Are Autonomous Sewer Robots Live-Streaming Neighborhood Microbiome Data?

Ok I saw this Tweet and I thought it sounded cool:

And definitely worth looking into in more detail.  And, well, after looking I still think it is cool but not quite what the headline suggests.  Here is the story:  Autonomous Super Mario-Themed Sewer Robots Live-Stream Neighborhood Microbiome Data | Inverse

It is basically about a project from MIT for which there is not too much information.  But apparently they have been working on this idea for a bit and there is a website as well as a few Tweets from the Underworld team.

But sadly there do not appear to be any robots actually streaming real time urban sewage microbiome data.  The story reports:

We imagine a future in which sewage is mined for real-time information that can inform policy makers, health practitioners, designers, and researchers alike

Yes, I imagine lots of futures.  Would have been a bit better if the article headline made it a little clearer that this was an imaginary future not a real current activity.  Still sounds cool in a way but not ready for prime time.  And I just want to note that, I am not completely comfortable with this future without thinking about the ethical, legal and social implications of this work.  There is after all personally identifiable information in sewage (e.g., human DNA) and all sorts of things one could infer (though not necessarily accurately) about people, towns, and such.  Yes this could be interesting and useful.  But it could also be used in really inappropriate ways …

Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.