The global recycling system is collapsing because it is difficult for recyclers to accurately separate different materials. Robots developed by Colorado-based start-up Amp Robotics can help. In a huge recycling center in Florida, 14 different robots use artificial intelligence to identify and automatically classify each item, twice as fast as human employees, as bottles, cans, boxes and other recyclables move down the conveyor belt.
Amp Robotics says this will be a transformative technology for the recycling industry. The company announced today that it has raised $16 million in a round of A-led financing led by Sequoia Capital, the first time Sequoia Capital has invested in a circular economy. Nearly two years after China banned imports of low-value recycling, the U.S. recycling industry is still in crisis.
Now, the United States is building new recycling infrastructure to help solve the crisis. However, in the recycling process, the challenge of selecting high-value materials remains. Amp Robotics robots can now sort 80 items per minute, about twice the average human employee, and can do their work more accurately. The software that runs the robot uses machine learning to identify each object.
With precise classification, even in today’s more complex recycling process, it is possible to end up with high-value materials that make recycling facilities profitable. In addition, the technology can remove materials that were not recycled in the past, such as coffee cups, which use high-value paper, but are too difficult to classify, but the Amp Robotics robot can learn what coffee cups are, which in turn separates the paper from the cup.
Currently, only about 5% of municipal recycling facilities use robots to classify materials. Amp Robotics says its system costs are not a real problem because it rents out equipment to facilities that cannot afford capital, and those who buy the technology get a fair return on investment.