Where's our Jetson's trash-collecting robot?
Aug. 26, 2013
by Mark Ollig

Many Saturday mornings during the late 1960s saw this 9-year-old sitting on the upstairs living room floor in front of the TV, watching cartoons.

I marveled how “The Jetsons” had Rosie (the robotic maid with an attitude) to do their household chores.

Sometimes I would daydream about having a robot to do my chores, too.

Unfortunately, this delightful boyhood fantasy soon vanished as I was brought back to reality upon hearing my father’s voice calling me from downstairs, “Mark! Come down and take out the trash can in the kitchen!”

Now remember, folks, this was during a time when we did not use today’s convenient, pleasantly scented, wastebasket plastic bags with the handy, built-in tie-string.

After a young yours truly lifted and carried the (heavy) trash can out of the kitchen and down the outside concrete steps, I faced my next challenge: dumping the kitchen refuse into one of the tall, metal garbage cans inside the garage.

Of course, sometimes these garbage cans were almost full (garbage collection day was Tuesday), and so one would need to “stomp down” on the trash in order to make room.

Being I was 9 years old, I did not want to call on one of my older brothers for help; I thought, “I can do this by myself!”

So, after a few energetic jumping foot-stomps, I was able to compact the trash down far enough to make room to empty out the refuse from the kitchen’s trash can.

Triumphantly marching up the concrete steps, I opened the front door; proudly carrying in the freshly emptied trash can. My dad, who was watching from his chair at the kitchen table, nodded and smiled.

I placed the empty trash can in the middle of the kitchen and prepared for its reuse.

Next, the search began for old newspapers under the kitchen cabinets.

Yes, we used newspaper to line the kitchen trash can.

Now, lining the trash can with newspaper was something of a learned craft. I mean, one needed to use enough newspaper (especially on the bottom) to ensure any offending substances put inside would not leak through the newspaper before it was time to take out the trash can again.

A person could consider lining the trash can with newspaper as part engineering, and part art form.

You needed to make sure the newspaper securely-wrapped the inner circle of the trash can.

One also wanted to be sure the newspaper would fit tightly around the upper, rounded lid of the trash can so it would not come loose, all while fashioning it into an acceptable appearance.

Most important for this 9-year-old, was having the freshly newspaper-lined kitchen trash can be good enough to pass inspection by his father who would occasionally check on my progress while drinking his Saturday morning cup of coffee.

Once I completed the newspaper lining of the trash can to the best of my ability, I returned it to its normal location and glanced over to my dad, who smiled at me while nodding his head in approval for a job well done.

In addition to the satisfaction of having my father’s recognition for completing this chore, I was also guaranteed of receiving my weekly allowance.

A few years ago, an experimental robot was built which would travel to your location and take away your trash.

Researchers at the Scuole Superiore Sant-Anna University in the Pisa Province of Pisa, Italy, created a robotic trash-remover called DustCart.

This trash-collecting robot is nearly 5 feet tall, has a circumference of 5 feet 6 inches, and weighs 154 pounds. Its garbage collection hopper holds 21 gallons, or a little over 66 pounds of trash. DustCart can travel just over 2 mph.

DustCarts are publicized as “Networked and Cooperating Robots for Urban Hygiene.”

One demonstration video shows a registered user calling DustCart for trash removal service.

A few minutes later, a DustCart robot came rolling up to the person’s location on its Segway-like mobile platform.

It then is sent the person a text message telling them it has arrived.

A command entered into the DustCart via its user interface touchscreen, causes the empty garbage collection hopper to become accessible.

After the person places their trash bag into the hopper, it retracts back inside of the DustCart, which then begins its journey to a rubbish collecting station where it automatically drops off the bag of trash.

DustCart operates using a lithium battery-powered engine, and avoids collisions using motion sensors.

The internal battery allows it to travel about 10 miles.

Watching DustCart roaming around reminded me of the 2008 Disney-Pixar movie about a futuristic trash-collecting robot named WALL-E.

The video of DustCart in action can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/DustCartvid.

Nowadays, when I empty out my kitchen’s wastebasket, I use those convenient, pleasantly scented, wastebasket plastic bags with the handy, built-in tie-string – and sometimes remember the 9-year-old boy lining the household kitchen trash can with newspaper, and looking up to see his father smiling at him while nodding his head approvingly.

I would like to conclude this week’s column by wishing my mom a very happy birthday.

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