Machine learning robots might be the answer to recycling

Here’s something controversial: recycling is exhausting. Yes, it’s infinitely better for the environment than throwing all of our waste into landfill. But, we have to remember to take caps off bottles, or put ‘soft plastics’ in different bins, and it’s tiring.

Up until recently, China made a business out of recycling. In 2016 alone, the U.S. sent 7.3 million metric tons of waste to China, to be sorted and turned into recycled plastic. However, the waste it was receiving was unhygienic and polluting the country. And so, in an effort to clean up its environmental act, the country banned imports on a large number of recyclables. In 2017 and 2018, China stopped accepting 56 types of waste.

So where does America’s waste go now? Sadly, the answer is landfills. In some places, like San Juan Island, Washington, only certain recyclables are collected. Residents can recycle clean and separated cardboard, metal, aluminum cans, and clean wood; everything else is going straight into the garbage. Long term, limiting recycling could be a good thing; it could help us discover how to use less and re-use more. But it’s a slow and grueling process.

AMP Robotics has a solution. The tech startup developed AMPCortex: a high-speed robot that uses artificial intelligence (AI) software to identify, sort and process recyclables. While waste is moved forward on a conveyer belt, the robot effectively has a brain, eyes and hands. It uses machine learning technology with a pattern recognition vision system, which turns millions of images into data. This data then tells the machine’s three arms where to move and grab. The result is high-speed waste separation.

Because of the AI software, the machine learns, improves accuracy, and can adapt. This means it can sort waste from multiple industries: brands and materials of municipal waste, batteries and wires from electronic waste, and various metals, wood and concrete in construction waste. It also links to an online visualization tool, which can keep records of sorted waste and inform users of equipment issues or hazards.

AMP Robotics says its goal is to make recycling more sustainable and affordable. It recently raised $16 million in Series A funding, which it plans to use to scale up operations, and increase its efficiency. The company already has its robot in facilities across the U.S., including California, New York, and Texas, with more planned.

Are you developing robotics technology or an innovative way to clean up garbage? Did you know your efforts could be eligible for the R&D Tax Credit and you can receive up to 14% back on your expenses? To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today or check out our free online eligibility test.

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