Cortexia - Can AI help clean our cities?

Can AI help clean our cities? How artificial intelligence could help solve a big problem.

New tech that measures urban litter, including cigarette butts, in real time is providing a 21st century solution to an age-old issue.


In the town of Châtel-St-Denis, Switzerland, a start-up is leveraging artificial intelligence to make city cleaning more efficient worldwide.

It works by measuring urban litter in real time and spotting the areas that need urgent attention.

The idea, like many innovations, was born out of a problem. It was difficult for some Swiss cities to determine the number of street cleaning machines needed—the problem was that they couldn’t objectively determine how effectively they were tackling litter.

The solution was provided by start-up Cortexia, which has developed a pioneering system that maps out and measures the cleanliness of cities in real time. 


A new solution to an old problem

Every second, tens of thousands of cigarette butts are littered around the world. One of Cortexia’s goals is to use its technology alongside campaigns to help stop this.

In Geneva, for instance, the “Petit Voyou” (meaning “Little Rascal”) campaign uses AI to identify the areas most affected by butt litter. They’re then assessed to discover what’s causing the problem—such as an insufficient supply of ashtrays or smoker behavior—before dedicated solutions are implemented.

Cigarette butt littering is undoubtedly a big problem—but big data may be one effective way to help us solve it.



How it works

Vehicles, ranging from buses to bicycles, are fitted with a camera and a device called the “Cortexia Box.”

As the vehicle moves, the AI algorithms detect the different litter categories and identify its type, location, and amount.  It then sends the data to the cities’ cleaning departments in real time.

 This means new littering hotspots—and the effectiveness of measures to prevent them—can be ascertained within hours, rather than months. It can even trigger an alarm if it detects a hazardous item, such as a needle.