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A startup with one of those weird-capitalization names, rStream, is running a pilot program at the UMass Amherst campus to see if it can use A.I. to help sort through single-stream recycling and make it work in the way that it never has, although we used to think it did. From the press reelase:

rStream, a robotics company focused on waste management and recycling formed by two UMass Amherst students and incubated at Greentown Labs, Somerville, is rolling out a pilot program with UMass Dining Services. Running through the fall semester, the program will test the AI’s ability to identify in real time what is going through the waste stream.

The big problem in recycling is people just don’t put stuff in the right bin. This often leads to “capture rates” — the amount of recyclables diverted from the waste stream — of only 30%. Compounding the issue is that roughly a third of the single stream recycling collected is contaminated which degrades the quality of those recyclable commodities.

The computer vision and robotic innovations in rStream’s technology are designed to take the “which bin does this go in?” guesswork away from consumers.

Co-founders Ian Goodine and Ethan Walko  began investigating solutions for waste in 2020 during their mechanical engineering senior design project with the goal of having artificially intelligent robots sort recycling from trash. During their master’s studies, they formally co-founded rStream, further developed the idea through the I-Corps @ UMass program of the Institute of Applied Life Sciences, which helps students and others on campus turn their technological discoveries into real-world products and services, and sought out grant funding from the National Science Foundation to support their continued R&D.

The current pilot, the AuditPRO, which stands for pilot readiness optimization, resides at the UMass Amherst Lincoln Campus Center concourse. “It tests rStream’s artificial intelligence and will identify in real time what goes into the waste stream. These data reports will provide feedback to the sustainability team at UMass which can be used to inform waste reduction efforts,” says Walko.

“Making robotics to sort waste is the end goal,” says Goodine. “But developing a robot for this task is an exceptional R&D effort. rStream is deploying this auditing system to accelerate our research into real-world settings and prove that we’ve developed a state-of-the-art AI ‘brain’ for our robot.”

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