Robotics firm Glacier uses AI-powered robot to streamline recycling process with eye on ending waste – CBS San Francisco

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A San Francisco recycling startup company has created an AI-powered robot to streamline the recycling process, and it’s now being used in other plants across the country.

Rebecca Hu and co-founder Areeb Malik created an innovative way to reduce waste using robotic AI sensors to sift through and organize trash. And in the world of recycling, that means everything.

Their Glacier robotics firm makes it easier for recycling infrastructures to recover more items that might have ended up in landfills or in oceans.

“The idea for Glacier came about four, five years ago, and it was actually directly a result of a lot of the headlines in the news we were seeing about the climate crisis,” Hu explained.

But it wasn’t just the headlines that spoke to Hu’s heart. Growing up as a first-generation American, Hu has always been more mindful of waste and very confused with a society fixated on hyper-consumption.

“My parents are actually immigrants from China. So I was raised with a very particular mentality towards waste,” said Hu. “In particular, ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ was a constant mantra in our household. Anytime we used a tub of margarine, when it was complete, the instinct was never to toss it, but to wash it and use it for something else.”

Hu took those values in her upbringing with her to the lab, and now, with advanced AI camera sensors, her recycling tool is being used not just in her Bay Area home, but also throughout the nation, from New Jersey to Arizona, and more.

Studies show such a tool continues to be necessary. Currently, only 21% of recyclable material is captured. According to UC Berkeley environmental science professor Kate O’Neill, conservation efforts in the United States remain urgent.

“We are still struggling, in terms of building new recycle facilities, getting people on board with recycling,” said O’Neill. “So I feel in many ways we are still kind of stuck with where we were a few years ago.”

Which is why her mission is so critical, said Hu.

“We want to design something that is immediately and fundamentally useful to all of the biggest players within the circular economy,” she emphasized.

Her effective waste management solution even caught the eye of Amazon. They ended up being one of her customers, using her invention on their own packaging.

“We have lived on the front lines of trying to fix some of the challenges in packaging for decades. It is rare to find an individual like Rebecca who can clearly see how that can be possible today,” said Nick Ellis, principal with Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund.

Hu is now serving as an inspiration to her growing start-up team. She has hired a diverse team of men and women who all share a passion for treating the planet well.

“Every piece of progress that I and we as Glacier are making, it makes me all the more motivated to get out there and be the change I wish to see in the world,” said Hu.

And with the current state of the environment, it is the kind of change that can benefit the whole world. 

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