Despite billions of dollars spent on recycling marketing, U.S. recycling efforts have not improved in 20 years. And recycling efforts do need to improve as we in the U.S. recycle less than 22% of our garbage. To top it all off according to the World Watch Institute, while the U.S. represents 5% of the world population, we produce more waste than any other country in the world. Luckily, Clarke the robot named after the sci-fi author Arthur C. Clark, and developed by AMP Robotics, is on the job now to help us recycle the refuge from the 500 million tons of plastic produced worldwide each year.
Clarke is a hard worker but still learning on the job, working at a municipal trash-sorting system in Denver, Colorado since 2016. Driven by artificial intelligence and equipped with spider-like arms and specially designed grippers, Clarke dangles over a conveyer belt as ‘he’ uses an optical scanning system to pick out recyclable waste with 90-percent accuracy. Clarke works 24 hours a day and needs infrequent maintenance, and ‘he’ is also about 50 percent quicker than a human at 60 items a minute, however, his scope of work is still limited.
Currently, Clarke is programmed to recognize and sort out beverage and food cartons so they end up being recycled and not ending up in a landfill, where the typical time for a plastic carton to thoroughly degrade is a minimum of 450 years. And with his artificial intelligence learning modules, Clarke’s accuracy is continuously improving as he learns to identify more varieties of food and beverage cartons. While cartons was a great place to start for Clarke, ultimately these systems need to evolve to identify and pick out other recyclables, like tin cans, and blends of plastics such as baby bottles so they can be sent off to the appropriate recycling facility.