Waste-sorting game pairs humans and robots to boost recycling
Sorting through plastics, glass, paper and metals at a waste management facility to identify recyclables is an imperfect process. Many companies are starting to use robots to do all of the scanning and sorting to make it more precise and efficient, but gaming software company Jodone has come up with a different idea. It has created a system that has humans and robots each doing the tasks that they excel at to boost the amount of materials that are correctly sorted and processed.
At a waste facility in Minnesota, a pilot project using the software has workers use a touchscreen to monitor materials coming across the conveyor belt. They then use the screen to swipe recyclables and select their correct category among paper, plastic, tin, and more. The software then directs robotic arms to grab each item and place it in the appropriate bin. The process is made more interesting because it has a game-like approach modeled after the app Fruit Ninja and the workers receive bonuses for finding an above-average amount of recyclables.
“We know that robots are great at manual labor—at doing the same thing a million times in a row. But humans are great at problem solving, classification, identification, and dealing with diversity,” said Cole Parker, cofounder and CEO of Jodone.
The trial has been very successful with the robots achieving pick rates of 2,500 per hour, which is eight times what a human worker could accomplish and the sorting has been done with 95 percent accuracy thanks to the workers monitoring the belt and using the software. The company estimates that the system will generate $24 million in additional revenue for waste facilities meaning far more recyclables will end up being reused instead of going to the landfill.
The next step is to improve the software so that it learns from past swipes. It will highlight items it recognizes as a recyclable material and then the workers can just approve or decline it. The key is keeping the cost of the system lower than the cost of sending items to the landfill so that waste management companies have an incentive to use it.