Waste Not, Want Not: Sadako’s Recycling Robot Max-AI Goes Global

by Serge Lemonde

What a dump.

Humanity produces around 1.3 billion metric tons (2.8 trillion pounds) of waste a year, according to the World Bank. Most ends up in landfills.

While much of it could be recycled, the process of sorting and recycling waste material is often more costly than just buying the raw materials needed to make new goods.

Sadako, a Barcelona-based startup, is turning trash into cash with its AI-powered robot. With NVIDIA GPUs running its machine learning, the robot, called the Max-AI™ AQC (for autonomous quality control), removes recyclable materials from the waste stream cost-effectively.

Last year, Sadako won the $100,000 cash prize in the Early Stage Challenge during the Emerging Companies Summit held at our GPU Technology Conference in Silicon Valley. Sadako came out on top of the high-tech shootout by demonstrating the potential of its technology to make a real impact. They haven’t disappointed.

Thanks to a new joint venture between Sadako and BHS and its subsidiary NRT, U.S.-based giants in the materials recovery industry, Max-AI technology has come to life. Max combines computer vision, AI capabilities and robotics to see, identify and select targeted recyclables and other items for recovery cost-effectively and efficiently.

Sadako MaxAI computer vision
Max combines computer vision and AI to identify recyclables.

When we first met Sadako at GTC, its robot was able to perform 20 picks per minute and could only recognize PET plastic bottles. The latest version developed jointly with BHS and NRT can handle a much wider range of items and at up to four times the previous rate. Previous robotic solutions underperformed human capabilities, while new one exceeds them.

Current plans are for Max to perform quality control duties at the end of the sorting line, achieving purer plastics, aluminium or other materials bales for sale to the commodities markets. It’s an important job, considering that plastics alone make up about 13 percent of trash by weight, and more than 25 percent by volume.

Supporting Sadako

NVIDIA isn’t the only one who took notice of Sadako’s opportunity to make a difference in the world of waste.

The European Commission recently granted the company a sizeable grant as part of the Horizon 2020 – RUBSEE program, which aims to boost the potential of small businesses in the field of climate action and resource efficiency.

We’re also continuing to work closely with Sadako through our Inception Program, which supports startups that are making a difference using AI and deep learning.

Watch the Max-AI AQC in action in the video below.