Robotics Revolutionizes Waste Recycling

The time when artificial intelligence (AI) was only part of sci-fi movies and books is over. Day after day we encounter new robotic integration in every industry and as a logical consequence, in their supply chains as well.

Award winner in 2013 for Best of Waste Management, ZenRobotics Recycler (ZRR) is the world's first robotic waste sorting system. Born from the genius minds of a group of designers from Aalto University, Finnish high-end cleantech startup ZenRobotics presented its impressive brain-inspired AI system at the Slush 2013 startup conference in Helsinki, Finland last November.

The company was founded in 2007. Jufo Peltomaa, vice president of marketing; Tuomas J. Lukka, chief scientist, PhD in quantum chemistry at the age of 20 from the University of Helsinki; and Harri Valpola, principal scientist, PhD in machine learning from the Helsinki University of Technology lead the ZRR's technology team. The company is clearly focused on knowledge and experience, with 50% of team members holding a doctorate.

The Prime Minister of Finland, Jyrki Katainen, opened the semi-mobile product launch at Slush. The ZenRobotics stand soon became one of the highlights, if not the highlight , of the event. At least it was my favorite and you will see why.


How ZRR works
The ZRR applies machine learning technology. It uses multiple sensors inputs to identify items and raw materials like wood, metal, and stone in waste. The system classifies and sorts them into separate piles for recycling. The range of sensors the ZRR uses may include visible spectrum cameras, NIR, 3D laser scanners, haptic sensors, X-ray, etc.

1. Sensors  
2. AI control system ZenRobotics Brain   
3. Industrial robot   
4. Recovered fractions  
(Source: ZenRobotics)

1. Sensors

2. AI control system ZenRobotics Brain

3. Industrial robot

4. Recovered fractions

(Source: ZenRobotics)

The fusion of sensor collects data from the waste and the data allows an accurate analysis of waste never done before. The ZenRobotics Brain™ AI control system analyzes the sensor data and controls the industrial robot, which performs multiple sorting tasks simultaneously to perfection. Apart from reclaiming raw materials for sale the ZRR also removes contaminants.

Watch the ZZR in action:

Solar energy makes the ZRR environmentally friendly
The ZRR uses very little electricity, about 10kW. It can also be run off 60 to 100 square meters of solar panels depending on the site's solar energy potential. Containers Maes, a Belgian expert company in sustainable recycling, was the world's first to install a solar-powered ZRR in Belgium in 2012, as reported by PRNewswire.

Attractive, short-term ROI and efficiency of disposal cost savings
I know some of you will be wondering by now about the cost of adopting a ZRR. There is nothing to worry about. This could be the best investment a company might make in its entire history with a profit of $1 million per year, which is about the price of the ZRR. Watch this sci-fi-like trailer to learn about some facts, figures, and predicted ROI:

How ZenRobotics Recycler will impact the future of recycling
At the beginning, the ZRR was created for the construction and demolition industry. However, its global availability and enormous potential has the potential to help solve the world's waste crisis. Thanks to a software upgrade, the ZRR will be able to recognize and pick new materials and analyze the data in the waste stream. The ZRR will serve in the future to other industries, including the electronics manufacturing industry. The first upgrades include:

  • Single-stream rigid plastics fraction (e.g., PVC, PE, PPT together)
  • Separate rigid plastic fractions (by polymer and color)
  • Ferrous and non-ferrous metal fractions separately
  • Separate inert material fractions
  • Radioactive materials

This basically means that the immortal ZRR only gets better and better with time, and the future can expect a robotics revolution in the years to come. This is just the beginning.

19 comments on “Robotics Revolutionizes Waste Recycling

  1. Ariella
    January 6, 2014

    @Susan now that's a great application of technology! Let's hope that we'll see more recycling as a result.

  2. SP
    January 7, 2014

    Wow this is fantastic and very much a requirement for all countries. How does the input section work like if someone gives it a bag full of mix waste like plastic, stones, kitchen organic waste and metals, will it sort it out on its own. In any case its great. The speed at which waste is getting generated and looking at how our environment is getting affected by it, waste management is a necessity.

    Here in India we hardly have much system in place but still people are learning. For my own apartment, we make compost out of the kitchen waste. I give my old plastic,carry bags, papaer and metal for recycling. But I have to drive down quite a bit to make sure the solid waste goes to the right recyclers.

  3. Ariella
    January 7, 2014

    @SP is the compost your own idea or mandatory where you live?

  4. _hm
    January 7, 2014

    Looks pretty good. However, on second thought the parts it isorting are very small!

    Is there crusher and filter before this Zen Robots?


  5. Susan Fourtané
    January 8, 2014

    Yes, Ariella, it's a great application of technology. The fact that is globally available ends with excuses for not recycling. If you look at the ROI there is not even excuse there. So I don't know what other excuses can people make up for not recycling. 


  6. SP
    January 8, 2014

    @Ariella, its our own idea, we are some few residents who made a green team and started composting for all 77 houses for their kitchen waste. the compost that gets ready is used by our own landscape gardens and also we sell some in small packets to people in community. 

    Its not mandatory at all here.Some people even throw the garbage right on the street. People in India still dont consider waste as important resource, they dont even want to think about it. But time will change and being the second highest population its the need of the hour that waste gets the maximum attention. 

  7. Ariella
    January 8, 2014

    @SP it's great that you're doing that and working together to produce enough compost to sell for use outside your own gardens. Very impressive!

  8. SP
    January 8, 2014

    Thanks Ariella. I hope it becomes easier for electronics, papare and plastic also that we can recycle at community level.

  9. Susan Fourtané
    January 8, 2014


    Yes, it sorts out metal, stone, and wood now. It can be upgraded and it will sort out more materials. If you watch the videos you can see it in action. 


  10. Susan Fourtané
    January 8, 2014


    Maybe the parts in the videos are small, but they could be up to 20kg. What kind of filter do you mean?


  11. Susan Fourtané
    January 8, 2014


    It's great you have that green team. 🙂 Everything starts small. If people start green teams everywhere the whole planet would benefit from it. It's very nice you are involved in recycling activities, too. 


  12. t.alex
    January 8, 2014

    The videos are interesting. Will google buy over this company soon ?:-)

  13. Susan Fourtané
    January 9, 2014


    Well, wouldn't that depend on if they want to sell the company to Google? I don't think they would. 🙂 


  14. t.alex
    January 11, 2014

    These robots are actually extremely helpful. We can't put human into such a hazardous environment. 

  15. Adeniji Kayode
    January 26, 2014

    @Ariella, you are right on that, we will keep seeing more technology in the area of recycling especially when it saves resources and cost. I heard a guy that invented a machine that recycles water used for bathing to exact or nearest pure state before it was used and send it back to the over head tank for you. This saves cost and also resources

  16. Adeniji Kayode
    January 26, 2014

    @SP, In Some part of Africa, recycling of waste is one of the ways jobs are provided for the masses. some companies are into plastic, aluminum and iron recycling. so people go from places to places picking these stuffs and carry them to these companies. They weigh them according to how many kilograms the person picks. But this is yet to solve much of paper waste and water waste.

  17. Eldredge
    January 26, 2014

    While watching the robots at work is visually impressive, I think the technology that identifies the materials, and scans for the size and shape, are really intriguing. These are the technolgies that tell the robots what and how to pick up the scraps, and where to deposit them. Very cool application.


  18. Adeniji Kayode
    January 27, 2014


    You are right, and that is why the use of robots will buy more into our daily lives more which is whuy there is fear of increase in joblessness.

  19. johnb6174
    August 1, 2018

    very interesting post.this is my first time visit here.i found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion..thanks for the post

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