Images via ZenRobotics
When it comes to sorting recyclables from trash bound for the landfill, much of the work has to happen by the people throwing away the materials, before waste management comes to pick up trash bins. However, robotics companies are continually working on ways that trash-sorting robots can ensure fewer recyclables head into landfills. ZenRobotics, a Finnish company, has developed just such a robot that can identify and pluck from conveyor belts those materials that should be getting a second life.
PhysOrg reports, "The as yet unnamed robot is basically an arm with a gripper connected to a computer and uses various already proven technologies to perform its task, such as metal detection, weight measurement, 3-D scanning, tactile feedback and spectrometer analysis to measure light waves bounced back off of different materials. It's easy to see how new measuring devices could be added as they become available..."
The new robot has been put to the test sorting construction waste. By sorting through the material moving by on a conveyor belt, it has been able to correctly identify, and place in appropriate bins, about 50% of the recyclable material. Construction waste is estimated to account for as much as half of all landfill waste, and most construction material is not recycled but goes straight to the dump. A report from 2009 showed that construction waste management is the second most important aspect of green building, and a significant amount of what goes to landfill could be recycled. This robot could be just the technology to help us do that.
Here is a lay out of what potential sorting facilities could look like:
This technology is quite different from other developments we've seen come out of research labs. For instance, last year we heard of Osaka University's technology for a recycling robot that is essentially a large machine that uses lasers to identify different types of plastics and recyclable materials, which can then be appropriately sorted for recycling.
ZenRobotics' new bot is smaller and seems like something that could more easily integrate into existing waste management facilities. The firm's robot can currently identify metals, concrete, wood and certain types of plastics. Anything it can't identify is carted off as trash -- or potentially it could be sorted by a second line of human co-workers that can make up for any mistakes the robot makes. Because construction waste is sometimes hazardous depending on what materials are used, the robot could not only cut down on the amount of work required for properly sorting trash from once-again-raw materials, but also help boost the health and safety of workers who may be helping with just such sorting.
If the robot can be used to sort 50% or more of construction waste and therefore potentially reduce the amount of materials going to landfill by at least half, then it sounds like a fantastic invention.
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