By: Brian Hurrel

Robosweeps are on the scene,
Keeping Hudson City clean!

Dirt has a way of creeping up on you. A bottle and cigarette butt here, a discarded fast food bag and old tire there, and before you know it your sidewalks and parks are knee-deep in trash. And if you let a single wall get covered in graffiti without immediately cleaning it off, it doesn’t take long for half the block to become tagged. And that’s where I come in.

That was my sales pitch, and my Robosweeps were a hit right from the start. Well, that’s not entirely true. It took years of marketing, promotional events, demonstrations, schmoozing city agencies, wining and dining assemblymen, and of course assuaging the Sanitation Workers’ Union, but when the Robosweeps finally hit the streets the results were impressive, to say the least.

Some genius in marketing –- usually, when I say “some genius in marketing” I’m about to fire someone, but in this case I was sincere -- thought it would be a great idea to gussy up the cleaning units as 19th Century English chimney sweeps. In physical form the tall lanky ‘bots were humanoid enough, but the idea was to make the gleaming chrome machines a little more human. Not too human, for that would make people uncomfortable. It would make them see the robots as creepy, what roboticists call the “uncanny valley”. And creepy, needless to say, doesn’t sell. So we gave them just enough window dressing to make them a bit more people-friendly.

What this meant in practice was simply a black top hat, colored scarf –- we varied these in color and design to give the sweeps a little individuality –- and a standard round-bristled chimney brush. They were also given a bank of cockney phrases and greetings, more Dick Van Dyke than Dickens, with which to greet passersby. This mostly consisted of “’Ello, guv’!” “G’day m’lady!” “Mind the curb, luv!” “Cheerio!” and “Mornin’ guv’nor!”

The piece de resistance of the whole operation was the Bio-fueled Eco-clean Recycling Truck, or BERT. BERT was a marvel of engineering, a fully autonomous mobile sorter/shredder/recycler that accompanied the sweeps as they cleaned their assigned areas. Accompanied isn’t quite the right term, though, for BERT’s processors controlled not only the shredding and sorting truck but the individual sweeps as well. This centralized control allowed for optimum efficiency while maintaining the illusion that the sweeps were individual workers and BERT simply a receptacle for trash and recyclables. Most people would find the idea of a giant autonomous shredder/compactor unnerving.

Best of all, BERT was quiet, outfitted with all electric motors and equipped with the best sound dampening materials available to muffle the grinding of the shredders. Citizens liked quiet, and since BERT and the sweeps worked 24/7, quiet was essential.


Within two weeks every park in Hudson City was immaculate. Within a month the sidewalks and streets were spotless. Within two months the graffiti that had blighted brick walls, bridges, and billboards for decades was gone. Not so much as a dollop of paint. And no new taggings were appearing.

Criminal activity dropped dramatically, and word on the street was that the pushers and prostitutes, gangbangers and graffiti artists had moved on.

I chalked it up to the new atmosphere of cleanliness. People are simply less likely to litter in a clean place, and criminals are less likely to congregate in pleasant surroundings. And not only were criminals abandoning their usual haunts, but it seemed they were abandoning the city as well.

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