This robot may look like the Mars rover, but it’s a unique cigarette bud collecting bot designed to clean up the litter on beaches. Called the BeachBot (BB), this cute little four-wheeled machine was developed by Edwin Bos and Martijn Lukaart of TechTics. The duo got livid with the amount of trash (cigarette butts in particular) on the Scheveningen Beach in Holland and wanted to design a robot that could help clean up the mess. That’s how the 2.5-feet wide BeachBot came into existence, looking to navigate the beaches on its bloated wheels that don’t create any marks on the sand. The battery-powered bot has an AI brain that uses image-detection software to identify the butts and then pick them up with its gripper arms. The collected trash is then stored in the onboard compartment to dispose of later.
BB can distinguish the intended litter from things like towels, sandals, or other things beachgoers might have brought along with them. The BeachBot only picks up butts for now since it is programmed to do so in conjunction with the Microsoft Trove app. The app has a database of images submitted by responsible citizens worldwide of littered cigarette butts. This helps BB distinguish them from other things, and it keeps learning with each attempt at picking up the butt. According to Bos, “the most interesting part of our concept – we have a human-robot interaction where the public can help make the robots smarter.” He elaborated that they started with cigarette butts which are the world’s most littered item, and soon, they want such robots to “detect a range of other litter.”
“The filters of cigarettes are full of microplastics,” he adds. “It’s bad that these end up in nature.” How bad? When water touches discarded cigarette butts, the filters leach more than 30 chemicals that are “very toxic” to aquatic organisms and pose “a major … hazardous waste problem,” according to a February study by U.S. government scientists. Some of those chemicals also are linked to cancers, asthma, obesity, autism, and lower IQ in humans.
There are more than 4.5-trillion cigarette butts litter all over the face of planet earth, and this is a good starting point to clean up the mess we created. The cigarette butts make sense since the butts leave toxic chemicals when water touches them on the beaches. This is just the beginning of the herculean effort to clean up the beaches. Who knows, in the future, a swarm of such robots could clean our planet if we don’t wake up early enough. Bos truly put it ahead by saying that robotic solutions may not be the ultimate solution “for this problem because the bigger problem with littering is still human behavior.”