So what exactly is the technology? Called Wall-B, not to be confused with Disney Pixar’s Wall-E animated robot, Sadako’s sorting machines use suction pads to lift and sort household, municipal waste, such as cans and bottles. Each robot is estimated to have a picking cycle of one pick every three seconds, or 20 picks per minute. This equates to 1.8 million picks per year, or up to 200 tons of material. They are aiming for these robots to replace the human picking side of waste operations, rather than high-speed NIR equipment.
“We don’t want to compete against these machines,” says Belén. “The volume they can process is much higher than our robots. What we found in the industry is that there is a gap for cheaper sorting technology for medium waste streams, for which you don’t have enough valuable material to install one of these NIR machines, as it’s not cost efficient…Our technology is very similar to what a person can do. We strongly believe that this work is DDD (dirty, dull and dangerous) and that if robots have to replace any work, this is it.”
Eugenio says there’s a key difference to reduce the cost of the robot units.
“The only way of being cheaper is avoiding the use of infrared spectroscopy, which is a typical industrial solution in waste plants,” he says. “We are performing the detection using a normal camera and AI computer vision. Developing this is very complicated. It’s the main challenge of our project: we use a normal camera and we needed to add a lot of intelligence so the camera looks at objects the same way a human does. As people we don’t have infrared spectroscopy in our eyes, we have normal visual capabilities. That’s what we are aiming to do with our AI.”
Sadako essentially puts the pieces such as the robot arm, suction grabber and AI together and delivers the completed package to the customer.