Waste sorting robots gain traction as countries strive to develop local recycling industries

As more and more countries scramble to set up their own recycling industries following China’s ban on imports of low-quality recyclables, the popularity of waste sorting robots has been on the rise. In recent months, reports about a flurry of such robots developed both by commercial companies and by research institutes have emerged, pointing to a growing interest in automating the task of waste sorting.

In June, Colorado-based AMP Robotics Corp deployed its 14th waste sorting robot, which runs on artificial intelligence (AI), at a sorting facility in Florida. In May, the same company announced the launch of a dual-robot system (DRS) focused on material recovery from MSW, WEEEE and CDW. Dubbed AMP Cortex DRS, the robot can sort, pick and place about 160 pieces per minute, several times faster than human sorters. However, the manufacturer has not revealed its accuracy rate.

Likewise, Finland’s ZenRobotics is due to roll out a robot that is capable of identifying CDW waste streams using AI at a sorting facility in Australia in late July 2019.

Meanwhile, in April, researchers from Yale University and MIT announced that they had devised a method to use robots to pick out paper, plastic and glass out of mixed waste. Unlike the previous two, the robot developed as part of this project runs on sensors, soft robotics and Internet of Things (IoT), as opposed to AI or cameras. The initiative is supported by Amazon, the National Science Foundation, the Toyota Research Institute and JD. That said, improvements in its accuracy are necessary, as RoCycle had a mere 63% accuracy rate when asked to collect 27 items from a conveyor belt with mixed waste.