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UK AI-based waste-sorting robot start-up wins $17m of funding

08 February, 2023

A UK start-up that has developed an AI-based robotic system for sorting rubbish more accurately and twice as fast as rival systems, has won $17m of financing from a Californian venture capital company, DCVC. The latest funding for London-based Recycleye is in addition to $5m it raised in 2021 and $2.6m it has secured from European and UK government innovation funding. The new funds will be used to scale the technology and further improve its accuracy.

Recycleye uses AI-powered waste-picking robots to cut the cost of sorting materials. Its technology combines machine vision and robotics to sort rubbish with more consistent accuracy than humans can achieve. Using proprietary AI models, the robot “sees” the waste and can pick an unlimited number of material classes, such as plastics, aluminium, paper and cardboard.

The company claims that its system is the most accurate and efficient AI robotic picking technology available. Objects are scanned and identified at 60 frames per second – twice as fast as the industry standard. Every item is seen an average of 30 times as it travels along a conveyor, doubling the chances of it being identified before picking.

The technology can operate around the clock, 365 days a year, with each robot capable of picking up to 33,000 items in a 10-hour shift. The system also captures data that allows plant managers to make strategic decisions.

The technology can be retrofitted rapidly to existing sorting facilities – over a weekend if needed to minimise plant downtime. It is installed at the end of the sorting process, and can pick contaminants and valuable objects, depending on the user’s requirements, both of which may have been missed earlier in the sorting process.

Recycleye is working with waste management companies around the world that are facing the twin challenges of labour shortages and rising costs, while responding to growing demand for quality recycled materials. The technology has already been installed in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Australia, the US and France, and there are orders for multiple sorting robots from Italy and Belgium.

“The opportunity for applying AI waste sorting technology to the global waste management sector is staggering, even when only 8% of waste is currently recycled,” says Recycleye’s co-founder and CEO, Victor Dewulf. “With this investment, we can scale our operations to target a market which we estimate to have a SAM (serviceable available market) of $114bn globally today, but with the potential to increase by 14 times to $1.6 trillion when the cost of sorting is reduced.”

Kelly Chen, a partner at DCVC and a Recycleye board member, points out that the technology’s speed and accuracy can halve sorting costs and raise end-purity to more than 99%. “These economic shifts will transform the waste landscape, and fundamentally shift the economics and scale of the trillion-dollar problem of material recovery and recycling,” she predicts.

Recycleye’s AI-powered robots can halve waste-sorting costs and raise accuracies

In 2022, the OECD reported that only 9% of plastic has ever been recycled, with around 50% going to landfill. Many materials currently cost more to sort than they are worth and are thus downcycled.

Under EU legislation, 55% of municipal waste will have to be re-used or recycled by 2025, rising to 65% by 2035. There is also a non-recycled plastics tax of €800 per tonne.

“We believe that waste does not exist – only materials in the wrong place,” says Recycleye’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Peter Hedley. “Our mission is to provide intelligent sorting technology that delivers dramatic financial and environmental returns to the global management of waste. This new investment will help us to further fine-tune our world-leading solutions, underpinned by the solid maintenance network our clients need to generate more output value.”

Recycleye, which was founded in 2019, currently has a staff of 33 including software, machine learning, robotics, engineering, and project management experts.

Recycleye: Twitter  LinkedIn

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