Cornell Students Engineer Trash Robots in New York City to Encourage Garbage Pick Up

Robots may be the solution to New York City’s trash problem. In fact, Cornell Tech Ph.D. candidate Frank Bu and his team engineered trash barrel robots — human controlled trash cans that pick up garbage — in New York City this summer in order to study how people interact with robots in public spaces and how this can be used to encourage trash pick up. 

He first worked on this project 11 years ago with his faculty advisor at Stanford University where he engineered a trash can on a rumba. After noticing a dire need for trash pickup in the city, Bu and his team contacted Village Alliance, a leading advocate for the Greenwich Village community, in Astor Place, NYC to launch this machine in a public space. 

It’s no secret that NYC has a waste problem. Streets can often be seen lined with trash bags full to the brim. According to the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the metropolitan region produces  14 million tons every year, much of which lands in landfills or incinerators, or pollutes sidewalks and waterways.