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Robots at work cleaning trash from Michigan beaches

a small white robot on the beach
The City of Detroit and its partners have introduced BeBot, a remote-controlled robot, to clean bottles, food, wrappers and plastic from Belle Isle beach. (Courtesy of Belle Isle Conservancy)
  • The City of Detroit will be using BeBot, a remote-controlled robot, to clean plastic and other trash buried at Belle Isle beach
  • Several communities in Michigan and nationwide have used — or are planning to use — robots to keep beaches clean 
  • Millions of pounds of plastic pollution enter the Great Lakes every year 

Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer vacation season, and for many people in Michigan, that means heading to the beach. 

But some beachgoers may find more than just sand under their feet: They may encounter pounds of discarded plastics and other trash. Some Michigan communities have found an innovative way to deal with the problem, however — using robots to help with cleanup.

Remote-controlled “BeBots” have been deployed on various Michigan beaches in recent years, with one of the latest slated to help clean up Belle Isle beach in Detroit.

The BeBots first community cleanup event on Belle Isle is scheduled for June 8, World Ocean Day, when it will work alongside volunteers to clear plastic and other items left behind. According to the city, cleanups will take place as needed through September. 

The nearly 1,300-pound robot, from the French coastal-waste management company Searial Cleaners, is electric and solar-powered and can clean 32,000 square feet per hour. The City of Detroit worked alongside the Belle Isle Conservancy, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Council of the Great Lakes Region Foundation to get BeBot on Belle Isle. 


During a demo for news media on Earth Day in April, BeBot picked up cigarette butts, plastic water-bottle caps, and beach toys, said Genevieve Rattray, director of sustainability and advocacy for the Belle Isle Conservancy. BeBot can shift through the sand a couple of inches deep.

“This robot allows us to take our cleanup efforts a little bit deeper, literally a little bit deeper, and really remove a lot of that plastic pollution and litter pollution that is buried and impacting our environment as a result,” Rattray, who operates BeBot, said.


The Clorox Co. and Meijer helped fund the $150,000 project, which not only covers the costs for the BeBot used on Belle Isle and maintenance but also community-engagement events. 

Roughly 5 million people frequent Belle Isle every year. In 2023, nearly 9,000 pounds of trash was collected from the island. And it is estimated that 22 million pounds of plastic pollution can be found in the Great Lakes every year.  

While various organizations host clean-up events to remove trash, BeBot will be used to remove large and small pieces of plastic like bottles, food wrappers, cigarette butts, and broken-down plastic particles that are often buried below the surface of the sand. 

“Even though we have this amazing technology that can dredge into the sand and operate it at very fast speeds with picking up litter, I think that the human element is still very important and the communal element is still very important,” said Konner Petz, mobility strategist for the City of Detroit.

“It's really important from a community standpoint to actually have  (volunteers) pick up and come to these events alongside BeBot rather than one or the other,” he said. 

Other Michigan robots

Belle Isle’s BeBot is not the only beach-cleaning robot used in the state. In 2022, Meijer donated $1 million to the Council of the Great Lakes Region Foundation to deploy BeBot and PixieDrone, a drone that collects trash from the surface of the water, on beaches and marinas along the Great Lakes. 

In addition to Detroit, BeBots have been dispatched to beaches around Petoskey, Muskegon and Grand Traverse Bay. Last year, four BeBots ran in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, collecting about 50,000 pieces of trash, according to the Great Lakes council.  


The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey has planned several BeBot cleanup events in the coming weeks, including at Peninsula Beach in Boyne City, Petoskey State Park beach and Michigan Beach in Charlevoix. 

“This helps maintain the natural beauty of beaches while reducing the environmental impact of traditional cleaning methods,” the council says on its website.

Beach-cleaning robots have also been used across the country for years in places like Lake Tahoe in California and beaches in Pinellas County in FloridaCarolina Beach in North Carolina also rolled out BeBot this year. 

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