SHECO (official site) is a startup which produces largescale pollution-removal solutions for public waters or various industrial environments such as ports, shipyards, industrial plants etc. located nearby bodies of water at risk.

Water-pollution events only make it to the evening news when they are large or catastrophic. Every day, there are about 3200 “pollution incidents” worldwide, and 256 such incidents in Korea alone. Fortunately, 92% of them are small-scale events (70% caused by small ships), but since water pollution is cumulative, it’s important to address as many of them as possible to maintain water as clean as possible.

Pollution might be of chemical nature (oil and other) but there are also cases of “natural” pollution, such as Algae, that have undesirable outcomes and need to be remediated. Algae is considered by Sheco as a “water quality management” while oil and other chemicals are a “contaminants response”.

Without a doubt, some of you may have seen oil cleanup operations on TV. It’s messy and sometimes involve the large-scale release of chemicals that are barely better than the oil itself. And in hard-to-access areas, manual cleanup is both difficult and exposes workers to potential toxic elements.

Unsurprisingly, Sheco’s solution involves… robots! Essentially, the company has created several types of water-drones that can roam within a polluted area and remove the pollutant. While this sounds simple, such implementation doesn’t really exist at scale because it’s extremely complicated to do.

Seawater is already a harsh environment, but swimming in chemicals makes things even more difficult. Secondly, a lot of typical contaminant response involves trying to break down the pollutant using other chemical products… releasing even more chemicals in the environment.

Sheco takes a smarter approach and uses a real-time filtering technology. This seems to work based on a gravity filtration technique that relies on how different liquids end up floating in different spaces based on their composition. With this separation, Sheco’s drones can remove as much of the pollutant as possible and reject cleaner water immediately. If needed the drone can make a second pass at the same location.

The company has ways to recognize various pollutants with imaging techniques that recognizes how light is reflected off different chemicals. This can even work at night with the proper hardware. The recognition itself is done via machine-learning techniques (A.I) and is one of the proprietary advantages of this startup. Looking at the technical details, I see Sheco using A.I vision techniques such as image segmentation or super-resolution.

The drone themselves are a bit smaller than a car and offer ways to extend their filtering capacity and other modules. However, the general principle is that they are of a manageable size (from an industrial standpoint) and they are designed to work in swarms. Finally, the robots can work almost autonomously with a bare minimum of human supervision, making it scalable and easily deployable. If needed, the robots can be manually piloted.

While I was in South Korea meeting with representatives of IFEZ (Incheon Free Economic Zone) in Songdo, we had an opportunity to see and touch one of the Sheco Ark cleanup drones. The drones have a very robust metal build, but we noticed that some parts were 3D-printed. Their size seems like a good balance between what it can clean up, and how easy it would be to transport using regular-size trucks.

Sheco will attend CES 2024 to talk about this drone to find global partners. In recent years, it’s been exciting to see so many new technologies which help keep our water clean, whether it is by removing chemical pollutants, or grabbing floating plastic far away from the shores.

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