The European Patent Office (EPO) has honoured Belgian-British duo Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley – founders of startup Recycleye – with the inaugural Young Inventors prize for their AI-based recycling system.
The system works using computer vision through a mobile phone-quality camera trained to recognise waste items on a conveyor belt.
These photos are sent to an algorithm to be ranked for sorting priority before a robotic arm then picks out valuable material.
Its two parts can be used together or separately, though, when combined, the parts can make 55 successful picks per minute.
The solution has been picked up by recycling facilities across the UK and Europe through the duo’s London-based business Recycleye.
According to the pair, the machine can increase the volume of recycled waste and make recycling more financially attractive.
Belgian environmental engineer Dewulf’s inspiration began with a visit to a recycling centre during his degree, where he was surprised by the level of manual labour involved.
Dewulf considered that computer vision could improve the process and approached his friend and computer scientist Peter Hedley to partner on the project.
António Campinos, president of the EPO, said: “Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley are using cutting-edge AI technology to tackle a substantial problem – how to drastically reduce our waste.
“By increasing the likelihood that waste will be recycled, their innovation contributes to a cleaner world for us all and this is exactly the type of sustainable venture that the Young Inventors prize was set up to recognise.”
The Young Inventors prize was created for innovators aged 30 and under who have developed solutions that contribute to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and positively impact society.