Meet BeachBot, a beach rover that uses AI to remove cigarette butts from beaches

Meet BeachBot, a beach rover that uses AI to remove cigarette butts from beaches
BeachBot managed to pick 10 cigarette butts in 30 minutes during its first demo.TechTics
  • BeachBot with its puffy tyres and gripper arms detects and picks up cigarette butts.
  • This is a prototype and it has been developed by Edwin Bos and Martijn Lukaart, co-founders of TechTips.
  • BeachBot has successfully picked 10 cigarette butts in 30 minutes in its first demo.
Entrepreneurs Edwin Bos and Martijn Lukaart may have come up with a solution to clean cigarette butts from beaches. Bos and Lukaart have built a Mars rover-like beach-cleaning machine ‘BeachBot’ that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to find cigarette butts thrown on the beach, and pick them up.

‘BB’, short for BeachBot, has proved to find even those partially buried in the sand. The prototype machine completed its first demo last September and is slated for another one this summer.

The idea behind BB came up when Bos and his two kids were visiting Scheveningen Beach that’s situated 4.5 km from the Dutch coast, and his son found a cigarette butt as he dug into the sand. Bos thought about how beach visitors should be more mindful about keeping the area clean, and also of a solution for the problem. This resulted in Bos and Lukaart, co-founders of TechTics, a consultancy that works to resolve social issues with technology. The team decided to go for cigarette butts first since it’s the most littered item in the world. In the future, they plan on adding more litter items other than cigarette items.

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How BeachBot operates

BeachBot is around 80-centimeters wide, and it has two onboard cameras that it uses to look ahead and look down. The bot is also designed to avoid people and objects. To grab the cigarette butts, BB uses two gripper arms that it lowers and then pushes into the sand. The cigarette butts are then thrown into an internal bin. It can currently run for an hour on battery power.


AI behind BeachBot

It uses AI that has been specifically developed to detect cigarette butts. This required the TechTics team to feed the beach rover and its AI photos of cigarette butts lying in various states. TechTics uses the Microsoft Trove app that provides AI developers with photos shared by people. It has so far collected 200 such photos and plans to collect 2,000 photos so BeachBot can find cigarette butts stuck just about anywhere.

During its first demo last year at World Cleanup Day, BeachBot managed to find 10 cigarette butts in 30 minutes. This may not sound impressive but it’s only the first prototype, and BeachBot is still learning. There are cleaning robots out there but for wide-scale cleaning like ocean debris or garbage from rivers. BeachBot is comparatively smaller but the idea behind this isn’t only about the technology but also about getting humans to do their part. Bos envisions a future where people and robots can work together in keeping the beach clean.

Future plans

TechTics plans on adding two smaller companion rovers that will help BeachBot in detecting cigarette butts. These smaller machines will essentially scout the beach to look for cigarette butts and alert BB when they find one. TechTics wants the three machines as a trio for their beach-cleaning mission. A bigger plan for BeachBots and similar machines is to work autonomously and run on solar energy.


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