Can robots revolutionise rubbish recycling?

The notoriously difficult process of sorting our trash may become a robot’s task as AMP Robotics days it has processed more than a billion items

AMP Cortex dual-robotic system sorting materials. (Photo: Business Wire)


AI and robotics company for the recycling industry AMP Robotics Corp. (“AMP”) believes it may be cracking the incredibly tough task of automating recycling. This oft overlooked segment of the supply chain has been a major hurdle for robotics companies, as rubbish is hard for machine vision and sensors to correctly identify and then for it to be picked out.

AMP says that it has passed the milestone of one billion recyclables processed over the 12 months ending March 31, 2020.

While a big figure, it still represents a fraction of the waste we throw away, as AMP clarified that the ‘one billion’ milestone means that AMP’s technology has specifically targeted and removed one billion individual recyclable items from billions of other materials in the waste stream.

AMP did this with its AMP Neuron™ AI platform that uses computer vision and machine learning to recognize different colours, textures, shapes, sizes, patterns, and brand labels to identify exactly what the material is and whether it is recyclable.

The company claims that this underlying AI can guide “robots to consistently perform sorting tasks more than twice as quickly as humanly possible, with much greater accuracy, and over long durations of time,” in a press release.

AMP’s technology recovers plastics, cardboard, paper, metals, cartons, cups, and many other recyclables that can be reclaimed for raw material processing.

Plastic processing

Plastics have long been one of the most challenging areas for recyclers. Many plastics look and feel similar but their recycling properties and capacities are drastically different.

AMP says that the AI platform can visually identify different types of plastics like Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE), High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), Polypropylene (PP), Polystyrene (PS), sorted further by colour, clarity, and opacity, along with different form factors (e.g. lids, tubs, clamshells, cups, and many more).

The company is planning the release of a series of new products and performance features in the coming months.

AMP raised $16 million in Series A funding in November 2019, led by Sequoia Capital with participation from Closed Loop Partners, Congruent Ventures, and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (“SIP”), backed by Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL).

“Smarter, more efficient recycling that produces reusable commodities is the future of the industry,” said Marcel Vallen, vice president of international. “AMP is at the forefront of helping recyclers modernize and automate their operations with the help of artificial intelligence and robotics, and I’m eager to advance these efforts by driving increased demand for our solutions in new and existing markets.”

Keeping facilities operational with automation

Recycling has been classified as an essential industry and service by the Department of Homeland Security during the COVID-19 pandemic. The demand for AMP’s AI and robotics technology has accelerated as recycling businesses turn to automation to remove their employees from harm’s way, navigate chronic labour shortages to remain operational, and adapt to spikes in residential volume and material types caused by sudden shifts in consumer buying patterns.

“The pandemic has hit the recycling industry hard, with many facilities struggling to maintain operations and productivity levels amid worker safety concerns, social distancing requirements, and skyrocketing residential volumes,” said Joe Benedetto, president of Virginia-based RDS. “Fortunately, we had already deployed AMP’s robotic systems, which are helping us weather this crisis. We’re fully operational and can handle the heavier volumes of recyclables driven by shelter-in-place orders and rapidly changing consumer behavior. We’re meeting the increased demand for paper and cardboard while protecting our employees and controlling costs.”

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