It’s exciting to watch the green economy unfolding all around us. There are many problems to solve and many companies out there solving them. Take, for example, recyclables and a startup named Jodone.
Recyclables, robots and a recovery revolution
This Massachusetts-based company has a patented system of robots and software designed for use in waste recovery facilities – specifically municipal waste, which is some of the toughest to handle. Unlike waste streams like construction waste or medical waste which are confined to a subset of materials, municipal waste handles everything – from packaging to dead animals.
Today, a municipal waste worker at a facility typically stands next to a moving conveyor belt, picking out recyclables like glass and plastic by hand – an unpleasant and dangerous job.
Jodone envisions a day when that worker sits in an office with a tablet while a robot arm stands by the conveyor. Cameras over the conveyor relay images of the waste back to the worker’s tablet. The worker uses a super-simple touch screen to virtually “sort” the recyclable materials into appropriate bins – at a pick rate far higher than what a human can typically do (400 picks per hour vs. 2500 picks per hour for the robot.) According to Michael Rivera, Jodone’s COO, at that rate of speed, the cost per pick drops from about 50 cents/item to about 12 cents/item – a huge reduction.
Benefits: Both the “green” and profitable kind:
- It helps mitigate climate change
- Better, faster sorting of recyclables from waste reduces the amount of recyclables that are sent to landfills. And that means that landfills can become physically smaller. Indeed, many landfills are increasing the amount of waste they incinerate in order to shrink their physical footprint. There are simply better uses for land than landfills, as exemplified by the epic restoration of the enormous Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.
- Smaller, fewer landfills will also result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) like methane and less leaching of toxic materials like mercury and lead into water ways.
- It helps cities make money through:
- Sale of recyclables. Cities have long handled municipal wastes and recycling because they have been a revenue stream in the past. As Jodone CEO Cole Parker says, “By saving perfectly good recyclables from the waste stream, you stop burning money.” Instead, those materials can be sold to companies that use them for new products.
- Handling more customers. In addition, when recyclables are removed from the waste stream, more actual trash can be burned by the waste facility. They can take on additional customers. And lest you worry that burning trash creates more GHGs, most of what comes out of those carefully monitored smokestacks is steam, which may be sold to industrial customers for heating and other purposes.
- It’s a boon to MRF workers
- A marriage of technology and people. Not many kids say, “I want to grow up to sort trash for a living” — but they might once they see Jodone’s system. The system is designed to augment workers — not replace them. Robots do what robots do best — the heavy lifting — while people do what people do best — identifying and handling exceptions.
- Safety. The U.S. Department of Labor acknowledges that working at a waste handling facility can be dangerous for many reasons. Jodone’s system enables the removal of workers from that environment to an office environment (even a home office!), and that will reduce lifting injuries, trips, falls, and exposure to toxic fumes.
- Fun. The fancy word for this is “gamification.” A key feature of Jodone’s system is a software platform that allows workers to engage in a little “friendly competition” as they sort the material coming in. Should waste facility management wish to incent workers on speed and/or accuracy of their work, they can turn the work into a game, and reward winners with performance pay. Jodone’s system introduces an element of fun into a set of tasks that traditionally have been unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst.
This patent-pending gaming interface allows humans to use their intelligence and problem-solving skills to solve real-world tasks in real-time. Additionally, Jodone decreases liability by removing employees from non-desirable environments. Jodone’s software platform works with industry-standard robots, from multiple providers. With the intelligence provided by humans, the robots can now complete complex tasks at extraordinarily quick speeds. The gaming interface also enables the collection of massive amounts of data. The data collected enables statistical modeling for improved performance, concrete performance data for training, performance rewards, and audits. Jodone’s solution provides practical solutions for seemingly impossible automation tasks. (Jodone LinkedIn)
The team at Jodone is currently piloting their system at the Pope/Douglas Waste-to-Energy plant in Minnesota. They are busy calibrating everything from their software to the speed of the conveyor belt so that the facility runs optimally. They are also preparing to train workers on using the tablets.
In addition, because their software includes a database that keeps a history of pictures and picks, the robots actually learn and get better every day. By year end, Jodone will have millions of data points to use to make the robots smarter and their human handlers even more efficient.
Their 5-minute “pitch” video on YouTube is worth a look!
How Jodone exemplifies the green economy
Jodone’s systems support a circular economy, which is fundamental to achieving a sustainable future. What’s neat is that, rather than asking people to make sacrifices, Jodone’s systems ideally will mean more money, more safety and more fun for workers and citizens alike. Jodone also represents the best in innovation, combining everything from “software-as-a-service” to machine learning to gamification.
Now that’s a future to look forward to!
Feature image credit: Photick / Shutterstock