ZRR picks out the recyclable material from the waste.

When people talk about robots most think of the humanoid kind such as Honda’s ASIMO. But while ASIMO can walk, run and even dance, it doesn’t actually do anything that useful. There are robots however, that, while they may not be as glamorous as the humanoid variety, are built to be incredibly useful. It is in this category that the ZenRobotics Recycler (ZRR) is found.

Sensor fusion

Designed by Helsinki based ZenRobotics Ltd., the robotic system has been designed to sort through construction and demolition waste, picking out recyclable material so that it doesn’t end up as landfill. Five units have been sold around Europe and the first ones are entering production this year. Humans Invent spoke to ZenRobotics’ principal scientist, Dr. Harri Valpola, to find out how it works.

The cycle time is two times faster than humans and the robot is tireless

ZenRobotics applies a technique which Valpola calls ‘sensor fusion’. Using a 3D laser scanner, metal scanner, spectrometer and weight measurement among other methods, ZRR can differentiate between different types of objects in the waste fed to the system on a conveyor belt. 

Valpola says, “From all this sensory information, it can construct an understanding of what kinds of objects there are, made of which materials and also an understanding of how best to pick them up.”

The Brain

The ZRR ‘Brain’ compiles all the sensory data, which is matched with historical data to establish whether an item is worth picking out or not. If so, the robot then picks up the recyclable and puts it into its designated bin.


ZRR can distinguish between different materials and sort waste accordingly.

In the UK alone, the construction and demolition sector creates around 120 million tonnes of waste each year, a lot of which ends up in landfill sites. But if recycling companies were to start using the ZRR, not only would they be helping the environment but they could be make money.

Valpola says, “Any material you can take out of this kind of waste is going to be useful for saving money by reducing landfill costs and making money by selling on the recyclables.”

Robot army

ZenRobotics currently has two models, the ZRR Fast Picker and the Heavy Picker. Valpola says, “The fast model can handle up to 5 kg and the heavy model can pick objects up to 2o kg– the cycle times are two times faster than what humans can do, and the robot is tireless.”

It’s not just going to be one single robot, it is going to be a whole army

However, Valpola imagines companies using lots of these robots in unison. He says, “Think of a car factory process, there are thousands of robots. That’s the idea with automation, it’s not just going to be one single robot that does all the work, it is going to be a whole army of them.”

ZenRobotics is currently looking to further develop the system, for example, giving it the ability to detect new materials such as different kinds of plastics. Valpola is also keen to see the ZRR and its kind being used in different sectors outside recycling such as in the textile and agricultural industries.

For more information go to ZenRobotics

For related articles on Humans Invent please read:

Romo: The robot with a smartphone brain

Meet RoboThespian: Are you talking to me?

The mechanical joke maker

Jeremy Mayer turns typewriter parts into art

Body Hacking: Arrival of the grinders

Hackspace: Open source workshops for open minded thinkers

The World in 2112 Workshop: Robotics

Ken Goldberg: Understanding no robot is an island

The 3D journey: Inventing a real-life holodeck

The 24/7 inventor: Building a robot lawnmower at home

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