TORONTO – It already takes a special kind of intelligence to design a waste disposal bin that automatically recognizes whether someone has thrown away a recyclable or trash, but Hassan Murad and Vivek Vyes went a step further.
The Vancouver-based developers, whose company Intuitive Inc. won the award for Best Venture at non-profit startup booster Next Canada’s NextAI Venture Day on Sept. 20, have designed an artificial intelligence (AI)-based bin that not only detects whether someone has thrown away trash or recyclables and stores it in the appropriate receptacle, but collects information about it along the way.
Considering around 73 per cent of waste produced by Canadian households is sent to landfills – and around 75 per cent of it is recyclable – the environmental benefits are obvious. But it’s the data-gathering component – a necessity to make Intuitive’s business model viable, since recycling is actually more expensive than diverting waste to landfill – that really sets the company apart.
“Basically we wanted to solve this huge problem created by us depending on people to sort their waste into bins or recycle,” Murad explains. “So we decided to make it idiot-proof by combining robotics, AI, and computer vision into a single garbage bin.”
From the outside, Intuitive’s bins resemble a typical compartmentalized waste bin, except their metal frames include only one opening. According to the company, they can sort whatever is thrown into them with 99 per cent accuracy.
“When you consider that [more than 70 per cent] of what you and me consume on a daily basis can be recycled, the potential for waste reduction is huge,” Murad says, noting that only two per cent of waste around the world is recycled or composted.
But while the partners, both from southeast Asian regions which have been known to import international waste (Murad is from Lahore, Pakistan, while Vyes is from Gujarat, India) say their primarily goal with Intuitive is waste reduction, monetizing the process was top of mind too.
“If you think about it from a certain perspective, garbage bins are a huge data source,” Vyes says. “Say you’re drinking something from Second Cup in a location that doesn’t have any, but we find your cup after you throw it out. Someone from Second Cup is going to be curious about that. Find enough Second Cup cups in an area without one and they might think there’s a demand for it in this area and something should be done about it.”
The value of that data, combined with the potential savings created by sorting materials in advance, has proved enticing enough for Intuitive to land a series of high-profile pilot contracts, including discussions with the City of Toronto, Vancouver International Airport, and the pair’s alma mater, Simon Fraser University.
“All of the places that we’ve spoken to so far have been very supportive,” Vyes says. “Everybody is showing interest, because most people either A) care, or B) love the cost savings. And they recognize that our waste disposal system needs an overhaul if we want things to be more efficient, because you can’t depend on human behaviour.”