This robot’s job is just lake.
Lake Tahoe’s got a new high-tech resident — one with a fairly important job no less. In a press release, the Keep Tahoe Blue nonprofit introduced their brand new PixieDrone, an aquatic robot built to patrol the lake’s famously-blue waters, and extract trash and invasive plants.
Created by the French startup Searial Cleaners, PixieDrones are deployed on lakes like Tahoe to help clean water sources in ways human hands can’t. Using on-board LIDAR (light, detection and ranging) technology, the roughly desk-sized robot can be operated autonomously or via remote control, as it “captures debris inside its open ‘mouth,’ just like manta rays and humpback whales capture prey,” the nonprofit’s press release notes.
Interestingly enough, the PixieDrone is, as the press release and local reports note, one of a pair of robots deployed to clean up the star-studded lake. Its larger beach-combing counterpart is known as BeBot, which sifts through the sand on the lake’s shore as it motors along picking up difficult-to-extract “micro-debris” — which is, as Keep Tahoe Blue notes, “difficult to detect, hard to remove, and potentially harmful.”
Though the land-and-lake pair are just making waves in Tahoe, the tech has been deployed in other waterways as well. For example, last year, the Meijer grocery store chain put up the money to deploy a PixieDrone and BeBot in the Great Lakes Region (which, like Tahoe, has a massive trash problem).
“This not only impacts Great Lakes wildlife, but also the 40 million Americans and Canadians that require the Great Lakes for their drinking water,” Lora Shrake of the Council of the Great Lakes Region said in a press release. “Once collected, the litter is analyzed providing valuable data that allows us to understand the scale of the problem.”
Last year, Axios reported that a single BeBot costs $55,000, which would make it difficult for conservationists at smaller and less-tony water sources to purchase. And while the impact of companies like Meijer funding these sorts of efforts is objectively positive, it’s hard to imagine this kind of aquatic and beach trash solution being deployed at scale without massive government investment in this sort of infrastructure.
All said, however, the robots are nothing if not cute — and at the very least, a novel solution to an ever-accumulating environmental problem.