Beach Cleaning Robot

At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc.

Compared to the stereotypical beach packed with tourists and surfers, New Hampshire’s Hampton beach seemed rather unremarkable. It was like any other New England Beach: cold, empty, and cloudy – just two miles of sand wedged between the road, ocean, and jagged boulders.

Once I joined Exeter Beach Cleanup, though, that beach grew infinitely. What before was only a 20 minute jog transformed into multiple hours of scouring through heaps of seaweed for cigarette butts, potato chip bags, and candy wrappers.

Despite the seemingly infinite amount of effort required to clean the beach, the magnitude of our progress remained in scale. Any sense of achievement was marred by the unignorable truth that we had cleaned only two of the world's 372,000 miles of coastline.

But while my time was limited, that of Beachbot was not. After two friends and I conceived of Beachbot - a wheeled robot that uses an onboard camera and processor to autonomously locate litter, and then collects it using a sifting apparatus – each trip was also a learning opportunity; every piece of trash was photographed and annotated until the vision system could recognize those cigarette butts and bottle caps on its own. Our technical design and detailed business plan...

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