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Robots On NC Beaches Leading By Example

Source: PBS NC

Summertime at many of the beautiful beaches in North Carolina is one of the main reasons people from all over the county come here every summer. The emerald ocean waters, beautiful sandy beaches, and local seafood are some of the reasons you find our beaches listed yearly as the best in the country. 

Unfortunately, the occasional encounter with plastic straws, cigarette butts, or bottle caps is part of the experience too. But fear not, because BeBot is here to help.

Weighing approximately 1,350 pounds, about the size of a lawnmower, and cruising at a top speed of 3 mph, BeBot stands out as North Carolina’s pioneering solar- and battery-powered automated beach cleaner. It’s a rare breed too, with fewer than a dozen similar machines operating across the United States.

“While BeBot won’t replace traditional beach cleaning methods, it’s perfect for tackling high-traffic areas,” explained Dick Brightman, president of Wilmington-based nonprofit Keep New Hanover Beautiful, speaking to Sci NC. “It also serves as a valuable tool to raise awareness about often overlooked beach litter, like small plastic pieces.”

BeBot operates with a rake that delves about 4 inches beneath the sand, precisely where smaller debris typically hides—buried by waves, wind, or beachgoers. As the rake sifts sand through a grate, trash, and litter are captured and deposited into a rear bin for later disposal.

Brightman emphasized BeBot’s gentle impact on the shoreline, noting its designed depth ensures effective trash removal without disturbing sensitive habitats like turtle nests. Operated remotely onsite, the robot covers approximately 5,000 square feet—about the area of a basketball court—in just 20 minutes, making it ideal for cleaning spots near piers where cigarette butts and microplastics accumulate.

Manufactured by Italy’s Niteko Robotics and distributed by France’s The Searial Cleaners, BeBot is gaining traction beyond North Carolina and is used by conservation groups in states like Florida and Ohio. Coordination by Keep America Beautiful, with its extensive network including Keep New Hanover Beautiful, has facilitated these deployments.

Currently deployed at Wrightsville Beach, BeBot’s success has sparked interest in expanding its use along the North Carolina coast. Brightman envisions a “BeBot beach tour,” encouraging more towns to seek permits from the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management for its deployment.

“Our goal is not just cleaning up trash, but also educating the public about what lies beneath the sand after a beach day,” Brightman remarked. “Many people underestimate the amount of debris left behind.”

The International Coastal Cleanup underscores the urgency, estimating nearly 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean annually, threatening marine life and contributing to phenomena like microplastics and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

When visiting the beach, do your part in picking up after yourself. We all have a job to keep our beaches beautiful for many generations. You could be saving the lives of our friends in the sea. 

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