Recycling robots make green viable again

Can advanced AI and robotics root out rampant inefficiencies in the recycling industry?

Can advanced AI and robotics fix the recycling industry? The problem is especially urgent with recent news that China will no longer be accepting waste from the US.

A company that makes robots to improve the economics of recycling just raised $16 million. AMP Robotics plans to use the money to develop more powerful AI to aid in its green mission.

"Over the last few years, the industry has had their margins squeezed by labor shortages and low commodity prices," explains Shaun Maguire, partner at Sequoia, which led the recent fundraising round. "The end result is an industry proactively searching for cost-saving alternatives and added opportunities to increase revenue by capturing more high-value recyclables, and AMP is emerging as the leading solution."

The problem is especially urgent with recent news that China will no longer be accepting waste from the U.S. As I've written, even when China was taking our recyclables the process was extremely inefficient, the bales often poorly sorted.

AMP is seeking to solve those problems with a high-speed robotic sorting system that autonomously identifies and sorts various kinds of waste, from municpal trash, e-waste, and construction and demolition debris. The robots apparently sort about twice as fast as their human counterparts, according to the company, and are more accurate.

The system relies on computer vision and machine learning to recognize different colors, textures, shapes, sizes, patterns, and even specific brands to identify material characteristics. The AI platform transforms millions of images into data, digitizing the material stream, capturing data on what goes in and out, so informed decisions can be made about operations and performance.

"Our new partners at Sequoia have a history of building category defining businesses, and we are deeply excited to be executing on this vision with their experience, along with our existing world-class consortium of investors," said Matanya Horowitz, founder and chief executive officer at AMP. "We are perfectly positioned to expand the scope of our technology and the geographies where we do business, furthering our mission to change the fundamental economics of recycling and help make the circular economy possible."

AMP recently installed fourteen AI-guided robots at Single Stream Recyclers in Florida, what it calls "the single largest global deployment in the recycling industry." 

The robots are installed on a number of different sorting lines throughout the facility, processing plastics, cartons, fiber, metals and other materials. AMP's robots are also sifting in facilities in California, Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Following the recent raise, many more installations are expected to come online soon.