You've had a party and your garbage bin is overflowing but the regular collection is still several days away. Imagine being able to make a call and have your rubbish collected at a time that suits you. For 100 households in Peccioli, Italy it's a reality. They are part of a two month trial of DustCart, a robot that provides an on-demand garbage collection service - just make a call and DustCart will soon arrive at your door to take away the trash.

Most of us curse the garbage collection service, especially when we're woken early in the morning by noisy lorries and their waste-crushing machinery. However, the residents of many historical towns and cities in Europe have to deal with their own rubbish because streets are pedestrianized or too narrow for vehicular access.

The EU-funded DustBot project may be the solution with its on-call robot, DustCart. DustCart is about the size of a person, and thanks to high-tech sense and control technologies it can navigate narrow streets and obstacles.

“We've taken the very best and most advanced robotics components to build DustCart which solves a very real problem for waste authorities across Europe,” explains Professor Paolo Dario, the coordinator of DustBot. “Yes, it is a bin on wheels – there's the drawer in which you place your bag of rubbish or recycling – but there's a lot more to the robot than that.”

DustCart has three levels of intelligent control. First there are the autonomous, built-in systems including motion sensing, obstacle avoidance and user-interface functions including speech recognition. Then there is the ambient intelligent environment which supervises the robot, sends it commands and navigates it through the streets. Finally, a human control center monitors operations, but only intervenes in an emergency or when the technology fails.

To navigate its way to a resident's home, DustCart uses a clever triangulation system, interacting with a wireless network set up across the robot's area of operation. The network can pinpoint the robot, calculate optimal routes between pick-ups, and communicate this information to the robot.

“The control center also provides security for the robot,” Dario adds, “just in case anyone tries to steal or tamper with it!”

Dario estimates that there could be a market for at least 100,000 of these robots across Europe. Moreover, the cost of using these robots would be comparable to door-to-door waste and recycling collections that most people have today. He also believes that DustBot's more convenient service should help to increase recycling rates.

“There's a really strong financial and environmental case for this 'on-demand' approach, which we think will also be more user-friendly and convenient,” says Dario.

The 100 households in Peccioli are being serviced by two DustCart robots in the trial period, during which their normal rubbish collection service has been suspended.

The DustBot project has held demonstrations of DustCart in six European locations, two in Japan and one in South Korea.

It sounds like a great idea, but will it be expecting us to leave a six-pack of beer at Christmas time or maybe just a can of oil?

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