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There's too much trash in the Chicago River. We are building a robot, controlled by you to clean it up!
189 backers pledged $5,496 to help bring this project to life.

Mother of all updates

Posted by Urban Rivers (Creator)

First off thank you all for your Patience. This project has been fantastic to work on, the response from everyone has really shown us the need for this project. Our team has been working to get this project out as quickly as possible, thanks for all the support! I also would like to thank Ozinga for sponsoring us with a $10k grant to further development on this project.


  • T-shirts are coming soon!
  • Alpha testing should begin July 16th
  • We have fast Internet

Backer Rewards

All hail the silly shirts. Thanks to artist Everett Dunn, we have a cool image to put on these commemorative t-shirts. If you have not filled out the survey please make sure you do that, we will keep it open for some time in case you are on a 2 month silent retreat or in between a Large and XL shirt size and want to see how this new diet thing pans out.

Trashbot Tshirt design
Trashbot Tshirt design


A challenge for us was creating connectivity to the bot on the Chicago River. We are blessed to have the omnipresent 'Xfinity Wifi' covering most of the river. This allowed us to install an underwater camera and some monitoring equipment but does not have the reliability we need to create a low latency, production video stream. After much trial and error we have found a solution which will build the back bone for many trashbots to come... Enter the really tall building with line of sight and gigabit Internet connection.

the really tall building
the really tall building

We are installing a base station there which will connect to the trash bot. This antenna will blanket the channel with a really fast, low latency connection. We are very happy with this solution and will be using Ubiquiti Sector antennas as well as a lightbeam antenna to blanket the channel.

Antenna Line Of Sight
Antenna Line Of Sight


There are a few significant challenges we face in creating the software to run the trashbot. When you control a robot remotely, you need to have very little latency with everything or the experience breaks down. Imagine driving your car, but your windshield only shows the world 2 seconds in the past, that would stink.

We are able to control motors in real time using an android app, we have user accounts and have the driver viewing a low latency stream while people in line see a twitch stream of what is happening.

For video delivery, we have an H264 Hardware encoded stream working, but we are trying to implement something using VP9 and WebRTC to create the best experience possible. If anyone here is a wizard with these we could use some input. But needless to say, we will not rest until we can reliably provide the experience which will make this game fun!


We are building out several designs to test the different propulsion methods and give us the greatest control over the bot. The 2 main camps are the Propeller and the 'Bilge bot'.

The propeller version uses 2 propellers with varying intensity to turn an propel the bot forwards.

The Bilge bot works by sucking water in and pushing it out. One benefit is the bot will work like a vacuum to pull trash into the receptacle, this is great when in tight corners.

'BilgeBot' in progress
'BilgeBot' in progress

Once we have the done some preliminary testing we will hook this up to our software and place it in the 'Aqualab' (an indoor Pool). Our Alpha users will get to test this on an ongoing basis. We will have various trash cleaning benchmark tests so we can establish how well this will work in the river. We should have this working by the 16th of July!

We also have a few different options for trash scooping. We have the Belt, Belly and Bucket methods

Bucket, Belly and Belt
Bucket, Belly and Belt

All of these have their own quirks. We will get them out ASAP to begin testing.

Nicest render to date
Nicest render to date

The river is dirty, let's clean it up! Please reach out with suggestions,  ideas and if your interested in helping!


Nick and the Trashbot team

Alek ZD, USA-OK Industries, and 11 more people like this update.


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    1. Missing avatar

      Zachary D Collaborator on

      @ Steve - The alpha is almost done and going through some final testing. We will be sending an update soon on when it can be accessed. Thanks for your patience and support!

    2. Steve Ross

      Alpha access available yet?

    3. Dan Eklund on

      Great update!