Transcript: Climate Quickie: How Bali trip inspired waste-clearing ocean robot business
TEDxLondon Climate Curious
In this week’s Climate Quickie, we hear from Sidhant Gupta, the co-founder of Clear Bot, on how a trip to Bali inspired a waste-clearing ocean robot business.
A lifelong robotics enthusiast from Bangalore, India, Sidhant always knew he wanted to make things, he just didn’t know his invention would help decarbonise our oceans!
Tune in to learn how climate action can be a happy by-product of a great business idea.
Let’s learn more with Sidhant.
Hey, I’m Sidhant. I’m one of the co-founders of a company called Clearbot. We’re an ocean tech startup out of Hong Kong, where we make emission free electric boats that can automatically throw a bit of artificial intelligence, collect trash out of water bodies.
A bit about me. I grew up in Bangalore in India, and I’ve been sort of all over Asia over my time.I’ve spent most of my time in Hong Kong over the last seven years.
So the story behind this company, um, is a bit strange. Basically my friends and I, we were at the University of Hong Kong and we wanted to go to Bali for our graduation trip, and we found a fund that the university had that said it was kind of a project fund for students, right?
So if you were organizing a project out somewhere else, they would pay for your flights and your hotel. And so we figured, okay, this is a great way for us to fund our trip to Bali. Right? So we went down to Bali and then we started looking for projects to do so that we could then submit it to the university and get our flights paid for.
One day we were on Chango Beach and we noticed, the locals on the beach, they were going out into the water and collecting the trash out on their paddle boats,literally just by hand.
We started speaking to them, we realized this is how waste is collected out in Bali, right? And we soon realized, This is in fact a huge community effort across the island, simply because their entire industry depends on the beaches being clean, right?
We realized that the governments were putting a lot of resources into this. In fact, when we came back to Hong Kong, we realized in Hong Kong, the government was hiring a fleet of 80 to 90 diesel powered boats that basically go around the water every day. And somebody with a net is trying to, you know, fish all this waste out.
And these boats running on diesel are in fact creating more pollution than they cleaning. Right. So that’s kind of how our company started, which is we realized that there’s a huge problem. It’s socially impactful, it’s meaningful, but also it’s very financially sustainable, right? There’s a good economic opportunity where governments are paying for this.
So we started to ideate out the concept of using. A machine to do this kind of work where it would be automated or at least semi-automated, so that instead of having three people on one boat, cleaning trash, you could now have one person running four or five boats.
And that’s what now we are doing at Clearbot.
To be honest with you, I. Never really think that I would end up doing what I’m doing today. So I grew up basically in a factory, right?
My parents ran a small factory, so I grew up around a lot of machines and I was always fascinated by robotics, and that’s kind of what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to build robots and, maybe build businesses around those robots. But there was definitely no climate. That said, the city I grew up in Bangalore and India.
When I was small, there used to be a ton of lakes here, right? There were a few hundred lakes, and today there’s less than 30% of the original number. Right. Most of them have dried up. And the existing lakes are so polluted that sometimes it’s very common here that, especially growing up, we’d see foam building up on the surface of the lake, and sometimes that foam would overflow onto the main.
But I guess I, I never grew up thinking that I would want to do something about it, right? I, I really was thinking, I’m just gonna build robots. But when I came to university and things started to come together we realized very quickly, there is in fact economic opportunity in environmental protection today. Originally I did not approach this from an environmental angle
So with Clearbot, we started off building these robotic trash collection boats. and as we started doing this, we realized our clients started asking us, “Hey, can you also move cargo from me?”
And slowly we started realizing that our value add was not just removing waste from the water, but was just decarbonizing any kind of work in the water. So removing a petrol engine from the water.
So, and that’s kind of where the future of the company is as well. So today we’re over the last kind of 18 months, we’ve gone from zero to one and one to 10 boats, right?
So today we’re now trying to expand from 10 boats to a fleet of hundred boats. The focus is to grow our fleet and, and multiply our impact.
So if you wanna know more about Clear Bot, you can go down to our website, clearbot.org