Robot Sorts Plastic Recyclables With Laser

A recycling robot developed by researchers at the Mitsubishi Electric Engineering Corp. and Osaka University is able to identify the different types of plastic materials it finds in trash and sort them into separate piles.


(Trash sorting robot)

The robot uses laser sensing technology to tell the difference between different types of plastic based on the reflectivity of different wavelengths of light. The laser sensor allows the robot to perform a task that humans cannot do - polypropylene and polyethylene, some of the most frequently used plastics, have apparently not been widely recycled since they cannot be told apart by the human eye.

I'm sure that sf fans probably thought of Wall-E, the animated movie recycling robot. However, in his 1956 short story The Velvet Glove, Harry Harrison writes about robots that pick up and sort trash. Sometimes, though, they rely on human object recognition:

"... whenever a robot finds something it can't identify straight off... it puts whatever it is in the hopper outside your window. You give it a good look, check the list for the proper category if you're not sure, then press the right button and in she goes." An hour passed before he had his first identification to make. A robot stopped in mid-dump, ground its gears a moment, and then dropped a dead cat into Carl's hopper... Something heavy had dropped on the cat, reducing the lower part of its body to paper-thinness.

Castings... Cast Iron... Cats... There was the bin number. Nine.

Via EarthTechling.

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