A real-life Wall-E
PECCIOLI, Italy — In this 8th century town, amid the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, everyone talks trash. Even at the local restaurant, visitors chewing on roasted meat are asked for their thoughts on garbage.
Since the late 1980s, nothing has made Peccioli residents happier than collecting garbage. At that time, the small town built one of the most advanced dumping sites in Italy, designed to recycle and produce green energy. For 20 years, it’s been Peccioli’s most profitable business.
So when a group of young scientists from a nearby university in Pisa called Peccioli’s city hall and asked for permission to run a robotics test, all they had to do was say the magic word: trash.
During a recent test-run at Peccioli’s main terrace, the future of garbage collection zoomed in on two wheels, rounded and shiny, devoid of arms, and with two big round inspiring eyes.
While adults watched intensely behind their handy-cams, flocks of children stared in awe at the biggest “toy” they had ever seen.
Meet DustCart, a prototype robot that seems to have escaped from the animated movie “Wall-E.” As cute as it looks, it could revolutionize garbage collection throughout many small Italian towns where the traditional garbage truck gets stuck at tight turns in the road.
“We are about to begin,” said a researcher over a microphone.
The scientists had transformed the terrace into an outdoor laboratory, laying wires on the cobblestone, installing webcams at street corners, and setting up a control room to monitor DustCart’s every move.
“Our colleague will now simulate a user’s call,” said the researcher.
Like a taxi answering a call, DustCart rode across the terrace to meet the caller.
Once the robot arrived, it asked for a personal ID number that both identifies the user and tracks the garbage. It also asked for the kind of trash being dumped — organic, recyclable or waste. DustCart then opened its belly bin, collected the trash and took it to a fake dumping site.
“The main benefit we expect for both service provider and citizens,” said Paolo Dario, a soft-spoken scientist who heads the Robotics Department at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna University, “is the fact that this service is available on demand.”