Robots contribute to efficiency and productivity in businesses around the globe daily. So when Matanya Horowitz, founder of AMP Robotics, discovered how inefficient the recycling business had become, he put his company to work to develop a solution. The result is a three-handed robot that views, makes decisions and sorts recycling on the line.
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Industry studies have shown a huge amount of recycling waste. Although education and improvements in curbside recycling availability have increased the amount of recycling at the business and consumer levels, a huge portion of that is pulled off the recycling conveyor belt and ends up in the trash anyway. Additionally, the stricter purity specifications from international buyers, such as China, have created more of a waste stream.
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“There’s a tremendous amount of value captured in paper, and plastic, and metal, that right now is lost at the landfill” Horowitz explained in a video. “The trouble is that the value of this material is really eroded by the cost of sorting it out in these recycling centers.”
This tedious manual sorting can now be done by a robot that analyzes and sorts 80 plastic, metal and paper items of recycling per minute, which is estimated to be twice the rate of human sorters performing the same task. Plus, accuracy is rated at 99%; the company reported, “We can recognize and recover material as small as a bottlecap and as unique as a Keurig coffee pod or Starbucks cup that may require secondary processing to ensure they are recycled.”
The robot uses the same “seeing” vision as self-driving cars, which allows it to analyze and make decisions about materials as they approach. It then either tells its suction cup ‘hands’ to pick an item up or allows it to float by. The system is also equipped with artificial intelligence that allows it to continuously improve accuracy, including the ability to identify squished or faded containers.
With the improved speed and efficiency, this innovation could dramatically increase the amount of recycled and reused materials. In turn, this means a reduction in waste and carbon emissions at the landfill.
“Globally, more than $200 billion worth of recyclable materials goes unrecovered annually,” Horowitz told Inverse. “A.I.-driven automation enables the efficient recovery of more material, which increases recycling rates and reduces human impact on the environment.”
While the entire system is high-tech and sounds a bit sci-fi, the installation is easily mounted over conveyor belts in as little as 48 hours. Following a weekend installation, recycling centers can implement the robot for $6,000 a month for an estimated cost savings of 70%. However, AMP Robotics recognizes the cost of human job loss and encourages employee retraining programs.
In the spring of 2020, AMP Robotics reported robot installations in more than 20 states, estimating a reduction of half a million tons of greenhouse gases. The company claims to have processed more than one billion individual items in the waste stream over a 12-month period.
Robots are here to stay in nearly every aspect of our lives, from cars to vacuums to food delivery, an idea further supported by the fact that the company entered into a contract with one of the largest waste management companies in the country, Waste Connections, to install 24 robots on recycling lines last year alone.
Images via AMP Robotics