The smartest thing in Pittsburgh’s city hall this summer might be the trash can in the lobby.
CleanRobotics will test the latest version of Trashbot, a trash can that uses robotics and artificial intelligence to sort recyclables from waste bound for the landfill, in the lobby of the City-County Building on Grant Street as part of the city’s PGH Lab program.
“Waste is a nasty problem. People don’t want to think about it,” said Charles Yhap, CleanRobotics’ CEO, who was drawn to the company because it applied advanced technologies to garbage.
Trashbot has already proven to be better than humans at sorting trash and recycling, Yhap said. CleanRobotics did a two-and-a-half week trial with the first version of Trashbot at a company in Pittsburgh. It’s sorting accuracy was 81 percent. Humans score about 30 percent, Yhap said.
The Mayor’s Office on Tuesday announced that CleanRobotics is among five companies selected to participate in the second round of the PGH Lab program . The program gives Pittsburgh startups a chance to test their products on problems facing city government. They work with city staff and officials, receive guidance and mentoring and have access to coworking spaces and startup accelerator services. They do not receive any funding from the city.
Annia Aleman, manager of the PGH Lab program, said the mission of CleanRobotics aligned with the city’s goal of diverting more waste to recycling instead of landfills.
“This is what’s exciting about our local entrepreneurs,” Aleman said. “Ideas that are being developed in Pittsburgh are unique and interesting.”
She said Trashbot is a completely different program than the 400 to 500 smart garbage cans that sense how full they are that City Council approved last month.
A robotic chute inside Trashbot directs the waste into trash or recycling bins. There are sensors at the bottom of the chute and a camera on the lid to identify the waste. It is then compared against a growing database of waste photos and data. The more waste it scans, the better the software becomes at sorting it, Yhap said.
Squeegees at the bottom of the chute keep the sensors clean, said Jayant Sharma, a recent Carnegie Mellon University graduate who is managing the project.
CleanRobotics was founded in 2015. The company went through the AlphaLab Gear program and still works out of the accelerator’s East Liberty space. Anand Sankar and Grant Halleran are still students at CMU and assisting Sharma this summer.
The three said that even though classmates are working on projects like self-driving cars or for top robotics firms, working with trash is rewarding.
“What we build, we can see working,” Sankar said.
“And we definitely have more of an impact,” Halleran added.
The team hopes to have Trashbot version two ready and in place in the City-County Building by the end of June.
Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.