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Gadget Freak
Gadget Freak Case #203: Smart Recycle Can
1/17/2012

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Peter Riedo and his mechatronics lab group from Colorado State created the Automatic Recycler that tracks trash. Gadget Freaks not pictured include Sean Kalahar, Tino Tadiello, Randy Vieira, and Eric Swanstrom.
Peter Riedo and his mechatronics lab group from Colorado State created the Automatic Recycler that tracks trash. Gadget Freaks not pictured include Sean Kalahar, Tino Tadiello, Randy Vieira, and Eric Swanstrom.

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Beth Stackpole
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Mechatronics smarts a good thing
Beth Stackpole   1/17/2012 7:37:15 AM
I love this idea and the ingenuity it shows, particularly as mechatronics design is fast becoming a requisite skill set for engineers. So as I understand it, the bar code or touch screen delineates what kind of trash is going into the can and then there is some sort of sorting mechanism so things can be recycled more efficiently?? Seems like a concept that has legs for commercial implementation, if the design is right. Kudos to the team.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Mechatronics smarts a good thing
Rob Spiegel   1/17/2012 11:29:20 AM
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Yes, you're right Beth -- about how it works with the barcode (or manual entry of code via the touchpad). I'm not sure whether this really delivers meaningful efficiencies. But it's a fun project.

ceclimer
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Re: Mechatronics smarts a good thing
ceclimer   1/17/2012 4:10:12 PM
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I hope it works more reliably than the high tech washing machines so badly maligned elsewhere in these blogs.  Its a neat learning experience.  A real engineering test would be to install it by the vending machines in the student lobby.

williamlweaver
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Re: Mechatronics smarts a good thing
williamlweaver   1/17/2012 5:16:09 PM
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Applause! Fantastic project that demonstrates the integration of off-the-shelf components into an innovative system. Apart from the technical coolness, I wonder if the unit uses proximity or line-of-sight sensors to make sure the lid is clear before the lid flaps "do the dance". I can see a well-meaning student demonstrating the device to friends and inserting their hand a bit to far and for too long... The lid would make an effective shredder...

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: Mechatronics smarts a good thing
Alexander Wolfe   1/17/2012 7:01:10 PM
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That's a good idea, ceclimer. I'm wondering if we here at Design News should do some kind of student mechatronics gadget/device contest. Thoughts, anyone?

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Mechatronics smarts a good thing
Rob Spiegel   1/18/2012 10:43:21 AM
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Good idea on the student mechatronics gadget contest, Alex. We could send out notices to engineering schools and bring in a judge (judges) from industry. The winners could be rewared by becoming Gadget Freaks.

Charles Murray
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Re: Mechatronics smarts a good thing
Charles Murray   1/18/2012 10:31:19 PM
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I agree, Alex, good idea. We even have a resident mechatronics/engineering prof in Kevin Craig to help guide us on this.

RBPrice
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Re: Mechatronics smarts a good thing - sorta
RBPrice   1/18/2012 9:32:04 AM
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In my little town in up-state NY we dump all our recylable containers, glass, steel and aluminum, into one container.  The mixture is delivered by one of our Town trucks to a company that automatically sorts the material for further processing.  No thinking required except to keep the polymer and paper containers separate from the glass, steel and aluminum.

The thinking is done by the sensors not people as it should be in this day and age.

Charles Murray
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Importance of mechatronics
Charles Murray   1/17/2012 6:54:35 PM
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It's good to see that universities are emphasizing mechatronics. I just came across an interview I did with Tom Watson, who headed development of Ford Motor's powersplit hybrid architecture back in 2004. Watson says THE most important thing for engineers who want to design hybrids is mechatronics. Said Watson: "Mechatronics is going to be the key for all young engineers."

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Automation Recycling will need complete fool-proofing
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   1/18/2012 1:31:22 AM
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I give credit to the team for the innovation solution for sorting the recyclables.  But looking  a little deeper, one will quickly realize there is a psychological component needed as well.  Think about the average litterbug (thoughtless) vs. the average ecological person (thoughtful).  If a person needs to actually scan a piece of refuge prior to disposing of it, that person is an ecological (thoughtful person).  By the same means, the thoughtful person would have sorted the refuge into a separate container anyway, without the help of a "smart" sorter.  It rings as a reminder of the article from last week, where we all commented on how "More features doth not constitute product improvement". 

I like the thought of the container being smart, but the innovation will come when there is zero-thought-process needed on the part of the litterbug mentality.   – JimT.

Tool_maker
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Re: Automation Recycling will need complete fool-proofing
Tool_maker   1/18/2012 6:52:07 AM
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Jim, your thoughts are very close to mine on this. I think for every one of these Smart Trash Cans installed there better be a plain old dumb can or they will quickly be buried in a pile of refuse from people who either cannot figure how to make it work or are unwilling to take the time to fool with the gadgetry.

For example: I have a plastic lined drink box. Do I enter it as plastic or cardboard? Probably it just gets thrown in the trash and forgotten about.

This is a really cool example of engineering and reflects well on the designers, but it reminds me of a toy box from years ago. The box had a switch and when the switch was tripped, the lid slowly rose, a mechanical hand came out, flipped the switch off and withdrew as the lid closed. It was clever and fun, but really did nothing other than be clever and fun.

A drive to any local landfill will quickly demonstrate how eager people are to just throw things in the trash when recycling appears to be too much work.

Ratsky
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Re: Automation Recycling will need complete fool-proofing
Ratsky   1/23/2012 2:47:07 PM
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Two things come to mind immediately:

1.  Invent something fool-proof and someone will immediaitely create a bigger fool.

2.  Artificial intelligence will never beat natural stupidity.

That given, some history: I lived in Plano TX from 1999 through 2002.  When I moved in, they had a very ambitious recycling program, with "Herbie Curbies" with mutliple compartments for different recyclables.  The pickups were done by trucks with only a driver, with an automatic arm that grabbed the container and dumped it into a chute with matching dividers that directed each type to a separate compartment in the vehicle. About a year later they told everyone to pull out the dividers (fortunately removable) as they were changing to a "single stream semi-automated" process "because the processor had streamlined their process."  My wife and I visited and toured the facility one day to see this marvel. It consisted of a huge conveyor belt onto which the "single-stream" unsorted stuff was dumped directly from the incoming trucks. The only "automatic" part was segregation of ferrous material by magnets; the rest of the sorting was done by a fair number of people in protective clothing working from both sides of the belt.  Each one was a "specialist" who pulled thier category of recyclable (only the ones that made economic sense to recycle, like glass and aluminum) and put in into a bin next to them.  The majority of the load went to the end of the belt, where it was.... loaded into a garbage truck and taken to the landfill!

Since 2003, I live in Cobb County GA.  There is a major recycling program here also.  When we moved in, we were given 2 large blue bins for all types of recyclables, along with a wheeled cart (similar to Plano's) strictly for other trash.  Yard waste of all kinds is (to this day) collected separately (on a different day); at first, this was 100% sent to a central composting facility.  The resulting compost/mulch was available free to all county residents, and the rest sold to a reseller.  About 2 years later, the composting program was abruptly terminated, as the storage area was completely full.  Very few residents took any out, and the only reseller had pulled out unless it was PAID a significant amount of money for each load it took away!  Now 100% of the "yard waste" goes directly into the landfill.

Why?  I am a gardener, with a decent-sized organic vegetable garden.  I also have my own compost heap, that gets 100% of our organic food waste plus much of the detritus of our landscaping.  I never put out any "yard waste."  My compost heap produces all that I need.  Also, I don't own a truck, so I couldn't reasonably have taken enough compost from the county anyway.  Most likely this profile (combined with the non-gardener group) probably describes the vast majority of the residents of our suburban county.

Lesson?  Always consider the economics and the knowledge/cooperativeness level of the general populace needed for success!

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Automation Recycling will need complete fool-proofing
Rob Spiegel   1/23/2012 3:00:45 PM
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Hi Ratsky,

Yet again, you're talling a great story that would work for Made by Monkeys. The recycling story would work great. It would need to be expanded slightly (Getting it to 350 words would help).

If you're game, please send it along to: rob.spiegel@ubm.com

 

William K.
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The smart recycling bin
William K.   1/23/2012 5:09:13 PM
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Interesting concept until somebody whose IQ is less than their shoe size rams some trash through the closed lid. It has been my experience that anything accessible to the general public needs to be muscular monkey proof, or better yet, gorrila proof. The slickest idea would be a bin that decides what the material is as it is passing. Metals would trigger an inductive sensor, and the iron metals would trigger the ferromagnetic sensor. Glass would be next, probably detected by it's better echoing of an ultrasonic signal, and the rest would be assumed to be plastic. And the bin lid would trigger the power switch, so the battery could last a long time. It would be a lot more complicated but it would have a chance of surviving a few weeks.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: The smart recycling bin
Rob Spiegel   1/24/2012 12:52:46 PM
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Good points, William. I agree this gadget would need to be ruggedized before it could be set out in a college lunch area. You just know it's going to be used as a basket shot for glass juice or Snapple bottles.

BestFirmware
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Iron
The Next Step is...
BestFirmware   1/25/2012 11:51:44 AM
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Now this fun project can be integrated with the smart kitchen, which IDs your disposed items, and asks if you want to add this to a shopping list. Then when you go to the store, you have a list of eggs, milk, and cookies etc that are no longer in your pantry. Next step is connection to the online ordering from the store and delivery of the items before dinnertime. When we get really intelligent kitchens, perhaps the toaster can query the breadbox for some sourdough! Though I bet Nick Parks has already invented that for Wallace and Grommit..

Rob Spiegel
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Re: The Next Step is...
Rob Spiegel   1/25/2012 3:10:08 PM
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That's funny, BestFirmware. Remember WebVan? It was the dot com company launched by the founder of Border Books. It was a shopping and delivery service. I think it failed because we like to shop. We like to make our shopping lists and we like to buy those impulse items on the shelf. It's not something we want to automate.

Jon Titus
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Grocery-list apps for your smart phone
Jon Titus   1/31/2012 12:07:27 PM
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This type of scanner for items coming out of the pantry or going into the trash already exists. Or you can get the GroceryIQ app--or a similar app--for your smart phone (iOS or Android), rather than buy another gadget.  Maybe there's app that can scan bar codes on products and decide first whether or not you can recycle it and if the latter, determine what bin to put the item in.  Here in Utah, all recyclables go into one large container for weekly pickup. --Jon

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Grocery-list apps for your smart phone
Rob Spiegel   2/1/2012 3:46:46 PM
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Same where I am in New Mexico, Jon. All one container for paper, plastics, aluminum, everything but glass. Glass is collected separately simply because of the danger of handling glass. 

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