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Robot picks up trash on Tahoe beach with help from the community

A man holds a remote and stands next to a robot. They are on a beach with a lake in the background.
Sydney Peerman
KUNR Public Radio
JB Harris, CEO of ECO-CLEAN Solutions, stands with BEBOT at Kings Beach on June 17, 2024.

The beach-cleaning robot, BEBOT, conducted its first full beach clean up in North Lake Tahoe. It was joined by members of the community, in a friendly competition between human and machine.

The robot, developed by ECO-CLEAN Solutions, is part of a widespread initiative by local organizations to rid Tahoe beaches of trash.

As the wind blew, BEBOT took to the sand at Kings Beach in Lake Tahoe, its motor rumbling. Volunteers trickled onto the beach and signed up at the Keep Tahoe Blue pop up tent, before being handed a blue bag and grabbers so they could help the machine.

JB Harris, co-founder and CEO of ECO-CLEAN Solutions held the remote, driving BEBOT up and down the beach as it left a row of flattened sand in its wake.

BEBOT stands for "beach cleaning robot" and is an all electric solar supplemented machine, he said.

“So it sifts the sand between one and four inches below the surface, and it has a grate in the back of it that is five centimeters,” Harris said. “So technically, it picks everything right before it becomes a microplastic.”

Once the robot was full, their team of research students unloaded the collected debris and separated any rocks or natural materials from the trash, before returning them to the beach.

Volunteers also joined the robot in the clean-up effort. As she picked through the sand with her friend, Tahoe local Ginger Hess expressed her disappointment at the amount of trash that is found on Tahoe beaches.

“This is the most beautiful place in the world, I think, and to have people just have so little regard for the beaches and the beauty here, and just expect we can destroy it as much as possible and it'll be fine, and it's like, no, it's not going to be fine,” Hess said. “The cleaner we keep it, the better it is for the wildlife around here, and for the enjoyment of the people who really care for the lake.”

Hess noted how technology like this is important, since it can help find small trash buried a couple inches below the sand that is not as obvious to the human eye.

Following its debut, BEBOT will be in full operation across the lake this summer, picking up trash at beaches including Meeks Bay and Zephyr cove.

Sydney Peerman is a student reporter for KUNR and the Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science, which is part of the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Sydney Peerman is a student reporter for KUNR and the Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science. She is interested in reporting on science, climate, environmental policy, public health and other important topics in Reno, Lake Tahoe and surrounding areas.