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A Cincinnati company has created a 'Roomba for coastal waterways'

a machine that resembles a puddle jumper, but smaller, sits atop a waterfront with boats in the background
Clean Earth Rovers
The Clean Earth Rover in action.

It was after he heard a talk on the problem of ocean pollution in a high school speech class that Michael Arens became obsessed with solving the issue.

The 24-year-old CEO of Clean Earth Rovers is now making a splash in Florida, California, Ohio, Michigan and beyond with Rover 1, the robot he refers to as the "Roomba for coastal waterways." The autonomous cleaning robot for salt or freshwater weighs 400 pounds and can fit into the back of a pickup truck.

It can be programmed, using the same technology as unmanned aerial drones, to clean coastal waterways by collecting trash or cleaning up oil spills.

Clean Earth Rovers is Innovating Ocean Clean Up with their ‘Roomba for Marinas’

"You can literally go in, put the boat in the water, go into the equivalent of a mapping system and say, 'I need you to do a zig-zag pattern for the next eight hours, grabbing debris and coming back every half an hour to empty out the bag,' " explains Acting Chief Technology Officer Rob Charvat.

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Engineers at UC's 1819 Innovation Hub are manufacturing the robots, trying to keep up with the demand.

While in college, Arens partnered with fellow Xavier University grad David Constantine and later UC's Jonathan Rosales to form the company. They were accepted into the University of Cincinnati's Venture Lab Program.

"People often joke with us, like 'You guys are an ocean tech company based in Cincinnati. How did that happen?' " Arens says.

Charvat says it happened because of smart local people. "When you start talking about the comfort of our Coast Guard, who allowed us to develop this technology, the university participation, the universities creating top-notch students to want to go out and change the world and that's really where you see something like this come together here in a place like Cincinnati, when a lot of people would say there's a lot of other places this could happen but the magic is happening here."

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Clean Earth Rovers has signed a distribution deal with B&B Services based in Naples, Fla. The deal guarantees a minimum order of 20 rovers to be delivered within the next year. B&B Services will sell the rovers to its contacts throughout South Florida and the Gulf Coast region.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.