A robot capable of cleaning up beaches

To put technology at the service of ecology: an interview with the founders of the project

A careless habit: throwing one’s own waste on the ground

The gesture of throwing cigarette butts on the ground or littering is something socially accepted. However, this gesture that we often justify as normal, has a huge environmental impact. An idea to educate citizens and concretely solve the problem of garbage on the beaches comes from a group of entrepreneurs in the Hague.

The founders of Project.BB have combined engineering expertise and educational intent in building a robot capable of cleaning up small trash from beaches.

The names behind this project: Martijn Lukaart and Edwin Bos

Behind this project, there are two entrepreneurs from the Netherlands: Martijn Lukaart and Edwin Bos. They are also the founders of techtics, a group of people that wants to ideate, prototype and validates technologic innovations for human users.

They live close to the beach in their hometown The Hague and were surprised by the amount of small litter that stays behind. A shocking fact is that yearly around 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered worldwide. Their society, TechTics wants to contribute to a cleaner planet.

Together with a team of students from the Technical University of Delft and the support from several engineering professionals, they built a few prototypes to validate how robotics and artificial intelligence can help to keep beaches clean.

And most importantly how to create more awareness around littering because beaches shouldn’t be used as an ashtray.

How a BeachBot Works

We asked them about how the prototypes work: ‘’The BeachBot project presents a swarm of robots that hunt for litter. BeachBot (BB) and MAPP are designed for outdoor work, such as on beaches and in parks. The robots are programmed with artificial intelligence to efficiently map and collect small litter.

The BeachBot has a gripper to pick up litter and a trash bin for disposal. The MAPP robots, “the two little helpers”, are there for monitoring and are basically scouting the beach to make images of the litter items they encounter.

By using the app (www.project.bb/app) of the BeachBot project anyone can contribute to making the robots smarter. In a nutshell: litter robots that are powered by the people. The main focus of the robots is on a small litter like cigarette butts, straws and bottle caps.

By training the robots, they are able to recognize more types of litter over time. During the Beach Cleanup Tour of the North Sea Foundation the team of TechTics is testing how the public responds to the robots and the app, to learn how to make this human-robot interaction exciting and of most value’’.

The two engineers go on to explain how the prototypes were developed in about six months and improved to make them more and more suitable and flexible with the conditions in which they are called to operate.

Future projects of Project.BB

The mission of both TechTics and the Project.BB team doesn’t stop there though; in fact, they explained some of the ambitious projects that will see them in the near future: ”TechTics is now focusing on their MAPP bots to eventually assist municipalities and environmental organizations with their monitoring activities.

The aim is to let all robots cooperate with each other and moreover to make them a great companion for humans so we can keep the beaches clean together. Furthermore, we want to improve the app with feedback from the beta testers and turn it into an engaging game.

Finally, we will start another project around telepresence and teleoperation, so monitoring could be done remotely”.

Funding the construction of prototypes

We also asked the two founders a cynical question. How were they able to fund this type of project? ’’ The proof of principle of Project BeachBot was completely bootstrapped. For the test and demo of the BeachBot, we received funding from the municipality.

For the development of a proof of principle of the swarm-bots the founders again invested private money and hours. Furthermore, the team is financially supported by an innovation fund of a local bank and there is prize money from a competition organized by the Plastic Pollution Challenge”.

Technology at the service of the environment

We believe that these kinds of ideas demonstrate how advanced technologies can find a new and unprecedented space in our world. The turning point is not a return to the past or abandonment of technological innovations but a rethinking of the relationship between humans and technologies.

Contributing to a less dirty world

We leave you with an invitation and a wish to take an active part in this project by downloading the Project.BB application. Anyone can help make these robots smarter. But most importantly, anyone can help make the world cleaner, or at least, less dirty.

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