London-based start-up Recycleye has secured £500,000 in funding from Innovate UK to trial a sensor it says replicates “the power of human vision” to identify items in waste streams.
With the funding Recycleye says it hopes to implement its Vision sensor into material recycling facilities (MRFs) to benefit an industry that currently “lacks accountability and traceability”.
Peter Hedley, the company’s chief technology officer, said: “The human eye only sees visible light, but the power of our brains makes it the world’s best sensor. Unlike a machine we do not need to read a barcode or RFID to know the brand of an item, nor do we need laser spectroscopy or x-ray vision to know the material of an item. At Recycleye we are developing an AI that replicates this unique human ability.”
Founder and chief executive officer of Recycleye, Victor Dewulf, told letsrecycle.com today (5 August) the company was currently trialling the sensor with two major waste management companies, including one in the UK.
Mr Dewulf said: “The technology is currently being piloted on sites in both the UK and France and its performance is being validated for automated quality assessments, back-end quality control certification and PP food/non-food grade identification.
“We also plan to carry out Tier 2 deployments of the technology towards the end of the year ahead of larger scale deployments in 2021.”
The technology was developed by students at Imperial College London, who used Al-powered cameras to identify recyclable objects and what they are made of, enabling them to be automatically sorted at waste facilities by material, brand and object.
The sensor was developed to enable waste pickers, traders and facility managers to understand levels of contamination and place an exact value on each tonne of recycled plastic. Brand-level detection will also extend producer responsibility for waste from their products, Recycleye claims.
The company says that in using low-cost robotics, their autonomous sorting solution will be cheaper than current alternatives.
At present the cost of sorting materials at plants could be expensive, Recycleye says, as the industry uses multiple large, expensive sensors which can miss some items. Using computer vision means Recycleye can use just one sensor for the whole waste plant, making it more cost effective, the company claims.
Mr Dewulf said: “Our motto is that waste doesn’t exist, it’s just materials in the wrong place. This project will accelerate the world’s transition to a circular economy and enable the merger of removal chains back into supply chains.”
Innovate UK is part of the government’s UK Research and Innovation national funding agency which invests in science and research in the UK. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UKRI brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England.