Floating Robot Crowdsources River Cleanup

The Trashbot collects litter from the Chicago River with help from an army of volunteers who remotely control the robot for two minutes at a time.

A group in Chicago had a great idea: they wanted to develop a series of floating gardens in creating the Wild Mile along a man-made canal of the Chicago River. The problem, not surprisingly, was the garbage that kept finding its way into these gardens.

While the group had an army of volunteers that were more than willing to pick up the trash by hand, the uneven flow of the river made it difficult to match people’s schedules with when the garbage would appear.

That’s when Urban Rivers had another great idea. They developed Trashbot, a robot that looks like a raft about the size of a kid’s kickboard. Working like a sort of marine version of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, Trashbot can wander up and down the river collecting trash with its robotic arms.

What makes it unique, however, is that unlike the Roomba, it’s not autonomous, so once it takes to the water next month, it will need a human at the controls.

This won’t be difficult, because any of the 4 billion people in the world with an internet connection can log on to the Urban Rivers website for a two-minute turn at the wheel of Trashbot.

While algorithms and image recognition platforms could probably be implemented so Trashbot could work autonomously, this approach not only generates greater awareness of the Urban Rivers cause, but it also keeps costs down.

After the trash has been collected, it will transport it to a collection point on the river bank for disposal.

Trashbot will be outfitted with a GPS tracking system to help track its progress and deter theft, cameras for taking wildlife pics and discouraging vandalism, and a tether to prevent the bot from floating or blowing away.

For those who can’t wait to try it out, or to make sure you’re ready when you do get the chance to pilot Trashbot, an online demo can be accessed at https://altrubots.com.

— Jeff Reinke

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