High-tech AI-powered robots replace workers at recycling centers in Finland

On the outskirts of the Finnish capital Helsinki, new technologies are making recycling easier.

A recently opened 35 million euro plant, owned by the Finnish company Remeo, can process up to 120,000 tonnes of construction waste, including wood, plastics and metals.

It is said to be the most advanced recycling plant in Europe.

“We have thousands of thousands of customers across all industries,” said Johan Mild, CEO of Remeo, which operates eight factories across Finland.

“Shopping centers, production sites, from all over to our customers, with our truck it comes here.”

According to the European Union, the average European produces around five tonnes of waste per year, but only 38% of it is recycled. Over 36% of all waste in the EU comes from construction.

Waste recycling is complicated due to the limited information on the content and quality of the materials.

“Impure” items often cannot be recycled and reused as raw materials.

In several European countries, including Finland, some non-recyclable waste is sent to incineration plants, which produce electricity and heat, but also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

“The entire industry has been faced with the challenge that a lot of the waste is incinerated,” Mild said. “So it’s burnt out and it’s not good for nature and the whole planet. So basically what we’re doing now is trying to increase the level of recycling.”

This is where these intelligent AI-powered robots come in.

Several heavy-duty pick-up robots from ZenRobotics help sort wood from plastic and metals from stone. The 12 robotic arms help capture valuable pure materials to increase recycling rates.

“The key element for these robots is that they actually identify the waste on the belt,” said Harri Holopainen, chief technology officer of ZenRobotics, a Helsinki-based company which has robots at 35 locations in around 20 countries. .

“They look at every object that comes on the belt and then determine if it’s wood, if it’s wood that has nails or tiles or concrete, then they put it in the correct chute for processing. ulterior.”

How it works?

A unit scans the waste with cameras, a 3D sensor system and a metal detector.

Its AI-powered brain then recognizes and identifies objects and determines the best grip point.

His machine vision was trained on thousands of images of waste, which allows him to recognize more than 350 “fractions”, a term used to describe different types of waste.

The robot’s skillful arm – which can lift up to 30 kilograms – then picks up and deposits the waste in the specified chutes. It has billions of potential picking moves. Almost every selection planned by its software is unique.

“These arms, they never get tired and they never get bored, which makes them quite superior for a job like this,” said Holopainen.

“And frankly, given the amount of dangerous objects on the belt, it’s really not a good place for people to get their hands on those kind of sharp edges and other dangerous materials.”

Industries are under increasing pressure to increase recycling rates. In Europe, a strategy to be adopted in early 2022 aims to boost textile recycling.

Meanwhile, China, which has long been the world’s largest destination for paper, plastics, and other recyclables, gradually implemented import restrictions in 2018.

Remeo’s Mild says the new technology has allowed them to increase recycling rates by around 50 to 90 percent, in some cases.

“In construction waste already last year, we had in Finland a regulation that says that construction waste must be recycled at 70 percent, and with the traditional way it is really difficult to obtain”, a- he declared.

“But now the robots that do it or the machines that do it, we can (get) a lot more than 70%.”

In the fight against global waste, these robots are helping.

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