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Waste recycling? Leave it to the robots

Posted: 08 Jan 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ZenRobotics  robot  waste recycling  sensor 

ZenRobotics Recycler (ZRR) is the world's first robotic waste sorting system developed by a team of designers from the cleantech startup ZenRobotics based in Finland. The company was founded in 2007. Jufo Peltomaa, VP of marketing; Tuomas J. Lukka, chief scientist, PhD in quantum chemistry at the age of 20 from the University of Helsinki; and Harri Valpola, principal scientist, PhD in machine learning from the Helsinki University of Technology lead the ZRR's technology team. The company is clearly focused on knowledge and experience, with 50 percent of team members holding a doctorate.

The Prime Minister of Finland, Jyrki Katainen, opened the semi-mobile product launch at Slush. The ZenRobotics stand soon became one of the highlights, if not the highlight, of the event.

The ZRR applies machine learning technology. It uses multiple sensors inputs to identify items and raw materials like wood, metal and stone in waste. The system classifies and sorts them into separate piles for recycling. The range of sensors the ZRR uses may include visible spectrum cameras, NIR, 3D laser scanners, haptic sensors, X-ray, etc.

ZenRobotics Recycler

1. Sensors, 2. AI control system ZenRobotics Brain, 3. Industrial robot, 4. Recovered fractions (Source: ZenRobotics)

The fusion of sensor collects data from the waste and the data allows an accurate analysis of waste never done before. The ZenRobotics Brain AI control system analyzes the sensor data and controls the industrial robot, which performs multiple sorting tasks simultaneously to perfection. Apart from reclaiming raw materials for sale the ZRR also removes contaminants.

The ZRR uses very little electricity, about 10kW. It can also be run off 60-100 square meters of solar panels depending on the site's solar energy potential. Containers Maes, a Belgian expert company in sustainable recycling, was the world's first to install a solar-powered ZRR in Belgium in 2012, as reported by PRNewswire.

At the beginning, the ZRR was created for the construction and demolition industry. However, its global availability and enormous potential has the potential to help solve the world's waste crisis. Thanks to a software upgrade, the ZRR will be able to recognize and pick new materials and analyze the data in the waste stream. The ZRR will serve in the future to other industries, including the electronics manufacturing industry. The first upgrades include: single-stream rigid plastics fraction (e.g., PVC, PE, PPT together); separate rigid plastic fractions (by polymer and color); ferrous and non-ferrous metal fractions separately; separate inert material fractions; and radioactive materials.

This basically means that the immortal ZRR only gets better and better with time, and the future can expect a robotics revolution in the years to come. This is just the beginning.

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