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You can control this robot as it trawls the Chicago River picking up trash

Urban Rivers New Trashbot!

A lot of folks have Roomba vacuum cleaners in their homes. Heck, some of us have gone even further and incorporated similar robots into our yards for tasks like pulling weeds in the garden or cleaning our gutters. There aren’t too many such robots outside of individual homes, though. A new Kickstarter project aims to change that, with one specific cleanup mission in mind: removing the trash from the Chicago River.

The project is the work of Urban Rivers, a team that previously created a successful crowdfunding campaign to develop “floating gardens” to restore natural wildlife habitats in the Chicago River. Having completed that goal, they now want to further improve the waterway by building a trash robot that can “drive” around the river and collect trash before it is removed by a human volunteer.

“When we installed our floating garden last year, we had a problem with trash accumulation,” Nick Wesley, one of the brains behind the project, told Digital Trends. “Initially we just threw manpower at the issue, but the comings and goings of the torrent of garbage was unpredictable. People would get suited up to clean the trash, and by the time they arrived it would have moved to a different part of the river. We realized the best solution would be to have something there 24/7.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Other than its watery setting, there’s one crucial difference between the 24/7 robot the team has built and the familiar Roomba vacuum cleaner: rather than being autonomous like the Roomba, this water-based trash-cleaning robot is controlled by people. More specifically, it’s controlled by people like you, since the idea is that users will be able to log in via a mobile app and drive the robot around, seeking out trash to herd.

You don’t have to be in the area, either. Thanks to an in-built camera and web controls, you should be able to control the robot from wherever you happen to be. To make this extra fun, the team plans to gamify the experience so that you’ll be able to rack up high scores by doing this.

Unlike your average Kickstarter campaign, with this project you’re not actually pledging money to place a pre-order for a product (although we guess the same rules about the risks of crowdfunding campaigns still apply). Instead, the team is offering various rewards — ranging from beta and alpha access to the platform, all the way through to a $1,000 reward to actually name the finished robot. Trashy McTrashface, anyone?

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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