My favorite TV show when I was very young was The Six Million Dollar Man where a crashed astronaut got rebuilt with bionic parts to become a superhuman. Half robot, half human, Steve Austin could do amazing things like seeing through things, run really fast and had a bulldozer-strength right arm that could crush or throw/lift anything. How cool!
Nowadays, as CEO of Waste Robotics, I have grown up to lead a team of passionate geeks and trash heads that sole mission is to bring 21st century technologies to the benefit of the waste recycling industry.
So at Waste Robotics we are building artificial intelligence robotic waste sorting systems that are using special cameras to see chemical composition of waste material and sort them precisely at break-neck speed. How cool is that?
So why would robot augmented recycling centres not be as cool as Steve Austin?
Well…at the risk of sounding “Terminatorish”, the problem is the human.
Interlocking humans with robots is bad news. If robot-augmented sorting lines or processes rely on humans, that means that robots will have to take breaks, lunch hours and sleep. Not cool.
Needless to say that collaborative robots (cobots), designed specifically to work along side humans, are cute but suboptimal in waste sorting because they will, by definition, work at human cadence.
The ideal robotic waste sorting line doesn’t have humans on it. You load it with trash, you turn off the lights and you go do something else. If something goes wrong it texts you. If all is good you receive a message that it is hungry for more material to sort.
So before you buy yourself a cute sorting robot, you should really think about how you can avoid interlocking that robot with humans. In existing recycling centres it is easier said than done.
If you want a quick payback on your automation investment, you need to divert material from human handicapped sorting lines into fully autonomous (no human) sorting lines that never sleep. It’s more investment, but money never sleeps.
I think Steve Austin slept. Not so cool after-all.
Eric Camirand is CEO of Waste Robotics