Pay a visit to the Chicago River this summer, and you’ll find that it has an intriguing new addition to the local wildlife. Amongst the myriad birds, fish, and occasional beaver or otter, keen-eyed visitors may spot a small robot, resembling a raft, scooping up trash along the river banks. This clever TrashBot is the innovation of Urban Rivers, a non-profit that’s using cutting-edge technology to clear garbage from the water and help make the river a cleaner environment for the wildlife that calls it home.

The story of TrashBot began when Urban Rivers set up their floating garden in the Chicago River. While the installation was a success, the team noticed that the area was becoming overwhelmed by the trash that was floating in the river. At first, they tried to collect the trash by hand, going out on kayaks daily to pick up the floating garbage. However, it was soon apparent that something much more robust was needed, as the trash continued to accumulate. After assembling a task force to study the best way to tackle the problem, TrashBot was born. Essentially a sophisticated remote control boat, the device herds garbage into designated locations, where it is then collected and sorted.

Simple and effective, TrashBot is also fun to maneuver. In fact, thanks to recent technological advances, not least the ubiquity of internet access around the world, soon anyone with a web connection can log onto Urban Rivers’ website and take a turn piloting the boat. If all goes well, they’re hoping to expand the number of robots in the Chicago River and take the technology to other waterways in need of cleanup.

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