MIT Robot Identifies and Recycles Trash by Squeezing


Researchers at MIT are now making a robot that can distinguish a type of trash by means of squeezing / Photo by: Thermos via Wikimedia Commons


Massachusetts Institute of Technology is developing a robot that is capable of sorting recyclable materials with the use of sensors in its soft Teflon "hand."

MIT's Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) built the machine called the RoCycle that helps in easing the task of recycling. Currently, humans stand along a conveyor belt to grab and designate recyclable materials, such as plastic, paper, and metal to their rightful places. This task is dirty, hard, and could actually be harmful to humans, which makes it the perfect job for RoCyle.

"Although environmental and sustainability concerns have made it crucial to scale up recycling operations, object sorting remains a critical bottleneck for recycling scalability," the CSAIL team wrote in the paper that describes their work, as quoted by Science Times.

Douglas Heaven, a freelance writer at MIT Technology Review, said most major recycling centers are already equipped with magnets to pull out metals and air filters that separate paper from heavier plastics. But even with this, most sorting is still done by hand, which is "dirty and dangerous work," Heaven added.

According to a CNET report, the recycling robot handles an object and squishes it to determine the material's size and stiffness. RoCycle is equipped with tactile sensors, which help it to understand what kind of material it is dealing with. The report further said that the robo-arm part of the entire system would then pop the can, paper cup, or any other item it is handling into their proper designated bins.

"Compatible with any robotic arm, RoCycle was found to be 85 percent accurate at detecting materials when stationary, and 63 percent accurate on an actual simulated conveyor belt," said MIT CSAIL.

CNET added that RoCycle is built to handle and withstand any kind of messy task. Its hand can even survive getting scraped by a sharp lid and endured a series of needle punctures—coming out with only minimal damage.

Although the robot is also impressive, as shown in the MIT CSAIL demonstration videos, it could still be improved to become better. The CSAIL research team seeks to meld RoCycle's sense of touch using video input from cameras, which could improve its accuracy in sorting recyclable materials.