As explained in the previous post, CleanRobotics was part of the 2017 PGH Lab Innovation program, which provided us with an opportunity to publicly showcase and test our flagship product, the TrashBot. TrashBot is an automated, smart trash can that combines next-generation robotics, computer vision, and machine learning to sort recyclable materials from non-recyclable waste, specifically at the point of disposal, which makes it safer and more effective than sorting further down the process. According to Waste Management, America’s largest recycler, the industry is experiencing a “national crisis,” with almost all of America’s 2,000 high-tech recycling facilities running in the red. There are several reasons for this, but the most significant is contamination resulting from inaccurate human sorting. During the week of 9/11 – 9/15, one TrashBot was deployed in the City County Building in downtown Pittsburgh, where we were able to collect valuable feedback from curious passersby. Their great interest in the TrashBot made it clear that the residents of Pittsburgh are ready for better recycling, and we at CleanRobotics are ready to help.

The Pittsburghers with whom we interacted provided some excellent feedback. Based on surveys and conversations with employees and members of the public, we were able to determine the following:

  1. The top reasons for people not separating their waste into recycling and landfill waste are “Lack of knowledge about materials they are disposing” and “Lack of knowledge about different types of receptacles.” There are so many different kinds of materials that go into packaging and products, and properly looking up how to sort individual items can be an arduous task. TrashBot will take away the pain of sorting while providing users with feedback regarding how to sort, so that they’ll learn whether or not an item is recyclable and be able to apply that knowledge going forward.
  2. The majority of the respondents described our product as “Unique” and “Innovative,” and 81% rated the design and build “Above Average.” We want to make sure that our units are attractive and will look good no matter what environment they are in. Waste can be a messy eyesore, but waste receptacles don’t have to be!
  3. 60% of respondents liked the sleek design of the TrashBot, although many felt that it was too large. This feedback will help us to make a more user-friendly, accessible product. We want to make sure that all of our users can comfortably interact with the TrashBot.
  4. Several people suggested that the TrashBot needs to sort more quickly in order to make it easier to use. Your time is valuable – we want to make sure that your only your trash, and not your time, is wasted.
  5. A fun suggestion: TrashBot should play music to attract attention in hallways and public places. TrashBot, Jukebox edition. We’ll let you know if our future market research supports this suggestion.

To everyone who stopped by to chat with us and fill out the survey – thank you! Your comments and feedback will allow us to make a better, more user-friendly product. Based on the primarily positive feedback, it’s clear that we are on the right track.

The PGH Lab Innovation program was not only an opportunity for us to collect data, but a demonstration of the many wonderful projects and potential collaborations that are evolving within the Pittsburgh community. Partnerships were formed between a number of local startups and government entities, including:

  • Clean Robotics & City of Pittsburgh
  • Cognowear & Urban Redevelopment Authority
  • MellonHead Labs & Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority
  • FlyWheel & Urban Redevelopment Authority
  • Kaarta & City of Pittsburgh

Thus, every startup had a reporting authority and a mentor champion assigned to them who worked to guide them during the length of the program. This enabled the startups to better understand a subset of the markets and clients that they hope to serve, while also giving their government partners a glimpse of the future! The program ended with a celebration, with speeches from each of the startup founders, their mentors, and the city officials who made the program possible. From each and every one of those speeches, it was clear that the program was a great success. We are incredibly thankful to have been a part.

Beyond the valuable feedback and public exposure that we received, it was immensely motivating for us to see the enthusiasm with which the public embraced the idea of automatic waste sorting. The product that we build and the work that we do is informed by people like you! So be sure to keep a lookout for TrashBot and let us know what you think. We look forward to further serving the city of Pittsburgh in the near future.