#103: Litter litter

I’m always shocked when walking in the countryside to see how much litter is casually dumped everywhere. I can’t understand why anyone would carry a full bottle of lemonade up a mountain and then not bother to cart the empty down again (although I believe this is true even of professional mountaineers).

I tend to enhance my reputation for eccentricity by walking with a nylon sack and collecting as much of this crap as I can (from discarded crisp packets to entire glue sniffing kits).


Today’s invention would have been a robot capable of doing this work autonomously, but the greatest barrier to that approach is that it’s very hard to get a robot vision system to discrimnate reliably between rubbish and other objects in the countryside -determining items by eg their bright colours, as perceived by people, is a fiendishly hard problem. . Any such system might well cart back only boulders and cowpats.

Dogs, on the other hand are readily trainable to make this distinction (both in terms of colour and scent). Today’s invention is therefore a pannier system capable of standing stably on a rough path whilst a trained litter dog scampers about and gathers anything it has been trained to recognise as rubbish. When the pannier detects that it is full (by eg sensing the weight inside itself) it displays a small light. This alerts the dog to squeeze under the pannier and lift it home on its back.

Personally, I’d also train these dogs to bite anyone found making a mess, but that might be considered too enthusiastic (A dog-operated excrement scoop is already on my drawing board).

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