a £30,000 award from Converge, enabling them to match a £100,000 SMART:Scotland grant from Scottish Enterprise.

Niall McGrath, co-founder and CEO of Robocean (Photograph: MAVERICK PHOTO AGENCY)

Niall McGrath, co-founder and CEO of Robocean, expressed his passion for addressing climate change through engineering and the importance of restoring seagrass meadows. He said, “The training and support we received from Converge – coupled with the grant we’ve now received from Scottish Enterprise – will allow us to develop our technology and prototype key innovative systems. Launching a business like Robocean isn’t the end-game – instead, it’s a way to make a difference to the world and we’re actively looking for partners and investors to join us on our journey.”

With the support and funding received, Robocean aims to develop a minimum viable product for commercial markets over the next 18 months.

The Converge initiative, which offers funding and support to university entrepreneurs, has opened applications for its 2024 programme. Over £280,000 is available across four challenge categories, including Net Zero, where Robocean found success.

Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, executive director of Converge, highlighted the initiative’s commitment to supporting purpose-driven innovators and fostering inclusive innovation. She emphasised the collaborative approach with universities, research institutes, investors, and corporate partners to empower the next generation of founders.

Cavalluzzo said, “We take a collaborative, ecosystem approach – working closely with universities, research institutes, investors, corporate partners and other organisations to help these brave individuals turn their dreams into reality. By backing talented, mission-led founders and connecting them to the full range of Scotland’s entrepreneurial support system, we can have an even greater collective impact.

This project aligns with Scotland’s broader entrepreneurial ecosystem, reflecting the country’s commitment to innovation and addressing societal needs.

The seagrass-planting robot initiative exemplifies Scotland’s spirit of invention in building a better future, combining purpose and passion to make a positive impact on the world.

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