Robotic Waste Sorting

Authors: Mikayla Fischler; Kyle Heavey; Arianna Kan

Advisor: Berk Calli

Category: Undergraduate

Recycling industry is struggling under tight profit margins, changing waste policies, and fast evolving waste market regulations. One notable issue is processing the highly contaminated single-stream recycling waste generated by the world’s growing population and consumption practices. To help provide a solution, this project contributes to the long-term goal of developing a waste-sorting robot to efficiently sort single-stream recyclables. Such technology will also change the role of recycling workers from handling the hazardous, and sometimes toxic waste streams to being robot and process supervisors. Robotic solutions would allow faster and more precise sorting of the waste streams, reducing the percentage discarded but essentially recyclable. Enabling the processing of currently discarded materials can also result in a significant decrease in landfill use. Our goal for this project was to develop a test bed suitable to simulate a real-world recycling plant environment containing a robot capable of identifying and removing cardboard from a stream of mixed recyclables.
The test bed we developed consists of three major components: the frame, the arm, and the control system. At the conclusion of our project, we succeeded in constructing an X-Z Cartesian platform together with its rail system and steel frame housing, a five-joint linkage arm that is mounted on the Cartesian platform, and a three-jaw gripper designed for effective cardboard picking. The control system was designed and successfully tested. A software stack was selected and the control abstraction functions were developed as a base for the future applications to build upon. Such outcomes provide the main architecture for establishing a robotic waste sorting experimental setup at WPI.

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