The BeachBot Will Clean the Beach of Cigarette Butts Until We All Learn To

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BeachBot is the creation of Edwin Bos and his partner Martijn Lukaart, founders of TechTics, now preparing for a second test run. It was invented after Bos realized that his favorite stretch of beach, Scheveningen Beach in the Netherlands, was littered with thousands of cigarette butts. Not that this is an isolated incident: as the video below explains, over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts end up in the environment on a yearly basis.

Cigarette butts might be small and partly made of paper, but it takes them 14 years to disintegrate, during which time they release toxins into the water, poisoning a variety of water life forms, from fish to turtles. They’re described as “very toxic” and should not be thrown out or buried in the sand at the beach without a second thought. They should be discarded properly, in the garbage can, instead.

But since beachgoers seem adverse to the idea of cleaning up after themselves, Bos took matters into his own hands, and created BeachBot. It’s a small electric vehicle rolling on giant tires and equipped with Artificial Intelligence, still in the early learning stage, “trained” to identify or find cigarette butts, scoop them up from the sand, and dispose of them in an integrated garbage container.

BeachBot is promising, but still has a long way to go to achieve full potential. It is currently studying photos of cigarette butts using Microsoft Trove, and is learning more as it goes. During the first demo, which took place last year, it scooped up 10 cigarette butts in 30 minutes. Considering it only has a one-hour runtime on a full charge, that’s not exactly write-home-to-mom-kind of achievement, but it’s better than nothing at all.

And it stands for incredibly hard work by an entire team of people, Bos tells Microsoft. He still hopes humans will, one day, pick up their own litter before leaving the beach, but until they do, BeachBot will have to do. “The bot does all the legwork. It goes to the beach, and it is the hero of cleaning,” he says.

Soon, BeachBot will get two bot helpers, which will run ahead and map the beach, so it will only have to focus on picking up the items and disposing of them. The three will work as a team, and will be more efficient because of it.