The world is becoming increasingly aware of the need to transition to a circular economy, and finding ways to efficiently and effectively recycle and reuse materials is becoming increasingly important. One promising solution to this problem is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) waste sorting robots equipped with computer vision technology. In this article, we take a closer look at how AI robotics technology can assist the transition to a truly circular economy.
What Is a Circular Economy?
A circular economy is an economic system that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible and to minimise waste by prioritising reuse, repair, refurbishment, and recycling. In a circular economy, products and materials are designed and used in a way that allows them to be easily recovered and regenerated at the end of their life cycle. This is in contrast to the traditional linear economy, where resources are extracted, used once, and then discarded as waste.
The circular economy model encourages businesses and individuals to shift from a “take-make-waste” approach to a circular approach where products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible, either through repair, refurbishment, or recycling. This reduces the demand for new resources and the amount of waste generated, which in turn reduces the environmental impact of production and consumption.
Recycling as Part of a Circular Economy
Recycling plays a critical role in any circular economy. When rubbish or trash can be recycled and the resulting recyclate repurposed into different items, it removes waste from the cycle. However, optimising recycling processes is essential if we want to maximise the reusable components that are accessible via recycling.
Furthermore, increasing the efficiency and improving the cost-effectiveness of recycling is vital if we are to enhance the amount of waste that is recycled. Fortunately, new technology, like AI robotics and computer vision, is revolutionising the recycling industry and taking us closer to a circular economy.
What is Computer Vision?
Computer vision is a field of artificial intelligence (AI) and computer science that focuses on enabling computers to interpret and understand the visual world. It involves the development of algorithms and techniques to help machines analyse and understand visual data from digital images or videos.
Computer vision applications can range from image recognition, object detection and tracking to facial recognition, gesture recognition, and even autonomous driving. These applications use advanced computer algorithms to process and analyse visual data in real time, making it possible for machines to recognise patterns, detect features, and classify objects.
The technology behind computer vision involves the use of various techniques and algorithms such as machine learning, deep learning, neural networks, and computer graphics. These techniques allow machines to learn from large datasets and improve their accuracy and ability to recognise and interpret visual data over time.
How Does Computer Vision Enhance Recycling Processes?
Waste consists of a variety of materials, such as paper, aluminium and numerous types of plastics, but each waste stream requires different types of processing to be recycled. Due to this, materials must be sorted and segmented before they can be fully recycled.
Computer vision works by scanning materials in a waste stream and identifying them, according to a variety of factors. Recycleye Vision technology is capable of identifying unlimited classes of materials and can even differentiate between packaging and non-packaging materials, food and non-food grade materials and colours and shapes.
With AI computer vision, this sorting process can be completed quickly, accurately and safely, thus increasing efficiency within materials recovery facilities (MRFs). This increase in efficiency allows more waste to be sorted within a specific timeframe, thus increasing recycling outputs and accelerating the recycling process.
Additionally, transitioning to AI-powered sorting can lower costs by reducing or eliminating the need for materials to be sorted manually.
What Is AI Robotics?
AI robotics is an interdisciplinary field that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to develop intelligent machines that can perform tasks autonomously or with minimal human intervention. AI robotics involves the integration of various technologies such as computer vision, natural language processing, machine learning, and sensor technology to enable machines to sense, understand, and respond to their environment.
How Does Robotics Impact the Recycling Process?
When robotic solutions are integrated into the recycling process, it speeds up the sorting process and maximises accuracy. This means that recyclates are segmented into waste streams more efficiently. In turn, this improves cost-effectiveness and enables MRFs to increase outputs.
Acting as an advanced recycling sorter, an AI robot can pick materials and sort them into appropriate streams. Following this, additional recycling equipment, such as a baler, is used to compact recyclates before they are transported to the next stage of the recycling process.
Combining Computer Vision and Robotics at MRFs
Both computer vision and robotics have important roles to play if we are to move towards a circular economy. By integrating the latest solutions into their operations, MRFs can enhance their operations and even increase the range of recyclates they are able to process. As a result, more household and commercial waste can be recycled.
While computer vision can be used alone in MRFs, maximum performance is achieved when it is used in conjunction with robotics . Computer vision technology, like Recycleye Vision, works to identify materials according to numerous factors and, once the item has been classified, an AI robot automatically picks the item and sorts it according to its class.
This effectively automates the picking and sorting process and, in doing so, increases efficiency and lowers operational costs.
Computer Vision and AI: In Action
Our case studies make it easy to see how effective computer vision and AI robotics can be at enhancing performance within MRFs.
A Recycleye retrofittable AI-powered robotic waste picking system increased outputs by 10% on a paper line at an MRF, for example, while Recycleye Robotics was used to demonstrate how purity could be increased by 8% on aluminium waste.
As the waste management and recycling industry continually evolves, it’s easy to see why many MRFs are choosing to work with a robotics company to integrate advanced technology solutions into their operations.
From improving workplace safety and minimising costs to increasing efficiency, optimising performance and boosting outputs, computer vision and AI robotics offer a variety of operational and financial benefits.
In turn, these advantages enable MRFs to process and sort more recyclates with increasing accuracy. As more waste is able to be recycled and the process is accelerated with advanced technology, we can successfully reduce the amount of waste that is discarded in landfills and support a functional and effective circular economy.