Image by Cesar Harada
I'm a fan of hardware hacking just for the fun of it, but one of the great things about open hardware is how it can address social causes with clever and economical solutions. The Protei Oil Spill Cleaning Sailing Robot is a great example of that type of social-focused open hardware.
Launched to find a more effective and open solution to cleaning up oil spills like the BP oil spill in 2010, the Protei is a robotic sailboat that is being developed to autonomously pull oil absorbant material upwind, collecting much higher amounts of oil than traditional oil cleanup methods and at a much lower cost. In order to maintain navigability while pulling comparatively large objects behind it, the team developed a fully articulated boat structure that curves the boat itself when it tacks upwind and provides improved power and control--not to mention making it look appropriately futuristic. And of course, the entire project is fully open source.
Protei is currently developing their most advanced prototype, and have posted the project on Kickstarter to help raise funds and find new backers. It's an inspiring project and it's great to see open hardware makers taking on projects of this scale and impact.
Best of luck to project leader Cesar Harada and team.
InMojo supports the Open Source Hardware Definition v1.0