Robots employed to help fix US recycling crisisJuly 29, 2019
America is drowning in trash now that China has stricter recycling and waste laws.
The US recycling crisis is becoming increasingly worse as cities and towns across America struggle to deal with the tens of millions of tons of garbage produced daily. The issue started in 2018 when China stopped accepting the majority of American scrap plastic and cardboard, because much of the material was contaminated and because China’s own processing facilities were becoming overwhelmed with international plastic waste.
Recycling costs have skyrocketed in the United States.
Now that China isn’t accepting most US recycling materials, the situation has become dreadful for a number of local communities as it has forced many of them to stop recycling all together, resulting in more waste ending up in landfills and incinerators.
The reason is that it is common for most recyclables in the nation to be dumped into one bin instead of being separated.
To tackles this crisis, CNBC reports that US companies and researchers are developing AI- (artificial intelligence) assisted robotic technology that can work alongside humans in waste processing plans to improve quality control.
The goal behind the use of robots is that the machines are expected to do a better job at sorting garbage as well as lower the contamination and health hazards human workers face in recycling plants on a daily basis.
Sorting trash isn’t only a dirty job, it’s a dangerous one, too. In fact, according to a report at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, recycling workers are over twice as likely to be injured on the job compared to other workers. Moreover, the job also has high fatality rates.
The robots can help improve the US recycling system by working with greater speed and accuracy than humans.
These waste-sorting robots are guided by cameras and computer systems and have been trained to recognize specific objects. The robot’s arms move above running conveyor belts seeking out their target. Their oversized sensor-equipped tongs or fingers grab cans, plastic containers, glass and other recycling products out of the waste, dropping them into nearby bins.
Researchers are working to develop better sensors for these robots to improve their tactile capabilities so that the robots can identify metal, glass, paper, plastic, etc. through their fingers.
“Right now, robots are mostly reliant on computer vision, but they can get confused and make mistakes,” said Lily Chin, a PhD. student at the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT, reports CNBC. “So now we want to integrate these new tactile capabilities.”
Currently, AMP Robotics is one of the main companies behind this machine-learning robots. The robots use an AMP Neuron platform, which gives them the ability to recognize different colors, shapes, sizes, textures and patterns to identify diverse material characteristics so that waste can be accurately sorted.
These US recycling robots are being installed at the single Stream Recyclers plant in Sarasota, Florida. They will reportedly be capable of picking up 70 to 80 items a minute, which is not only twice as fast as humanly possible, but also more accurate.