SorbDrone – an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle, designed to revolutionize the oil spill cleanup process

Motivated by the existing non-effective solutions for oil spills, the team built an exclusive drone that can assist in cleaning up of oil spills.


BITS Pilani Dubai has made its mark undeniably felt in the UAE with its students bringing home laurels and achievements from Hackathons, Research and various Technical Competitions. Intelligent Flying Objects For Reconnaissance, also called, Team IFOR is one of the outstanding Technical teams of BITS who have successfully turned their visions to real innovations.

Team IFOR, founded in 2010, is a Robotics team, that specializes in Drones, fully autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles. The members are enthusiastic peers who strive to apply their skills and knowledge to improve and find solutions to real world problems in the field of drones. The team has won some remarkable competitions since its inception. They stood 1st in The International Aerial Robotics Competition (IARC) 2011 and “Drones for Good Challenge 2015”.

Their newest innovation is The SorbDrone, created for this year’s “Drones for Good Competition”.
Motivated by the existing non-effective solutions for oil spills, the team built an exclusive drone that can assist in cleaning up of oil spills. Methods presently used for clean up like in-situ burning, adding oil dispersants or with the help of Sorbents, cost a lot of money, time and resources. Also, in most of these methods, oil cannot be recovered which causes heavy losses to oil industries. SorbDrone overcomes a lot of these shortcoming. Without getting into core technical details, the working of this system is explained below.

The area of the oil spill is identified by using image feedback from thermal and RGB cameras. This area is divided into grids based on the drone’s capacity. After this is configured, a swarm of drones are assigned a grid. They will fly to their assigned grid to start the cleanup process. The drones are set to take off and land from carrier ships. A hydrophobic oil absorbing pad, created by OILEX is attached below the base of the Sorb-Drone. A circular fabricated float is present above this pad, aiding the drone to float on water. The pad actively absorbs the oil under it with minimal leakage. Alter a stipulated time, it flies back to its control station to have the pad and battery replaced. The oil pads are stored and the batteries are kept for charging so that they can be used again to do their designated work. This process is repeated until the oil spill is cleared.

This recovered product can be incinerated in industrial plants to produce energy, making it a cost-efficient method. The pads are made up of 100{f723c0ef2b87b19843560edc416a2a968fa0047bd906562716d71ed5a9227d36} organic material which can absorb all kinds of oils very quickly and efficiently, without affecting the marine ecosystem, thus, ecofriendly. Use of SorbDrones also greatly reduces workforce, machinery and labor costs. SorbDrone is a very efficient apt impactful solution for Oil spill cleanups.

Their video submission can be viewed in YouTube under the following link:

The team is competing for a grant given by Team Total Grants. Public voting chooses the winning team. To show your support for these creative students, vote at

The team is now gearing up for the next big IARC 2017. We wish them good luck. They truly speak the BITSian Words of Innovate, Achieve, Lead.

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