Project Description

Trash and pollution are ongoing problems in urban centers. As a protector of this planet, your mission is to improve the world by designing a product that will help to clean up our streets. How cool would it be if you could build an autonomous robot to do this task? Imagine how much cleaner our world would be!

Students will use the NXT or EV3 Robotics Kits to build and program their robot as well as keep a Smithsonian Innovation Journal (similar to an engineering journal) to document their progress.

Project Objective

The objective of this project is for students to work in teams to investigate trash collection in urban centers and to imagine, design, and build a robotic solution. Students should first aim to create a robot that gathers trash and places it on one side of the playing field.

Two other extensions for advanced robotics students include building a robot that:

  1. Collects trash and places it into a bin
  2. Sorts the trash by color and places them in their appropriate bins


  • 8 lessons - 60 minutes each
  • Additional lessons can be added for the research phase, build/test phase, and presentation phase (extra lessons may be added to accommodate extension activities - see individual lessons)

STEAM Subject Areas

Math, Science, Engineering, Technology, Reading/Writing

Skill Development

  • Research
  • Design thinking
  • Critical thinking
  • Programming
  • Construction 
  • Problem solving
  • Time and resource management
  • Creativity
  • Inquiry
  • Communication
  • Presentation skills
  • Collaboration / team work

Recommended Learning Group Size

Groups of 3-4 students

Setup Overview Guide

Documents to print before the start of the project

Set Up

Robot kits

  • Each group of students should be assigned 1 robotic kit
  • Kits should be labelled and students are responsible for all parts in their kits
  • Although typically sharing is great, students should not share pieces from their robotics kits with each other so as to keep each kit intact
  • Each group should have a designated space to keep their kit and their “working” robot can live on top of the kit or in a separate bin

Programming stations

  • Add NXT or EV3 software to laptops or desktops
  • If you have laptops, each team should receive a laptop to use for programming in their designated work space
  • If your classroom has desktops, students should take turns using the desktops to program

Project Breakdown by Lesson

Lesson 1: Investigate
Lesson 2: Research
Lesson 3: Ideation
Lesson 4-6: Build, Test, and Improve
Lesson 7: Prepare for Final Presentations
Lesson 8: Presentations

Smithsonian Resources