A new Kickstarer project aims to remove trash from the Chicago River by creating a remote-controlled floating garbage collector. Named Trash Robot, the machine can be controlled a web browser, so potentially anyone can take a turn doing their bit to clean up the river from anywhere in the world.

The project seeks to make a game out of waste collection. It will invite "players" to take turns controlling the machine, earning points for the garbage they collect. Trash Robot has onboard cameras so players can see where it's going. Though called a robot, it could be argued this is a remote controlled vehicle as it seems it won't be able to work without a human controller.

Trash Robot is the brainchild of Urban Rivers, which is looking for US $5,000 in funding. It plans to use the money to improve on the first prototype. Version two will get a base station for dropping off garbage, greater Wi-Fi range, GPS-tracking, and a more robust design suitable all year round. Urban Rivers pledges to make the whole project open-source in the hopes of encouraging a community to build up around cleaning up waterways in the interests of wildlife.

"All additional funds will go towards further prototyping and experimentation," Urban Rivers writes on its Kickstarter page. "If we raise over $10,000 we will have the ability to have more than one robot in the river, along with greater flexibility with the accessories we attach to the bot."

Previously, Urban Rivers created a floating garden on the river. The project was plagued by floating waste, inspiring the team to take action.

Chicago River facts:


  • The river polluted Lake Michigan, its original source, with sewage in a storm in 1885. By 1901, the flow of major parts of the river had been reversed, flowing inland into the Illinois Waterway. Tthe American Society of Civil Engineers named this a Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium in 1999.
  • Every year, the river in the city is dyed green to mark St. Patrick's Day. The vegetable-based dye colors the river for about 5 hours. The river has also been dyed blue in honor of the Chicago Cubs.
  • The South Fork of the South Branch of the river is nicknamed Bubbly Creak. In the early 20th Century, the local meatpacking industry would dump animal waste into the river which would give off gas as it decomposed, hence the name.

The team acknowledges that not being able to deliver the project is a "huge risk". It has also raised concerns about possible vandalism and theft, though the intention is to tether the machine, and use its GPS to limit its movement. Urban Rivers also says it will take precautions against malicious online attacks.

Pledges start at $10. Lower tiers grant early access to try out the robot, should all go to plan. At the other end of the spectrum, a pledge of $1,000 will let you rename the robot.

We've seen some novel trash-collecting robots over the years, from garbage-seeking waste bins to floating drones designed to gather garbage at sea. Other efforts to deal with aquatic waste include a static sea-bin for clearing up marinas and ports, as well as the floating barriers of the Ocean Cleanup Project.

Though smaller in scale, Urban Rivers' intent is noble. Trash is a recognized problem in the Chicago River. Writing in the Chicago Sun Times on March 11, Sally Fletcher describes "an inordinate amount of garbage in the water, which is dangerous to wildlife and repellent to the people who live in and visit Chicago."

You can take a look at Urban Rivers' project video below.

Source: Kickstarter

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