This post was originally posted on Wasteless Future and reposted with permission from Antonis Mavroupoulos.
We are living the age of change and disruption. During the past year, we have noticed a huge increase in interest towards cutting-edge technologies from the waste markets. At ZenRobotics, we believe big changes are brewing and that robots and smart automation will lead the revolution.
Robotic waste recycling solutions have many benefits over conventional recycling technologies. Conventional technologies will not be sufficient to meet the needs of new circular economy. In the upcoming years, material recycling will inevitably continue to increase and quality requirements for recyclables will get tighter. At the same time, energy and process efficiency must constantly improve.
Visions of the future
When talking to our customers, we hear fascinating, game-changing future visions for waste management operations. We hear plans of automated processes where waste trucks are equipped with smart sensors. Trucks automatically notify recycling stations about incoming waste types and automated sorting lines then autonomously switch sorting settings based on the incoming waste. Intelligent robots then sort the waste with high performance and tireless precision.
Sorting lines become fully automated production lines that work 24/7, just like any other manufacturing site. Naturally, everything can be measured and monitored remotely – even from a mobile app, if you prefer.
This future is just around the corner. Scalable, high-performance autonomous robots are commercially available today and they are sorting waste as we speak.
How robots fit the big picture?
Today, robots are often integrated in existing recycling processes. In the future, processes and operations will be designed around robotic systems. Processes will become more adaptable due to more flexible sorting possibilities and multipurpose technologies. It is not about replacing one step of the process with robots but instead streamlining the whole operation to be more efficient.
Sensor technologies will allow even higher material purity and more accurate recycling, creating new revenue opportunities. Low energy consumption will help cut down operating costs. Robots reduce the need for human labor. The change penetrates the entire industry.
Smart solutions and groundbreaking technologies seem to be exactly what the industry has been waiting for. It is evident that smarter technologies offer multiple opportunities to improve performance and efficiency at all levels of waste treatment and recovery.
Future challenges and improvements
Artificial intelligence (AI) seems to all the rage right now, from consumer applications to traditional industries. ZenRobotics’ work is inherently based on artificial intelligence: robots that combine machine learning and sensors to work in unstructured environments (and waste management is one of the most challenging unstructured environments there are).
Robotic applications will keep improving with more precise sensors and smarter software. Much of the work concentrates on the software side – working with masses of accumulated sensor data and perfecting advanced algorithms. Future challenges include making the systems even more accurate, teaching the systems to handle new waste types and making the overall process more efficient. Luckily, most future developments can be applied as software updates to existing hardware.