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Was WALL-E Right All Along? Is AI Really the Future of Waste Disposal?

When Disney’s WALL-E was released in 2008, many people speculated that the movie was predicting the future of waste management. With the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it seems that this may actually be true. The use of waste disposal robots, that are operated by artificial intelligence, is growing. So, is AI really the future of waste disposal? Let’s take a closer look.

How Does AI Work?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a complex area of computer science and there are numerous different types of artificial intelligence, such as narrow AI, artificial general intelligence, and super intelligence.

In the decade since 2010, successes in artificial intelligence have been at the forefront of computer science and technology…

– Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research

Today, it’s narrow AI that is used to power the majority of ‘smart devices’ that are in use or in development, including self-driving vehicles, voice attendants like Apple’s Siri, or automated product suggestions on eCommerce websites.

Narrow AI is designed to perform a specific task and it mimics human intelligence to do so. To enable tech to mimic human intelligence accurately, a concept known as machine learning is used.

What Is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is a method of data analysis that enables a computer to ‘learn’ from the data it is processing and improve performance. Statistical methodologies are used to develop algorithms, which a computer uses to ‘make decisions’, such as classifying data in a particular way. By mining historical data, the computer can determine how similar data was processed in the past and use this information to inform its own subsequent actions. 

In the same way that humans learn from experience, machine learning enables technology to ‘learn’ from prior data analysis and processing. As a result, the machine becomes capable of making decisions in the same way a human would. 

In the Disney classic, we see WALL-E differentiating between rubbish that needs to be compressed and interesting or useful items that he wants to keep. It’s machine learning that would enable technology to make this distinction!

How Is AI Used?

Artificial intelligence might seem like something for the future but it’s already being used in a variety of different ways. In fact, it’s likely that you use AI every day in one way or another, although you may not realise it. 

When your favourite streaming platform recommends TV shows for you to watch, it’s using historical data to determine your viewing preferences and recommend similar content that you’re likely to enjoy. Similarly, an eCommerce website relies on your previous user behaviour to suggest products or services you might be interested in. 

However, these aren’t the only ways that AI is being used to enhance the world around us. When it comes to creating smart cities, protecting the environment and managing waste, artificial intelligence is already at the forefront of new developments.

Using Artificial Intelligence for Waste Sorting

In the UK, human workers are still typically tasked with sorting waste from households, although machinery is used for some separation tasks. When it comes to processing this waste, artificial intelligence is already being used to accelerate waste disposal solutions. 

AI-driven computer vision sorting solutions, like Recycleye Vision, are able to classify waste materials into different categories, based on material class or object type, enabling tracking and a better understanding of the materials being processed.  

But AI waste management doesn’t stop there, solutions like Recycleye Vision are already being used in combination with robotic sorting to pick and place waste materials, so that they can be processed appropriately.  Just like WALL-E, Recycleye Robotics picks valuable waste objects identified by Recycleye Vision for recycling, although it still needs to work on its dancing skills.

Some people believe that AI robot technology will replace humans, but human employees are still as important, even more so.  AI waste sorting robots need supervision, and although they can work for long periods of time without a break, human beings are required for overseeing maintenance and ensuring correct functioning. 

Again, the ability of computer vision robots to work without a break means that using waste management robots enhances operational performance.

Delivering accurate automation, faster processing and reducing the need for manual quality assurance, AI-powered waste management can transform the industry by reducing operating costs and maximising efficiency.

Cleaning Up Our Oceans with AI

The vast majority of waste produced might begin its journey on land but a substantial proportion of it ends up in seas and oceans, where it causes untold damage. Excess microplastics, ocean acidification and rising CO2 levels are changing the makeup of our oceans and threatening marine life. 

However, artificial intelligence and waste management robots are being used to clean up seas and waterways too. Autonomous marine vehicles are being dispatched to collect garbage from oceans, for example, while AI enabled monitoring systems are collecting and processing key data that’s used to determine the health of our waterways.

Can Waste Management Robots Save the Earth?

WALL-E might have been set in the 29th century but we’re already using AI to enhance the way we live. As we face an unprecedented challenge to protect the Earth and mitigate the impact of climate change, there’s no doubt that technology, and AI in particular, will play a vital role in protecting our environment.  

Robots can’t fully replace humans when it comes to the waste management chain, but they can work harder and longer to pick and sort waste for recycling.  Waste picking robots can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, continuously picking over 33,000 items in one 10 hour shift.  Running a robot on that basis would more than double the output of a material recovery facility, and produce better quality outputs for recycling that can be produced by manual picking by humans alone. 

From waste management robots to autonomous marine vehicles, artificial intelligence is already having a significant and positive impact on the environment.

Is AI the Future?

There’s no doubt that artificial intelligence is already delivering value and will become even more enmeshed in our lives.  We believe that AI is not the future, it’s already here in our present, and the future will bring even more even more benefits to our lives and to the planet. 

Want to learn more about the benefits of AI-driven waste picking robots? Book a free audit today and our expert team will tell you how your MRF could benefit from robotic automation, or take a look at our videos to see how our customers are using AI robotics today.

WasteNet: Waste Management

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