Building the model
The challenge was how to distinguish individual objects despite being dirty, smashed, or torn within a very cluttered environment. We solved this by developing AMP Neuron™, our AI platform. Using advanced computer vision and machine learning, the platform trained itself by processing millions of material images. It teaches itself to look for different visual attributes such as size, color, and texture. Learning from experience, it gets better and better, while identifying more specific material categories.
Now we could identify distinct materials with AI and discern what to do with each fraction, guiding robots to sort at a much faster rate than a person with greater accuracy and consistency. This also gave us the ability to capture data on an entire material stream, providing transparency for operations to make informed decisions about their facility.
From the lab to the field
With support from the Carton Council and Alpine Recycling of Denver, we put our first robot in the field. It wasn’t easy. We quickly found hazards for the robot, like 5-gallon buckets, or plastic bags. Key to our success was having total control of our technology stack so we could quickly improve without impacting facilities.
We focused on making installation, maintenance, and scaling robotics within a MRF as easy as possible—with little downtime or need for a costly facility retrofit. We designed our system to drop into the same space as existing sorting stations to prevent major facility changes. This helped make the technology affordable and accelerate the return on investment for our customers.
Our applications accelerated. We took on more installations and improved our system performance. We’ve reached very high purities in difficult applications, achieved pick rates over 80 picks/minute per robot, and expanded in new industries like construction and demolition, e-waste, and more.
From learning to scaling
Now in 2019, it’s been exciting to see industry acceptance and the excitement that AI and robotics brings. We see this with larger deployments of robotics and with our customers finding ways to deeply deploy the technology into their operations.
A main example of this is the use of AI for operational monitoring to identify the same material a person can see. By installing an AMP vision system, a facility knows exactly what’s happening at that location. They get alerted if material volumes deviate from what’s expected, monitor quality, and also alert for hazards. The industry wants this tight real-time operational control, but previously didn’t have the capability. With our vision system, now it does.
This excitement has been validated by our investors as they see the new opportunities created by technology in the recycling industry. Our investment has come from Silicon Valley-type investors interested in robotics and AI and impact investors focused on the circular economy. We know that despite systemic shocks (due to commodity fluctuations or otherwise), recycling is a dynamic and vibrant industry. Our investors share our vision that AMP’s technology will be a solution to many of these industry-wide challenges.
Growing the AMP team
The demand for our robots meant we had to scale operations to manage installation and training across the U.S. and internationally. We began to build beyond our team to include operations professionals. We needed team members who understood MRF operation. We brought on leaders with deep experience in the industry, like Robb Espinosa, to help us achieve this goal.
Robb and his team have been instrumental in creating a culture of operational excellence and process rigor. This operational performance has been essential: we live or die based upon the success of our AI and our robots. Particularly as a new entrant to the industry, we must have leading support and must ensure that our customers are able to extract the value that this technology promises.
Just getting started
We must provide the highest performance, reliability, and cost-effectiveness to thrive in a competitive marketplace. We’re committed to innovation and expanding the use of this technology. This can be seen in our recent expansion to C&D with our partner Ryohshin and into e-waste with ERI.
We’ve also introduced the AMP Insights™ data management system. This monitors the material stream, allowing recycling plants of all sizes to begin operating like advanced manufacturing facilities where processes and outputs are closely monitored to ensure output quality. It’s also able to measure outbound material streams to ensure they meet stringent requirements.
The AMP system does not replace traditional technologies like screens, magnets or optical sorters. Rather, it enhances them through the data feedback loop and the application of robotics to automate the rest of the operations.
There are several other developments we’re working on, and over the next year we’ll be excited to show what they are.
A vision forward
As a company founded on innovation, we’re committed to developing robotics, AI and superior systems integration to advance the recovery of valuable raw materials, to improve how plants function, and increase the revenue that can be generated from these complex recycling processes.
We see a future (and it is happening fast) where facilities are increasingly automated at low cost, reducing operational friction, and creating even more value. We also see the potential for new types of high-value commodity categories created as our AI becomes precise down to the consumer-packaged goods (CPG) brand level and even the UPC and SKU level. And as our technology constantly adapts to new material types in the stream, even more value will be created for the circular economy and its stakeholders.
Facility operators are innovating along with us and adapting quickly to the rapid, fundamental changes concerning the economics of recycling. There has been a lot of press commenting on the challenges that the recycling industry is facing—even to the point of predicting its demise. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, our industry is changing. But it is doing so through innovation in technology, process, and economics. These changes present opportunities for our industry across the board. We’re excited to continue bringing new technology that will aid the transformation of our industry and contribute to the success of our customers.