A Dutch startup’s BeachBot robot aims to rid our sands of cigarette butts, and Microsoft’s artificial intelligence is helping it learn how.
Until we can get the human race to stop tossing its trash in places it’s not supposed to be, people continue to get creative picking it up. That’s exactly the case for Martijn Lukaart and Edwin Bos, two Dutch engineers who started TechTics and built what you see here: BeachBot, or BB for short. With help from Microsoft’s artificial intelligence systems, BB is on a mission to rid beaches of cigarette butts and eventually hopes to clean up all other sorts of waste.
Microsoft highlighted the startup on Monday, showing off the prototype machine that’s still in the process of learning via the software giant’s Trove AI system, which helps provide image sets for this kind of machine learning task. Basically, the robot needs humans to help it learn at first. After all, a robot doesn’t actually know what a cigarette butt is, or what it looks like. So via Trove, TechTics enlisted the public to send photos to the AI system. From there, the team feeds this knowledge to BB, which understands what to look for better with each and every image.
According to the company, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, it needs about 2,000 images of cigarette butts on the beach to help the robot fully understand what it’s looking for. So far, the company has 200, but BB is already able to seek out waste with two onboard cameras, use its robotic arms and put cigarette butts into an onboard bin. Then the team can dispose of the trash properly. (See more in the company’s video here.)
BB is only the beginning of this project, TechTics said. It’s currently working on two smaller robots so that BB has a team of helpers. The little machines will scout for cigarette butts and then will be able to communicate with BB to request removal of the trash. While it’s incredible to see humans and machines working together, TechTics’ goal is to spread awareness that littering should never be an option in the first place.
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