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MIT’s recycling sorting robot can ‘feel’ the difference between materials


RoCycle is, naturally, short for “recycling robot,” the latest offering out of MIT’s CSAIL lab. The pick and place ‘bot utilizes a unique combination of sensors to help distinguish the material differences of objects, in order to sort them ahead of the recycling process.

Built on top of a Rethink Robotics Baxter, the system utilizes a teflon gripper with built in sensors that are capable of determining an object’s makeup based on size and stiffness. It’s not completely perfect just yet.

The technology works thusly,

The team’s gripper first uses its “strain sensor” to estimate an object’s size, and then uses its two pressure sensors to measure the force needed to grasp an object. These metrics – along with calibration data on the size and stiffnesses of objects of different material types – is what gives the gripper a sense of what material the object is made of. (Since the tactile sensors are also conductive, they can detect metal by how much it changes the electrical signal.)

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