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Helsinki recycling center employs robots

| June 26, 2014

In an industrial park near Helsinki Finland, there’s a new recycling center. Like other recycling centers, this one takes in tons of construction and demolition waste and sorts through it to separate wood, metal, and stone.

recycling center

Robots are the workers at a Helsinki recycling center. From Mario Verastegui.

The difference? The sorters are robots. That’s right: robots.

It sounds like something straight out of a futuristic sci-fi novel: a factory full of artificially intelligent machines, each dutifully performing a task typically reserved for human workers.

And yet, it’s not fiction at all. It’s the brainchild Jufo Peltomaa and his colleagues at ZenRobotics.

Peltomaa was already in the artificial intelligence industry when he watched a Discovery Channel documentary one night in 2008. He witnessed workers sort through dirty, potentially-hazardous waste at a factory and had an idea. As he explained to IBTimesUK, Peltomaa “Immediately…noticed two things: First the work has to be very dangerous with the dust, microbes, poisonous materials, asbestos and whatnot. Secondly it was exactly what we had been looking for for our company.”

That inspiration is now reality in the world’s first artificially-intelligent recycling center. Each of ZenRobotics’s robots can take the place of up to 15 human waste sorters. While some people might squirm at the thought of robots taking over human jobs, it’s worth noting that these jobs are typically very hazardous. Dust and chemical exposure is a constant source of concern for the waste and recycling industry, and these robots eliminate that risk. (So far, none of the robots have complained about the working conditions.)

Plus, of course, the rise of companies like ZenRobotics creates jobs, because someone needs to design, build, test, and maintain the robots.

ZenRobotics has received quite a bit of interest and positive feedback so far, and they’re beginning to expand throughout Europe. “I feel like we’re on the cusp of the robotic revolution in recycling,” said Peltomaa. With municipalities around the world pushing for higher and higher levels of waste divergence, ZenRobotics may be on to something.

So will robots be coming to a recycling center near you? That remains to be seen. There is a substantial initial capital investment involved, though Peltomaa estimates that most recycling centers could recoup the cost within about two years.

No word yet on interest from municipalities within the United States. (Maybe we all read George Orwell’s 1984 a few too many times…)

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Category: Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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