The Robots are here!

Robotic arm positively sorting HDPE (Source: Machinex Recycling Services Inc.)

What is the Machinex SamurAI you ask? Well it’s all in the name. The capitalization of ‘AI’ at the end of the word SamurAI refers to the use of artificial intelligence technology in this sorting equipment. Reference to the Japanese warrior title signifies that the self-aware sorting robot is focussed, fast and precise. It was built to reduce dependence on manual sorting as it is designed to perform up to 70 picks per minute, nearly double the average pick rate of a human sorter (30-50 picks per minute).

How does it work?

This equipment identifies materials for either a:

  • Positive sort, recovery of targeted materials (i.e. picks targeted items off the belt)
  • Negative sort, removal of unwanted, non-targeted materials (i.e. leaves targeted materials on the belt, removes contaminants).
Database image matching (Source: Machinex Recycling Services Inc.)

Commodities are identified by a camera which takes a photo and matches the image to a photo in a database to learn what the item is. The matching happens at rapid fire speed. Once the match is made, instructions are sent to the robotic arm to pick or leave the item on the belt.

The robotic arm is able to move in four directions to reach for the targeted item. At the end of the arm is a suction cup used to grab the intended material.

This technology has the ability to recognize material in dirty and comingled conditions. To contend with the introduction of new packaging, the robot continuously learns. Images captured by the cameras of ALL operating SamurAIs everywhere are uploaded to a centralized site, studied by technicians, labelled and added to an evolving and increasingly robust photo database.

Watch a video of the SamurAI in action!

Where in the sorting sequence is the equipment best placed?

Positive Sort HDPE Material Coloured vs Natural (Source: Machinex Recycling Services Inc.)

It is intended for the sorting of containers. The SamurAI warrior is best used as a ‘final defence’ to prevent recyclables from ending up in landfill. Ideally it is placed toward the end of a container line for quality assurance and quality control. This is where the burden depth is likely to be at its lowest thus allowing the greatest possible pixelation of materials on the belt and therefore the greatest opportunity for the camera to capture an image that is clear enough for the matching process to work.

At this point in the sorting process the materials are more likely to lay flat and not roll around – this is ideal as once the camera snaps the image, you want the material to remain in the spot on the belt where the robotic arm anticipates finding it. Moisture is also likely to be at a minimum at this point thus allowing optimal functioning of the suction cups at the end of the robotic arm.

SamurAI 2018 (Source: Machinex Recycling Services Inc.)

How much space is needed for its installation?

The unit is modular in design with a minimized footprint in mind (8′ w x 10′ l x 8’6″ h). It has a 42″ w belt maximum if robot needs to reach chutes on both sides of the conveyor (48″ w belt if only one side). The unit is most ideal for new builds, but it can be retrofitted for installation into existing facilities.

Way of the future?

More and more installations are in the queue, according to a recent report in Recycling Product News. The AI technology is evolving quickly. With an up to 95% efficiency rate (captures up to 95% of the targeted items that reach the SamurAI), the benefits of this technology are stacking up.

For more information about Machinex’s SamuarAI, contact Charles-Etienne Simard. To participate in CIF’s MRF working group where operational issues and solutions such as the one discussed in this article are shared, please contact Jessica Landry.