Entrepreneurs Martijn Lukaart and Edwin Bos are currently working on an exciting new development - a prototype of a beach robot, fondly named ‘BB’ for ‘BeachBot’. Inspiration for the idea sparked during their frequent trips to the beach, as the pair became frequent witnesses to the mess and litter abandoned around them.
“We see that there is still a lot of rubbish left on the beach and thought: "shouldn't that be possible? Many initiatives are already being taken to keep the beach clean, including an organization such as TrashUre Hunt, but also through the Clean Campaign of the municipality with Pat Smith as ambassador. We also want to do our part. In this case, by deploying new technology to see if we can help solve this problem.”
What is it? How does it work?
The robot has been specially developed with an aim to help keep beaches clean, by cleaning up small pieces of litter. Both BeachBot and MAPP (a new robot addition, designed to communicate with each other to collaboratively hunt for litter) are programmed with artificial intelligence to efficiently map and collect litter. Here is a breakdown on how it works:
- The robots will drive around an outdoor space, using build in camera with a trained algorithm to detect, recognize and pick up small litter.
- BeachBot uses a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN), a self-learning algorithm that can make connections, which requires very specific amount of training. This training gives the robot the ability to see litter in all shapes and sizes and in a wide range light conditions.
- Using artificial intelligence, the robot will be able to detect what object lies in front of it and be able to identify it with a level of certainty, which it will then store as data for future reference.
- If the robot cannot identify a piece of litter, it will take a photo with a GPS tag. Then via a mobile app, the robot will send the photo to the public and ask ‘what is this’, then allowing you to label and annotate the photo and advise the robot to help identify the piece of litter. The information is then sent back to the robot, essentially making the robot smarter.
Using the new technology the robots will be focusing on only small waste, including small plastics and cigarette filters. Their reasoning for this is that usually, after beach days the beach cleaners/tractors only remove bulky waste, leaving small waste behind to pollute the environment. This is particularly worrisome as even something as small as one single cigarette bud can pollute hundreds of litres of water, as they contain plastic, but also a cocktail of toxic substances: arsenic (rat poison), lead, nicotine and pesticide. If the filter breaks up these chemicals seep into the water or ground and eventually end up back in our food system.
The long term ambitions for the robots are to bring awareness and provoke a social discussion about littering, prompting people to think more about the impact of their actions. There is hope this will lead to more people cleaning up after themselves.