The Gowanus Canal's Beacon of Hope

New York University roboticists are betting that a tiny aquatic machine will inspire the community to care about Brooklyn's neglected Superfund site.

It is low tide at the Gowanus Canal. The water near 2nd Avenue and 5th Street is dark green and murky. The smell of rotten eggs wafts through the air; it could be from the untreated human waste that regularly empties into the waterway, or from the noisy industry that burdens its banks. This Brooklyn fixture, thick with cancer-causing pollutants, was designated a Superfund site in 2010. But two men head straight for it, cradling a small, yellow robotic boat, like movers carrying a delicate end table. One man wears industrial rubber boots so he can step into the fetid muck without having to fear for his foot.

“Whenever it rains, this is where the raw sewage comes out,” explains Jeffrey Laut, a student at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.

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