Young people are good at coming up with novel solutions… like a robot that picks up trash.
Young people are leading the charge in demanding climate action, but it’s a mistake to think the only way they’re doing so is with protest signs and school walkouts. In fact, even some of Australia’s youngest students are making a difference with their “walking school bus robot” that picks up trash.
Twelve kids who participate in the Makers Club at Mill Park Library in Whittlesea – it’s a suburb of Melbourne – built the robot under the supervision of Edmond Lascaris, a city employee whose job is in managing solid waste. Waste was the theme of the Victorian Design Challenge 2019, which held the competition as part of Melbourne Design Week and offered prizes in categories that attracted adult professionals as well as the students.
“It aims to inspire impactful and implementable solutions that demonstrate the value of design and creativity as a way to a better future,” says Lascaris. The winners were chosen by a panel of five professionals, including Craig Reucassel, the host of the ABC’s “War on Waste” program.
The Mill Park club designed, wired and coded the robot they affectionately named R3, because it’s short for “reduce, reuse and recycle.” Their friend R3 was designed to escort them to school and isn’t the only robot who does so in walking school bus programs around the globe. The programs are popular for their emphasis on walking and biking to school to reduce carbon emissions, with improved activity levels and public health. The friendly robots sometimes take the place of parents or other adults who monitor the trip to school.
But R3 has a job that doesn’t stop with the safer walking route. This robot is a little different because it’s built to help collect trash while escorting the children to class, including their own food waste from lunch and snacks. The Mill Park students designed R3 so that they can pick up plastic waste and food wrappers on their journey and tuck trash into compartments built into R3. There’s a separate one for food waste and other organic matter, so that it stays out of the waste stream and is composted.
The students’ success in the design contest drew even more support from Whittlesea. The city painted lanes around the library so they could test the robot as it “learns” how to walk to school with them, and they’ve approved the first pilot walks for R3 and children attending the Plenty Parklands Primary School.
Whittlesea Mayor Lawrie Cox celebrated the project because it shows how young students are already making their own simple solutions in partnership with government, while advocating for climate action.
The students are excited about a project that can be replicated beyond their classrooms. “Our Robot Walking School Bus here will help reduce stress for parents all over the world, help reduce the number of suffering wildlife on this planet, reduce amounts of food waste entering landfills and encourage more students to be healthy and active,” they said.
Above all, their friend R3 demonstrates how simple tech solutions can deliver benefits that help make communities more sustainable at the same time it encourages coding skills and related STEM studies.