Meet the Trash-Eating Robots Cleaning Lake Tahoe and Beyond


From the beach to the water itself, machines are helping remove plastic, pollutants and invasive species. We got up close and personal with these trash-eating robots to learn about how they work and how they fight pollution beyond just cleaning.

The beach-cleaning BeBot

We begin with the BeBot, the fully electric, solar-powered beach-cleaning robot made by The Searial Cleaners we covered a few years ago. We finally got to meet one in person thanks to Eco-Clean Solutions, a cleanup company in Nevada that is putting these ingenious machines to use cleaning Lake Tahoe.

In a full-circle moment, Eco-Clean Solutions CEO JB Harris told us he’d first learned about the BeBot from CNET’s coverage.

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JB Harris demonstrates the BeBot for us on one of Lake Tahoe’s beaches.

Dillon Lopez/Owen Poole/Wes Ott/CNET

The BeBot works like a sand sifter propelled by tracked treads. As the BeBot moves along, the sand sifter dips down into the sand a few inches, scooping it up as it goes. The sand is brought over the sifter, which shakes, releasing the sand and holding onto any bits of debris stored inside it. The debris then gets emptied out and examined by hand.

“Human power comes back into the fold and we actually sort out trash and inorganic debris,” says JT Chevallier, Eco-Clean Solutions’ chief strategy officer. “Anything organic gets redistributed into the sand.”

BeBot is operated by a remote control that looks something like a video game controller.

The surface-skimming PixieDrone

The PixieDrone is another electric trash-eating machine made by The Searial Cleaners that’s found work at Lake Tahoe. This version is remote-controlled like the BeBot, though the company makes an autonomous version too, like a Roomba for the water, that can be operated at night while boats are docked.

The PixieDrone was initially designed to filter trash or, with the addition of a hydrocarbon filter, it could be added to remove contaminants like oil from the surface. However, Eco-Clean Solutions found another use for it.

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We got a demo of the remote-controlled PixieDrone in Lake Tahoe.

Dillon Lopez/Owen Poole/Wes Ott/CNET

“The warming of the climate creates this really good stew to grow aquatic invasive weeds,” says Chevallier, which are “the single biggest issue for the overall health of the lake.”

Just like with the debris gathered by the BeBot, everything gathered by the PixieDrone is sorted by humans to ensure that the materials collected are handled properly.

The stationary Collec’Thor

The Searial Cleaners also make a stationary collection device called the Collec’Thor. It attaches to docks or floating structures, can be plugged into the standard “shore power system” most docks use for electricity, gathering surface waste 24/7. 

“The benefit of the Collec’Thor, and even the PixieDrone, is you can install hydrocarbon sponges in it so it can also capture … oil and gasoline to really purify the water,” says Chevallier.

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The Collec’Thor works as a stationary debris filter.

The Searial Cleaners

It pumps through 32,000 liters of water every hour, can store over 200 pounds of waste at a time, and Eco-Clean Solutions says it’s bringing one to Lake Tahoe, too.

Since the Collec’Thor is not mobile the way the BeBot and PixieDrone are, the waste needs to come to it. This can be accomplished by placing a Collec’Thor in areas where waste tends to accumulate naturally or by utilizing the fourth, final and most unusual offering in The Searial Cleaners’ lineup.

The curtain of bubbles

Meet the InvisiBubble. This curtain of bubbles is made by pipes filled with small holes and connected to an air compressor.

Blowing air through the pipes unleashes millions of bubbles, creating two types of movement, a gentle upward movement from the rising bubbles as well as movement at the surface outward from where the bubbles break through. These forces together are what allow the InvisiBubble to block debris from target areas while guiding it into collection points where something like the Collec’Thor or a PixieDrone can finish the job and remove it from the environment.

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The InvisiBubble acts as a barrier to prevent debris from flowing out to sea as well as a guide for siphoning debris into targeted collection zones.

The Searial Cleaners

Pricing and customers

The Collec’Thor costs about $25,000 including delivery and installation. The remote-controlled PixieDrone is under $40,000, while the autonomous version is closer to $60,000. The cost of the InvisiBubble varies more depending on the specific project, how many lines of bubble curtains are being installed and similar factors. This can lead it to cost between $50,000 and $150,000. 

Those prices reflect the fact that these machines are still “assembled by hand,” says Gautier Peers, sales and partnership manager for The Searial Cleaners. As with most companies, Peers expects those prices to come down as production operations are scaled up and streamlined.

The target customers for these machines are organizations like nonprofits, hotels and marinas that have an interest in keeping the waterways clean.

Together, tools like the BeBot, PixieDrone, Collec’Thor and InvisiBubble can help remove trash, pollutants and invasive species after they’ve arrived. The larger goal is to prevent trash from showing up in these beautiful places in the first place. The Searial Cleaners’ technology may be able to help with that too.

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Dillon Lopez/Owen Poole/Wes Ott/CNET

Beyond cleanup

Operating these machines in public can start conversations with visitors about environmental pollution and the struggle against it. 

Gathering trash also means gathering data about what type of trash is most commonly showing up in a given area. By tracing that back to the source, it can be used to inform advocates and policymakers about where to focus their efforts to be most effective.

That information could also be used to pressure the companies producing the trash to change their practices or start paying to clean up the mess they’re profiting from creating.

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Dillon Lopez/Owen Poole/Wes Ott/CNET

Chevallier tells us, “In a perfect world we’d put ourselves out of business.”

Such a world looks to be a long way off. According to a 2023 report on plastic-makers from the Minderoo Foundation, more single-use plastic is being produced than ever before.

“Technology is not going to fix the problem,” says Peers. “Only humanity, by changing consumption habits, can fix that problem.”

To see The Searial Cleaners’ technologies in action check out the video in this article.





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