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Building a Smarter Trash Can

26 June 2017

Recycling could look a lot different after Pittsburgh-based start-up Clean Robotics launches TrashBot, its trash-sorting robot. The compact trash-recycling station is set to participate in a trial, sponsored by Pittsburgh’s city government, of products that address governmental problems.

Clean Robotics touts TrashBot as the world’s first 'smart' waste bin. The apparatus sorts trash into the proper bin, for single-stream recycling or landfill. It can be programmed specifically for its particular location—if one community wants to exclude a type of recyclable, TrashBot will recognize it and route it to the landfill bin. It keeps track of the amount by weight of recyclables and landfill waste collected, a boon for companies that monitor these numbers. The unit can also notify its owners when to empty the bins.

TrashBot’s sorting smarts comes from the algorithm that evaluates each piece of trash and compares it to other trash in its knowledge base. Each unit contains two bins. When someone discards an item through TrashBot’s single opening, a combination of cameras and sensors scan it and the algorithm tells the robotic arm where to dump it.

The sorting algorithm learns the difference between recyclables and landfill waste by observing increasing amounts of trash. TrashBot’s initial test deployment, for a Pittsburgh technology company, produced an 81 percent accuracy rate. Upcoming trials at Pittsburgh’s International Airport and Convention Center will add to the knowledge base that will ship with the first production version.

The project has garnered recognition from the maker community and tech incubators. Mashable named TrashBot one of its 12 most impressive social good innovations from June 2016. Infosys awarded Clean Robotics an InfyMakers Award in 2016. AlphaLab, a tech incubator in Pittsburgh, is still home base for the company. HAX, which is billed as the world’s largest hardware accelerator, provided assistance in building the prototype.

TrashBot co-founder and COO Charles Yhap expects that the proposed initial price for a TrashBot unit will be $1,000. Down the road, the company might provide the unit at no charge and charge for wireless connectivity instead.

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