The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

To Recycle, or Not To Recycle? This Trash Robot Knows For Sure

The TrashBot aims to prevent recycling mistakes by doing the sorting

1 min read
To Recycle, or Not To Recycle? This Trash Robot Knows For Sure
Photo-illustration: iStockphoto

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.

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
Horizontal
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
DarkGray

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less