ZenRobotics says its recycling robot has correctly identified half of the recyclable material it was fed after tests on a construction site. The system has been tested by recycling and waste management company SITA Finland since February.
The robot uses data from a combination of visual sensors, metal detectors, weight measurements and tactile feedback from a robotic arm to pick out pieces of refuse from a mound of debris and sort them. Helsinki-based ZenRobotics say the robot can currently identify metals, concrete, wood and certain types of plastics.
The robot is stationed by a conveyor belt where the materials are loaded. As the material goes by, the robot picks it up, analyses it and if the robot identifies the type, places it in the appropriate bin. If material isn't recognised, it stays on the belt and ends up being discarded.
The sensors used by the recycler include cameras to detect normal light as well as spectrometers, 3D laser scanners and haptic sensors. Spectrometer analysis helps the robot to recognize more ambiguous types of waste such as a piece of plywood with nails sticking through it. Different objects reflect unique patterns of light so the robot can distinguish the type of waste based on its colour.
The robotic sorting system has been assembled with off-the-shelf industrial robotics components.
ZenRobotics says the mechanism is simple enough to add new measuring devices as they become available, improving the robot’s success rate even further.