In April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico an incident took place at the BP-operated Macondo Prospect. On 20 April 2010 9:45 pm CDT, high-pressure or methane gas from the well expanded into the drilling riser and rose into the drilling rig, where it ignited and exploded, engulfing the platform. Eleven people went missing and were never found. This moment marked the start of what is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, an estimated 8% to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gal; 780,000 m3). After several failed efforts to contain the flow, the well was declared sealed on September 19, 2010. Reports in early 2012 indicated the well site was still leaking. From Wikipedia. Due to the months-long spill, along with adverse effects from the response and cleanup activities, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and fishing and tourism industries was reported. In 2013 it was reported that dolphins and other marine life continued to die in record numbers with infant dolphins dying at six times the normal rate. One study released in 2014 reported that tuna and amberjack that were exposed to oil from the spill developed deformities of the heart and other organs that would be expected to be fatal or at least life-shortening and another study found that cardiotoxicity might have been widespread in animal life exposed to the spill. From Wikipedia article.
Cesar Jung-Harada left his position of Project Leader on the SeaSwarm project at MIT Senseable City Lab to live and work in the Gulf of Mexico, near the spill site. After weeks of observations and work on the polluted site volunteering for the Lousiana Bucket Brigade doing principally aerial photography, Cesar started to experiment with the concept of a wind-powered vessel, that would pull oil sorbent to collect spilled oil, avoiding human exposure to oil and dispersant.
Protei 1.0 was not a shape-shifting sailing robot, but a simpler front-steering RC sailboat modified to be a towing boat from the T37 Tippecanoe. Later, Protei - or the shape-shifting hull principle - would be recognised as a platform technology that can be used for many other applications beyond oil spill collection. From the very beginning, Protei was conceived as an Open-Source project with the hope to deploy ocean drones to explore, study and protect the ocean around the world.
The initial research questions were:
Since it's inception, Protei has intended to be an open source an affordable technology. Oil spills do not happen only in rich countries, so if we want this technology to be broadly adopted, it would have to be affordable. So the hacking started...