We’ve seen a lot of frivolous applications for robotic arms: Artisanal cocktail making. Slow pit stops. Whatever’s going on here. Meanwhile, in Finland, a precociously named company called ZenRobotics has figured out how use them to solve one of the biggest problems with recycling: automatic sorting.
You see, a big problem with recycling — and in particular, recycling at construction sites, which generate a whole third of the world’s waste — is that it needs to be sorted by material type. Right now, it’s the domain of human sorters. And at construction sites, that gets dangerous fast — either because of the weight, material, or toxicity of the stuff being handled.
ZenRobotics, which is based in Helsinki and raised $US16 million in funding last year, has developed a robotic arm called the Recycler, which uses a process called sensor fusion to determine between materials like stone, wood, and metal. Sensor fusion is exactly what it sounds like: a carefully calibrated recipe of sensors, including scales, visible spectrum cameras, near-infrared spectrometers and haptic sensors, that determine whether a chunk of material belongs where. It seems like a simple task, but at massive demolition or construction sites, it could change everything. CNN explains:
Worldwide, the construction and demolition sector is thought to contribute over one third of all waste. The U.S. alone contributes a staggering 325 million tons of waste every year, and the UK produces another 120 million tons... ZenRobotics founder Jufo Peltomaa notes that the problem is equally severe across the EU: "In the EU alone there's 900 million tons of construction and demolition waste. If you were to convert that to the average sized car, the queue would go 45 times around the globe."
This spring, ZenRobotics is installing Recyclers at several recycling sites in Finland, and any interested parties can buy the machines online. It's unclear whether sites outside of Europe have shown interest in the system, though. And anyways, if Broad Sustainable Chairman Zhang Yue has his way, eventually constructing a building won't generate any waste at all. In the meantime, check out ZenRobotics' ridiculous company trailer below — you won't be disappointed.