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Trashbot Separates Recycling, A Job That's Too Hard For Us To Do Ourselves

The simple task of picking a bin can't be trusted to humans.

The Trashbot is the answer to the question: "What do we do about lazy humans who drop their trash in the wrong recycling bin?" "Trashbot sorts TRASH!" is what this recycling robot might say (if it had the hysterical mechanical voice of a Dalek).

Here is the prototype, demonstrated last week at the HAX8 conference in Shenzhen, China.

Trashbot, from startup Clean Robotics, makes it practically impossible not to recycle. Using a complex setup of cameras, sensors, metal-detectors, and motors, it lifts its lid when somebody approaches, inviting them to drop things into its maw. It then uses its cameras and detectors to check if your refuse should go to recycling or landfill, and if it's to be recycled, which bin should it be filed in. Then, using motors and chutes, it guides the trash to the right spot.

In short, it is a convolution almost destined to go wrong, existing only because humans can't be bothered to drop plastic in the blue receptacle, paper in the green, and so on. The Trashbot will be tested in Pittsburgh, both in the airport and on Google's Pittsburgh campus. But it's not cheap. The cost of picking up after careless travelers is $5,000 per 'bot, says IEEE Spectrum's Tekla Perry, although when it comes to spending absurd amounts on non-needed projects, city councils aren't known for being thrifty or practical.

But, notes Perry, the Trashbot may end up paying for itself. "Clean Robotics also envisions subsidizing future versions through targeted advertising," she writes. "Say, a coupon for Pepsi offered when you toss a Coke can."

But what happens if you toss that freshly issued token straight back in the Trashbot? That's a question we're probably too terrified to ask, because the answer may usher in the end of the world.

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