Richard Hardiman, the accidental environmentalist, speaks honestly about his entrepreneurial journey, discovering a passion for drones and plastic recycling he never dreamed of, and how the creative, entrepreneurial side lies in each of us- waiting to be unleashed. RanMarine Technology B.V. has just launched WasteShark, their first product. WasteShark is a fully autonomous drone that swims through the water, collecting waste and other non-biodegradables, whilst gathering data about the environment.
Waste removal and plastic recycling is not a ‘sexy’ subject but when you start using drones in water to start reducing the negative effects of pollution, that generally spark a conversation, not only about just how bad pollution in our oceans has gotten, but how cool the future of technology really is.
Our products are unique but I think our innovation and understanding of what the future needs are our most differentiating aspects.
A few years ago, I was watching two men in a boat cleaning out an area of water with a pool net; a small and relatively ineffective pool net and the inefficiency in that process just drove me mad, especially given the amount of trash they were trying to collect with that net.
I started playing around with the idea of automated scoops to pick this up and filter the plastic out, eventually, I narrowed it down to USV’s (Unmanned Surface Vehicles/Vessels) and how we could use drone technology to automate this plastic collection.
As with any idea that speaks to current problems, everyone I spoke to about this solution got very excited, but an idea is one thing, committing to it and creating something that has never been done before is quite another.
“Eventually, I built a prototype in my garage; it was made of plumbers piping Arduino boards and some bilge pumps to act as motors – I put it all together with some crudely written code and tested the prototype in my pool; despite my skills, it worked!”
From there I joined an Accelerator (portxl.org) in Rotterdam and found new partners and investment and we have been building ever since.
It may sound odd but the fact that we created a business from scratch, which was based on the idea of “what if”, and turned that into something that has a demand globally…that to me is pretty big. It sounds like a linear process, you have an idea, build a prototype, find investment and create a product, but the journey is far harder and path far more winding than that – we created something that never existed before and that always pleases me.
Our next two months is totally focused on market readiness; we have a number of drones out in the field right now (The Netherlands, USA, Africa, and India) been tested by launching customers and partners with a view to refining the requirements, usability and tweaking any parts of the software and hardware for customer-readiness. Along with this, we are into scale-up mode on our production lines and logistics into our launching markets; 2018 is the year we started sending our first product The WasteShark around the globe, so internally we are focused on making these steps as simple as possible. Parallel to this, we are working on our next two products, so it's all systems go.
I knew nothing about drones, maritime or even the huge problem that is plastic waste before I saw those two men in a boat with their net; My inspiration came from trying to solve a problem of inefficacy in a process, as many new innovations do – if you had asked me three or four years ago did I think I would be doing what I am doing now I would have laughed…but that’s because inspiration and innovation do come from the most unlikely of places and send you on a path that you can’t always predict, but that’s half the fun.
If we had to start over again there would, of course, be things I would change, decisions, partnerships, or development paths that you would not have taken, but these are all learning processes, you try your best not to make the same mistake twice but quite often you do anyway. Part of being an entrepreneur is having the tenacity to live with your mistakes, choices, and the constant threat of failure and learning to adapt to that and continue going forward.
“…If you had asked me three or four years ago did I think I would be doing what I am doing now I would have laughed…”
There have been many moments! Oddly though never one of giving up – with anything new and untested you invariably come up against problems that you thought would be simple to solve and become almost show-stoppers to the project, but I am big on solutions, you can find problems everywhere in life…I prefer that if I am shown a problem I am also given one or two possibilities on how we intend to solve the problem; too often we use a problem to mean that we no longer have to work or think, that is just lazy.
It is going well now but that doesn’t mean that problems do not arise, we are a small and growing team and we are working well together, but with a problem the size of the one we are trying to help solve, roadblocks and problems occur every day; its just how you manage your way around or through them.
Whenever I tell people I work with drones they look up to the sky, drones are all around us in the sky, the water and soon on our roads, unmanned vehicles doing our work of piloting, driving or managing our lives for us; this is only going to become more frequent over the next few years and decade. Legislation is slow to catch up as technology always moves faster than bureaucracy, we see this not only in our sector but in Blockchain, Fintech and others.
I fully understand the “big brother” is watching threat of flying drones some people may feel, military drones, for example, are where we first started understanding autonomous and unmanned flight and they are not exactly the poster boy for making us feel safe, they after all used as weapons.
But unmanned systems are changing the way interact with our environment, the WasteShark, for example, is a case of technology not only changing peoples lives and reducing the impact of plastic on our environment, but those two men who used to use a pool net to clean up garbage in a boat, now use a state of the art drone; they are still employed, not replaced by a robot, but are given technology to become more effective in their work. They can do things quicker, at a greater scale and at less cost…and they are now drone pilots, not garbage collectors…the positive effects of drone technology are not merely commercial and environmental.
Many people who see me or read about our company assume that I am an engineer or a tech guy; the truth is I like tech but I am not an engineer or a programming geek, I was simply someone who saw a better way to do something and took that idea forward and created something out of it; that person lies in all of us – it's just a matter of getting out there and doing it.
“I was simply someone who saw a better way to do something and took that idea forward and created something out if it; that person lies in all of us – its just a matter of getting out there and doing it.”
Let us know where we should be! Talk to your local governments and tell them about us and how the technology can make a difference in your area; but even before that and more importantly, start looking at the amount of plastic you use, what you do with it and how you interact with it in your environment. Plastic is not a bad thing, how we dispose of it generally is though…just be more aware of how you use it in your own environment.