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Robo-Recycling: Apple’s Liam Robot Is Ready to Take Your iPhone Apart

Apple kicked off today’s event by introducing a free recycling program featuring Liam, its California-developed robot that will take old phones apart

1 min read
Robo-Recycling: Apple’s Liam Robot Is Ready to Take Your iPhone Apart
Image: Apple

Before turning to the expected round of product announcements at today’s Apple event, held at the company’s campus in Cupertino, Calif., Apple introduced a technical development that won’t be a product anytime soon: Liam, the recycling robot.

Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, said that though Apple’s track record of reusing iPhones that are exchanged for upgrades is good, the company recognized that eventually, these things can’t be reused. Therefore, she indicated, Apple decided to up its recycling game. The company’s engineers in Silicon Valley developed a recycling robot, named Liam, that recognizes all the key parts on an iPhone, takes the handset apart, and pulls out the most valuable materials, including cobalt, lithium, gold, copper, silver, platinum, and tungsten.

With a team of Liams in place, ready to mine phones for precious metals, Jackson announced a free recycling program for iPhones. Customers can drop the phones at Apple stores, or print a prepaid mailing label at home. She urged customers to recycle devices in a way that is “safe for data and safe for the planet,” and will keep a little Liam and his friends busy.

Later in the event, Siri was asked “How do you feel about recycling?” She wisecracked, “I love the Apple renew program, but Liam really tears me apart.”

Check out Liam in this video from Apple:

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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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