If you’re at all like me, you have paused over those lineups of different colored bins at an airport, empty coffee cup in hand, and wondered where to toss it. It’s paper—recycle? Or should the lid go in recycle and the paper in landfill? And then you look in the bins and realize that the contents are all mixed up at this point anyway so it really doesn’t matter, it’s all going to end up in trash, unfortunately.
That is a problem startup Clean Robotics is trying to fix with its trash robot. The robotic system uses motion sensors to detect someone approaching and flip open a lid, load sensors to know when something is tossed into the bin, and metal detectors and a machine vision system that analyzes the objects to help determine whether they are recyclable or landfill. When it makes its decision, a simple system of trap doors and tilting motors directs the discarded object into the right bin.
Clean Robotics unveiled the TrashBot at the HAX accelerator’s demo day last week. The company will pilot its systems at the Pittsburgh airport and at Google’s Pittsburgh campus later this year. The company admits that the robot’s US $5000 price tag is a bit steep, but argues that some municipalities are already purchasing $4000 smart trash systems that don’t do much besides report when they are full, so it’s not crazy. Clean Robotics also envisions subsidizing future versions through targeted advertising, say, a coupon for Pepsi offered when you toss a Coke can.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.