Humans Help Robots Identify Recyclables

Human beings use a tablet-based gaming interface to help robots pick valuable recyclables from the trash stream at Jodone’s new pilot project at the Pope/Douglas waste-to-energy facility in Alexandria, Minnesota.


(Jodone Robotic Arm Sorting Trash Directed by human gamer)

[H]uman operators will use its software to monitor waste as it travels along a conveyor belt. Using a touch screen, workers will swipe any recyclables they spot and then select the appropriate category: paper, plastic, tin, etc. Those instructions will be sent wirelessly to robotic arms that will grab the recyclables and drop them in the correct bin. Workers who salvage above-average amounts of recycling will receive additional income.

“People like solving puzzles, they like being mentally challenged,” says Cole Parker, cofounder and CEO of Jodone. By presenting the job as a puzzle and offering bonuses, Parker believes, he can make the job more interesting for workers, which should, in turn, make the operation profitable...

“We know that robots are great at manual labor—at doing the same thing a million times in a row. But humans are great at problem solving, classification, identification, and dealing with diversity,” explains Parker.

SF great Harry Harrison would agree. In his classic 1956 short story The Velvet Glove, he describes how robot trash collectors and humans share the work of collecting and intelligently sorting trash. Humans have particular value because of their ability to identify particular items:

Carl had always known there were garbage trucks, but of course he had never seen one. It was a bulky, shining cylinder over twenty metres long. A robot driver was built into the cab. Thirty other robots stood on foot-steps along the sides...

"... 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."
(Read more about human trash recognition)

Via Technology Review and Jodone Gaming Software for Robots (which looks like a really interesting company, by the way).

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