This Bot Might Be The Way To Save Recycling

Recycling is on paper at least, a wonderful thing. Taking waste and converting it into new usable material is generally more efficient than digging up more raw materials. Unfortunately though, sorting this waste material is a labor-intensive process. With China implementing bans on waste imports, suddenly the world is finding it difficult to find anywhere to accept its waste for reprocessing. In an attempt to help solve this problem, MIT’s CSAIL group have developed a recycling robot.

The robot aims to reduce the reliance on human sorters and thus improve the viability of recycling operations. This is achieved through a novel approach of using special actuators that sort by material stiffness and conductivity. The actuators are known as handed shearing auxetics – a type of actuator that expands in width when stretched. By having two of these oppose each other, they can grip a variety of objects without having to worry about orientation or grip strength like conventional rigid grippers. With pressure sensors to determine how much a material squishes, and a capacitive sensor to determine conductivity, it’s possible to sort materials into paper, plastic, and metal bins.

The research paper outlines the development of the gripper in detail. Care was taken to build something that is robust enough to deal with the recycling environment, as well as capable of handling the sorting tasks. There’s a long way to go to take this proof of concept to the commercially viable stage, but it’s a promising start to a difficult resource problem.

MIT’s CSAIL is a hotbed of interesting projects, developing everything from visual microphones to camoflauge for image recognition systems. Video after the break.

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The Woeful World of Worldwide E-Waste

How large is the cache of discarded electronics in your home? They were once expensive and cherished items, but now they’re a question-mark for responsible disposal. I’m going to dig into this problem — which goes far beyond your collection of dead smartphones — as well as the issues of where this stuff ends up versus where it should end up. I’m even going to demystify the WEEE mark (that crossed out trashcan icon you’ve been noticing on your gadgets), talk about how much jumbo jets weigh, and touch on circular economies, in the pursuit of better understanding of the waste streams modern gadgets generate.

Our lives are encountering an increasing number of “how do I dispose of this [X]” moments, where X is piles of old batteries, LCDs, desktop towers, etc. This leads to relationship-testing piles of garbage potential in a garage or the bottom of a closet. Sometimes that old gear gets sold or donated. Sometimes there’s a handy e-waste campaign that swings through the neighborhood to scoop that pile up, and sometimes it eventually ends up in the trash wrapped in that dirty feeling that we did something wrong. We’ve all been there; it’s easy to discover that responsible disposal of our old electronics can be hard.

Fun fact: the average person who lives in the US generates 20 kg of e-waste annually (or about 44 freedom pounds). That’s not unique, in the UK it’s about 23 kg (that’s 23 in common kilograms), 24 kg for Denmark, and on and on. That’s quite a lot for an individual human, right? What makes up that much waste for one person? For that matter, what sorts of waste is tracked in the bogus sounding e-waste statistics you see bleated out in pleading Facebook posts? Unsurprisingly there are some common definitions. And the Very Serious People people at the World Economic Forum who bring you the definitions have some solutions to consider too.

We spend a lot of time figuring out how to build this stuff. Are we spending enough time planning for what to do with the gear once it falls out of favor? Let’s get to the bottom of this rubbish.
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Recycled Piano Becomes Upcycled Workbench

Pianos are free, in case you’re not hip to the exciting world of musical instrument salvage. Yes, the home piano, once the pinnacle of upper middle class appreciation of the arts, is no longer. The piano your great aunt bought in 1963 is just taking up space, and it’s not like the guy on Craigslist giving away a free piano has a Bösendorfer.

It’s out of this reality of a surplus of cheap used pianos that [luke] built a new desk. He got it a while ago, but after getting it into his house, he realized it was too old to be tuned anymore. Or at least it was uneconomical to do so. This piano became a workbench, but after a while [luke] wanted something with a little more storage.

The process of converting this piano to a desk began with taking a few photos and putting them into Fusion 360. A series of panels and brackets were modeled in box jointed plywood, and the entire thing was cut out of 6mm Baltic birch plywood at the Vancouver Hack Space.

There are a few nice features that make this desk a little better than an Ikea special. There’s a Raspberry Pi mounted to the shelves, because the Pi still makes a great workbench computer. There’s a power supply, and hookups for 12 V, 5 V, and 3.3 V from an ATX power supply. This is controlled with an awesome antique power switch mounted to the side of the piano. Slap a few coats of black paint on that, and [luke] has an awesome, functional workbench that also has out-of-tune sympathetic strings. Not bad.

You can check out the entire build video below. Thanks [Jarrett] for sending this one in.

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3D-Printer Extrudes Paper Pulp Instead of Plastic

We’ve seen all sorts of 3D-printers on these pages before. From the small to the large, Cartesians and deltas, and printers that can squeeze out plastic, metal, and even concrete. But this appears to be the first time we’ve ever featured a paper-pulp extruding 3D-printer.

It’s fair to ask why the world would need such a thing, and its creator, [Beer Holthuis], has an obvious answer: the world has a lot of waste paper. Like 80 kg per person per year. Thankfully at least some of that is recycled, but that still leaves a lot of raw material that [Beer] wanted to put to work. Build details on the printer are sparse, but from the photos and the video below it seems clear how it all went together. A simple X-Y-Z gantry moves a nozzle over the build platform. The nozzle, an order of magnitude or two larger than the nozzles most of us are used to, is connected to an extruder by a plastic hose. The extruder appears to be tube with a stepper-driven screw that lowers a ram down onto the pulp, squeezing it into the hose. [Beer] notes that the pulp is mixed with a bit of “natural binder” to allow the extruded pulp to keep its shape. We found the extrusion process to be just a wee bit repulsive to watch, but fascinating nonetheless, and the items he’s creating are certainly striking in appearance.

This may be the first pulp printer to grace our pages, but it’s not the first pulp hack we’ve featured. Pulp turns out to be a great material to keep your neighbors happy and even makes a dandy fuel.

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Build Your Next Dancing Robot From Empty Soda Bottles

When you think about the materials for your next large dancing robot build, soda bottles might not be the first thing that springs to mind. But they could work, according to TrussFab, a project from a group of students at the Hasso Plattner Instituit. Their system uses empty coke bottles and 3D printed connectors to build large structures, modeled in software that checks their load balance and safety. The team has modeled and built designs up to 5 meters high. Now, the project has taken a step further by adding linear actuators and hinges to the mix so you can create things that move, including a 4-meter high animatronic robot.

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Getting Resourceful to Build A Home CNC

CNC really is a game changer when it comes to machining. If your motor skills or ability to focus aren’t all there, you don’t need to worry – the computer will handle the manual task of machining for you! These builds are popular for DIYers to undertake, as they enable the production of all manner of interesting and advanced parts at home once they’re up and running. However, parts to build a CNC machine can get spendy; [Brenda] decided to take a recycling-based approach to her build instead (Youtube link).

The build uses motion parts from an old silicon wafer fabrication machines, an IKEA table for the work surface, and a scavenged computer to run the show. Control is via the popular LinuxCNC software, a viable candidate for anyone doing a similar build at home. In a neat twist, the holes for hold-downs on the work table were drilled by the machine itself!

Overall it’s a tidy build, broken up over a series of videos that each go into great detail on the work involved.  Interested in your own bargain CNC build? Check out this $400 setup.

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Getting the Lead Out of Lithium Battery Recycling

When that fateful morning comes that your car no longer roars to life with a quick twist of the key, but rather groans its displeasure at the sad state of your ride’s electrical system, your course is clear: you need a new battery. Whether you do it yourself or – perish the thought – farm out the job to someone else, the end result is the same. You get a spanking new lead-acid battery, and the old one is whisked away to be ground up and turned into a new battery in a nearly perfect closed loop system.

Contrast this to what happens to the battery in your laptop when it finally gives up the ghost. Some of us will pop the pack open, find the likely one bad cell, and either fix the pack or repurpose the good cells. But most dead lithium-based battery packs are dropped in the regular trash, or placed in blue recycling bins with the best of intentions but generally end up in the landfill anyway.

Why the difference between lead and lithium batteries? What about these two seemingly similar technologies dictates why one battery can have 98% of its material recycled, while the other is cheaper to just toss? And what are the implications down the road, when battery packs from electric vehicles start to enter the waste stream in bulk?

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