BeachBot uses AI to rid beaches of cigarette butts

BeachBot inventors Edwin Bos and Martijn Lukaart of TechTics got fed up with the worrying number of cigarette butts on Scheveningen Beach in Holland. The solution? Create a robot that looks like a moon rover and give it arms to pick up those nasty butts. The result is BeachBot or BB, an adorable contraption with balloon tires and a green attitude.

With its futuristic design, it's easy to mistake BB for anything other than a beach-cleaning machine. Not to mistake it with Disney's Beachbot, BB measures 2.5-feet wide and has puffy tires that won't leave annoying tire prints on the sand. It also has a pair of grasping arms to pick up those toxic butts on the beachfront. Cigarette butts may look harmless to some, but those disgusting things contain microplastics and chemicals harmful to fish and other sea creatures.

It all sounds fascinating, but how does BB work? As it turns out, this automated beach cleaner has an AI brain. Similar to modern cars, BeachBot utilizes artificial intelligence and image-detection algorithms to discern a cigarette butt from other beach equipment like flip-flops, towels, and larger chunks of trash.

Yes, BB only picks up cigarette butts, but only for now. At the moment, BeachBot's brain is learning to discern butts of all shapes, sizes, and forms using the Microsoft Trove app. The app connects AI developers with photos sent by contributors and photo takers to feed the system with images of cigarette butts stuck in the sand.

In the future, it may be "intelligent" enough to scoop up other pieces of trash without scaring the hell out of kiddos on the beach, but this is a welcome development nonetheless. According to TechTics, BB will learn faster as the database grows. The company is looking to amass upwards of 2,000 images and will pay contributors for their entries.

However, BeachBot doesn't work alone. It has a trove of more miniature robots that will map or scan the beach for cigarette butts before BB goes to work. BeachBot made its debut last year at the World Cleanup Day at Scheveningen Beach, and it managed to clean up ten butts in half an hour of work.

Yeah, a human can pick up more cigarette butts in the same timeframe, but BB will go faster as it learns. Right now, the least we can do is to avoid littering no matter where we are, unless you fancy a real-life episode of Rise of the Machines.