Failure 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.
France-based Carbios is developing the first biological technology to transform the end-of-life of plastics, says Martin Stephan, deputy CEO of Carbios.
The food business is “brutal,” says Nancy Preston, a U.S. Army veteran who decided in Iraq that she wanted to work in that business. After learning more about the barriers to entry including the incredible financial risk, little access to capital, and a high likelihood of failure, Preston and her husband decided that instead of opening their own café or food truck, they’d focus on helping simplify the process for other food entrepreneurs.
Air Protein has developed a method of making meat analogues out of carbon dioxide. Based on NASA ideas about how to grow food on board long journey spacecraft, Air Protein says its technology can create protein in a matter of hours and without the use of any arable land.
The article previews IFT20 scientific sessions
During IFT19, an interactive event allowed participants to be immersed in a virtual environment to test whether their surroundings would alter their liking of beverages.
Separate research from the University of Illinois and Tufts University have examined new bioprocesses for producing tagatose in a more cost-effective manner.
Food scientists are using structural design principles to improve the healthiness, sustainability, and quality of the modern food system.
Geltor has announced the closing of a $91.3 million Series B financing that will fuel the global expansion of its ingredients-as-a-service platform.
Gathered Foods, makers of Good Catch plant-based seafood, has announced the appointment of Christine Mei as CEO.
Joywell Foods, a food technology company developing a sweet protein portfolio, has announced the closing of a $6.9 million Series A financing round.
Oatly, maker of oatmilk, has received $200 million in equity led by Blackstone Growth.
Motif FoodWorks has announced partnerships the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to better understand and design the rheological properties of plant-based foods.