banner

MIT's RoCycle sorting robotFailure to properly sort materials for recycling leads to waste; in the United States, 25% of all recycled materials are so contaminated they must be sent to landfills. Many large recycling centers already use magnets to pull out metals, and air filters to separate paper from heavier plastics. Even so, most sorting is still done by hand. It’s dirty and dangerous work.

Lillian Chin and her colleagues at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT have developed a robot arm with soft grippers that picks up objects from a conveyor belt and identifies what they are made from by touch. The results (pdf) are published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The robot, called RoCycle, uses capacitive sensors in its two pincers to sense the size and stiffness of the materials it handles. This allows it to distinguish between different metal, plastic, and paper objects. For the study, RoCycle correctly classified 27 objects with 85% accuracy with a stationary gripper and 63% accuracy on a recycling setup with objects passing on a conveyor.

The objects that RoCycle had difficulty with were paper-covered metal tins, which the robot classified as “paper,” suggesting that the coating may have provided enough insulation for the gripper to not properly identify the objects. In addition, the RoCycle is currently unable to differentiate between different types of plastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polypropylene.

Another drawback is that picking up items one by one takes time. This makes RoCycle too slow for industrial recycling plants, which are expensive to run and need to process waste quickly to cover costs. The team is working on combining its touch-based robot with a visual system to speed things up. This robot would scan objects passing by and pick up only those it wasn’t sure about.

The researchers concluded that, “Despite the preliminary nature of our work, this soft robotic gripper offers great potential for improving recycling efficiency. Although the classifier is not perfect in performance, any improvement to upstream sorting can have significant quality improvements downstream.”

Chin thinks that such robots could be used in places like apartment blocks or on university campuses to carry out first-pass sorting of people’s recycling, cutting down on contamination.

More from IFTNEXT right arrow

New fishing technologies increase depletion of fish stocks

A research initiative at the University of British Columbia called the Sea Around Us conducts research on the fisheries of the world and their effects on aquatic ecosystems.

A new approach to reducing perishable waste

Nearly $54 billion in perishable retail food was lost in the United States in 2011, a problem that prompted an international group of operations management researchers to devise a method for a timelier and less costly distribution of perishable inventory under simultaneous, multiple types of demands.

Genetic elements may hold promise for more drought-resistant crops

Researchers at the University of Cambridge learned that a family of transposons called Rider retrotransposons in tomatoes may have the ability to affect important crop traits like drought resistance, according to a study published in PLOS Genetics and a press release provided by the university.

Researchers create new plant vaccination method

Viruses are said to be the most abundant forms of life on the planet, and they have become particularly adept at infecting agricultural plants. European researchers recently devised a technique to inoculate food crops from being infected by viruses in the future.

More from IFT right arrow

Chef Viverito Makes Cell-Based Seafood Taste Good

Chef Gerard Viverito recently joined BlueNalu, a cellular aquaculture startup, where his passion for seafood sustainability and international culinary arts will help him show consumers that cell-based seafood can mimic regular seafood in taste and texture.

Special Considerations for Allergen Testing

The article describes why new product concepts may need new packaging concepts and how ideas in both areas are initiated and fulfilled.

Unlocking the Genomics of Lactic Acid Bacteria

Leading food science researchers discuss advances in lactic acid bacteria, probiotics, fermentation, and CRISPR genome editing that have transformed the fermented foods industry.

Latest News right arrow

Mars partners with NSIP to develop better performing cacao varieties

Mars Inc. has partnered with agricultural analytics company Nature Source Improved Plants (NSIP) to accelerate development of new cacao varieties with greater yields, better disease resistance, and improved quality.

Sustainability, the ‘un-diet’ among IFIC’s 2020 food trends

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation has published five trends for food and nutrition in 2020.

Food Technology Editors Predict Trends for 2020

The editors at Food Technology magazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists, have announced their predictions on hot food trends for 2020. Here’s what they’re forecasting for this coming year.

Hawaiian island to ban single-use plastics

According to the Associated Press, a measure prohibiting all single-use plastic and polystyrene foodservice items on Oahu, Hawaii, has become law.

Changes needed to alleviate the ‘double burden’ of malnutrition

A report on malnutrition finds that a new approach is needed to help reduce undernutrition and obesity at the same time, as the issues become increasingly connected due to rapid changes in countries’ food systems.