When it comes to recycling materials in the trash, sorting that trash into specific types for recycling is a labor-intensive process. MIT has been working on a robot that can sort the recycling automatically without relying on vision. That is important as things that look like metal might not be metal.
The bot can pick up items made of different materials and different sizes and drop them automatically into the correct bin. It can tell the difference between paper, plastic, and metal items. It does this without relying on vision. It has pressure sensors that can identify material by how much it squishes.
The grasping “fingers” of the robotic hands are made of something called auextics which is a structure that widens when stretched. The fingers are also able to twist to allow a mix of rigidness and flexibility. The way the robot tells something that looks like metal from real metal is by sensing its conductivity.
The sorting process seen in the video below isn’t exactly fast. The humans in the clip are much quicker. The upside to the robot would be the ability to work continuously. The MIT team says that it has shown that the soft robotic gripper can be used for sorting recyclable.
The team says that before the robot can be used commercially, it has to work on strengthening the classifier and the overall system. The improvement involves integrating more sensors. It’s unclear when or if a commercial version of the robot might see deployment in industry. The team does think that these sorting robots might find use in large commercial or residential buildings for sorting the recycling before the trash is sent out from the building.