Beach-cleaning robot drives pollution-fighting into the future

BeBot designed to pick up the tiniest microplastics and nanoplastics

The remote-controlled BeBot can pick up the tiniest microplastics and nanoplastics that otherwise get missed and harm our environment.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It is the latest high-tech weapon in the war against ocean plastic. Meet the BeBot.

The battery- and solar-powered beach cleaning robot is here to suck up all the junk we humans leave behind.

“It is a massive problem that affects everybody around the world,” said Alex Schulze, co-founder of 4ocean, a marine cleanup company that removes a pound of trash from the ocean for every product they sell, which includes apparel and accessories made from recyclable materials.

“We wanted to find a business solution to find ways to really fund the cleanup of plastic out of the ocean and then create a brand to try to really influence people to live more sustainable lifestyles.”

Founded after a surfing trip to the plastic-plagued beaches of Bali in 2017, 4ocean has now removed 19 million pounds of trash from the world’s ocean. And it has now partnered with Poralu Marine in an effort to bring BeBot, the sand-sifting R2-D2, to the masses so more of our shorelines can be more plastic-free.

Every year more than 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean. And with global plastic expected to quadruple over the next 30 years, the outlook for our environment is looking grim.

It’s the tiniest pieces — the toxic microplastics and nanoplastics — that are the most insidious, ingested by birds, fish, sea turtles and other marine life, and ultimately us.

During a visit with Local 10 News, Schulze points out how much plastic is present even on what looks like a pristine Fort Lauderdale Beach.

“You can’t see a lot of it, right now it seems like a pretty clean beach,” he said. “But there are small microplastic pieces that have broken down that you can’t see.

“And once we start to use the machine, you’ll start to see some of that plastic come up and really it’s just sunk into the sand or it’s just hard to see.”

And so the BeBot goes to work.

“It’s remote-controlled and it utilizes a sand-sifting mechanism to go over the top surface of the sand — a vibrating screen that then filters out the sand below, the plastic and debris is then lifted up into the hopper behind it,” Schulze said.

Traditional methods of beach cleanups often miss the microplastics. Beach plows just drive the tiny pieces deeper into the sand, where they eventually go back out to sea, and it is a Sisyphean task for beach communities that do attempt to pick them up.

“We really want to get this machine out to Hawaii where they have a huge problem with microplastic and they struggle to sift it out,” Schulze said, noting they shake it out by hand in a labor-intensive process.

The BeBot also stops traffic. In the short time we were out, we counted at least six people who came up and asked us what it was.

Schulze says that’s also a big part of its mission: creating awareness.

“We’re trying to drive the conversation forward and show people the amount of plastic that’s entering the ocean, that’s ending up in our coastlines, and how it’s impacting wildlife and ourselves,” he said.

Just a couple hours before we arrived, the beach had already been cleaned by public works. Yet after barely 10 minutes with the BeBot going over just a small parcel of beach, it collected several small pieces of plastic, bottle caps and cigarette butts.

Right now, the BeBot is merely a prototype, but more have been ordered and are currently in production.

“There are cities, municipalities ... we’re getting a lot of interest from hotels and resorts that want to clean their local beaches,” Schulze said.

And the goal is not just to clean up but to stop plastic pollution at the source, changing our attitudes and behavior.

“If we can show the world that sustainability can be cool, then we really can turn the tide on ocean plastic,” Schulze said.

CLICK HERE for more information about the BeBot.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.