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Robots Take Out the Trash

“Dustcart” finished a test run in Italy, successfully making house calls to collect garbage.

In the Italian town of Peccioli the streets are too old and narrow for garbage trucks to navigate, so residents have had to manage their own trash collection. That is, until the appearance of this summer of “Dustcart,” a Segway-wheeled, sensor-equipped robot that responds to house calls to collect garbage.

Dustcart was created by researchers at the Scuole Superiore Sant-Anna University, and just ended its trial in the Italian town, where residents summoned the robot from their cell phones and received a text message when it arrived. After punching in a pin number and selecting the correct type of garbage, users deposited the waste in Dustcart’s stomach-like trash receptacle. The robot then took the trash to a dumping site and released it, a bit like the animated trash robot Wall-E. Dustcart’s most important achievement is sensing and navigating in the real world.

The robot costs $19,000-$25,000, and is intended for a city, rather than a private owner, according to the Dustcart team. The researchers suggest that a centrally operated system could monitor trash-collecting calls and manage them to a fleet of autonomous garbage collectors.

The robot balances itself using a Segway platform and runs on a lithium battery-powered engine. Motion sensors prevent it from colliding with obstacles or moving objects, and sensors for temperature, ozone, CO2 and other chemicals allow it to monitor how much air pollution there is in a city.

See a 2009 video of the robot in action:

See new footage at the Wall Street Journal.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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