A naval drone being created at Paraparaumu College is being designed to accomplish two specific missions.
The first mission was to fly along the beach, use mapping technology to identify rubbish, then relay the information to a beach cleaning robot.
The second mission was search an area of ocean to locate a sailor who had fallen overboard.
"If some goes overboard from a frigate, and they're wearing an orange survival suit, the drone will take off by itself, fly to the search area and scan the ocean," said Jack Penman, who is helping the students with the project.
"When it finds the person it has to calculate where they are before sending the data back so the frigate can go and rescue them."
He hoped the drone's first flight could be undertaken in December or January.
"When I say first flight I mean it gets off the ground by a metre, goes forward 10 metres, and doesn't crash."
The project is being designed and created by senior robotics students at the college with support by the New Zealand Navy and others.
Penman said development of a beach cleaning robot had been held up this year because of Covid-19 but hoped by the end of next year it would be able to "autonomously clear two Olympic swimming pool size areas of beach of 80 per cent of rubbish from milk bottle tops up to 3L milk containers".
"A lot of the software has already been written by past students such as robot vision, so next year's students are going to essentially finish that off and carry on working with it."
A drone would save a beach cleaning robot a lot of time and energy trying to find rubbish.
"It made sense that a drone could overfly the beach, take a photograph, and use the robot vision that has been developed, to identify probable pieces of rubbish.
"That information then goes into another computer, which works out the most efficient route to get from one piece of rubbish to the next, and then the robot will go, using GPS, to where a piece of rubbish is approximately.
"And then the robot vision will kick in, until eventually the piece of rubbish is under the claw, and is picked up."
Penman was impressed with the students' work.
"The fact that the students are doing all the development is amazing."
And the project showed "students are capable of so much more than we traditionally give them credit for".
"If we pull this off it will be amazing. The fact that they've got this far is amazing."
Many people had helped with the project.
The latest to help out has been the team at Whale Song who've helped created key parts for the drone by using a 3D printer.