NEC and Japanese research agency to use AI for automatic plastic waste detection

The system will be used to help determine the impact microplastics have on marine life.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

NEC and the Japan Agency Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) have developed a system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) imaging recognition techniques to automatically detect microplastics from seawater and sediment samples.

The system, according to NEC, has been developed using its Rapid machine learning technology in combination with JAMESTEC's method for staining microplastics using fluorescent dyes in samples, before capturing videos of the dyed microplastics.

The software then automatically extracts image data for each microplastic that appears in the video and uses AI recognition technology to sort microplastics based on sizes and shapes at a processing speed of 60 per minute, NEC said.

The Japanese conglomerate touted the new system could improve the current method that is used to analyse microplastics to determine the impact plastic waste has on marine life.

Typically, the process of analysing microplastics involves scooping seawater and sediment with a fine mesh, before using a microscope to pick and analyse each microplastic manually to determine the number, size, and types that exist in the ocean.

"It is expected that by establishing and popularising this measurement method, and by clarifying the actual situation of microplastic pollution, we will be able to contribute to the formulation of appropriate emission regulations," JAMSTEC marine plastics research deputy group leader Masashi Tsuchiya.

Recently, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) inked a partnership with Microsoft to look at how AI could be used to tackle plastic waste, as well as illegal fishing, and how it can help boost farming.

By collecting data about the spread and concentration of plastic, CSIRO is using AI and ML to analyse where the plastic might end up and also what steps can be taken on land to reduce the likelihood of plastic entering waterways and oceans.  

"Reverse vending machines", where the public can recycle bottles and cans in return for a fee, is also on the list for exploration.  

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