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August 10, 2017, 01:36 PM

Can Green Robotics Rescue Reuse?

By Michael Morel

Automated recycling

Finland - More commonly associated with manufacturing or call centres, robotics and AI are poised to revolutionize yet another sector-recycling and waste management.

To reach their vision of a circular economy, Finnish firm ZenRobotics has created the world's first commercially available robotic waste sorting system. In a crucial break from existing sorting technology, the ZenRobotics Recycler (ZRR) can actually learn, enabling it to accurately identify the ever changing composition of waste. This flexibility reduces the frequency of expensive software upgrades and allows a wider variety of materials to be sorted in a single location.

ZRR's do not come cheap, but their comparatively lower operational costs enable profitable long term business models for waste management centres. ZRR's extract resources faster than a manual work force, drastically reduce labour costs, and can operate 24/7 like any automated factory.

At the moment ZRR's are used mainly for industrial and commercial waste, but their potential for architectural salvage and domestic recycling is exciting. There is certainly room for improvement. An appalling amount of perfectly usable resources end up in landfills everyday. In the UK, domestic recycling rates are on the decline for the first time in history, and sorting inefficiencies are partly to blame.

ZenRobotics is now focusing on refining software algorithms and improving sensors which will improve operational efficiency and enable an ever widening application of the ZRR. But their ambitious vision of the future expands far beyond the ZRR's robotic arms.

Today's waste management facilities incorporate robotics into existing structures. Future processes will instead be designed around robotics from the beginning. Censors connected to collection vehicles will relay information about incoming waste and an automated facility will adapt its process accordingly, all in the pursuit of greater efficiency and a circular economy.

Though eliminating jobs often goes hand in hand with automation, emerging industries may yet create replacement jobs as they have in the past. No matter the cost, the potential of AI and robotics is too promising to ignore. Technological innovations feel disruptive today, but in the long run green technology means the preservation of civilisation itself.


Story Type:  News

ID: 101558

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