Trombia Free

Trombia Free Photo

The world’s cities need a major cleanup: Approximately 4.2 million premature deaths are linked to outdoor air pollution every year, per the World Health Organization. Governments try to tackle this in part with street sweeping, but it’s a dirty business. The process reduces pollutants from entering waterways and removes particles from paved surfaces—but the machinery used by most cities comes with a substantial carbon footprint.

Trombia Technologies is out to replace the “outdated solution” with its new eco-conscious, autonomous street sweeper.

“The current vehicle technology relies on suction performance that was invented in the 1950s,” Antti Nikkanen, CEO of Trombia Technologies, said in a statement. And that results in 3 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually.

So Trombia started working on the “special special project” in 2017, but while company leaders knew they wanted their vehicle to be eco-friendly, they weren’t willing to compromise performance.

“Our main challenge has always been the limited power,” Jaakko Happonen, founder and chief designer at Trombia, said in a company video. “We had to rethink.”

The team reimagined the notion of using water to get rid of dust on the surface—and the need for heavy suction and diesel fuel.

The result: Trombia Free requires 10 kilowatts of power—15 percent of that required by current sweeping technologies. Plus, it’s way less noisy, and the company claims it’s up to 15 times more cost effective than conventional cleaning machines.

To add in the autonomous feature, Trombia collaborated with GIM Robotics, building in machine vision technology that lets the vehicle safely maneuver around street curbs, walls and people with aplomb—and in a variety of weather scenarios.

The team also reimagined the big and bulky look of street sweepers, working with Iiro Laaksonen at Finnish industrial design firm Huld for a more elegant and futuristic vibe. And the final version does indeed look like something straight out of a sci-fi novel.

In March, the city of Espoo began using the Trombia Free as part of a pilot, and the company plans to use data collected by the vehicles during the test to iterate and improve. Trombia has also envisions integration with existing infrastructure of smart cities, including charging stations and disposal points—and it’s inviting other app developers to join the mission to build greener, cleaner cities. “We’ve developed our platform in a way that it will be flexible and agile for [developers] to collaborate with our system,” said Nikkanen.

How’s that for some sweeping change?