Kayla Blok, of SFU’s sustainability office, tests out “Oscar,” the trash-sorting robot, while SFU Surrey executive director Steve Dooley, right, and Intuitive AI’s co-founder Hassan Murad look on. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Sustainability

‘An AI to change human behaviour’: SFU Surrey unveils trash-sorting robot

SFU mechatronics students found Intuitive AI, a startup to create a zero-waste world

For anyone who’s ever been confused about what to put in garbage, recycling or compost bins, there’s now a robot to help.

“Oscar,” the trash-sorting robot, was unveiled at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus Tuesday morning (July 23).

It’s a “signature product” of Intuitive AI, a startup founded by two SFU mechatronics systems engineering students – one is now an alumnus of the school.

Oscar uses a display screen and an artificial intelligence camera to identify recycling from trash, as well as instruct people which bins to use when throwing out their waste.

Hassan Murad, co-founder of Intuitive AI, said it “feels like we’ve come back home” while at the unveiling of Oscar at SFU Surrey. Intuitive AI, according to its website, has a vision to create a zero-waste world.

“We see what the effects have been of plastic pollution, and so we really decided to jump into this and tackle this head on,” Murad said.

Vivek Vyas, Intuitive AI co-founder, said he and Murad started thinking about the problem of plastic pollution in December of 2016 and started their company in March of 2017.

“Once we were finished with school and we had some time to ourselves to figure out what to do next and we were trying to identify big problems that we were passionate about,” said Vyas, adding that he’s originally from India and Murad is originally from Pakistan.

“Trash was a huge problem, and all of our trash — a lot of our trash —goes back there. It went back to China, before (it was) India, all of these countries, so we figured, let’s tackle this.”

For the first four months of 2017, Vyas said they were doing research and the biggest issue they found was that people didn’t know how to sort out their waste.

“The key issue was not that people were not trying, it’s that the regulations were so different. They would learn something in one neighbourhood and then they would go somewhere else and it wouldn’t work.”

Vyas said their first invention was to build a full bin that would sort items for people.

“We quickly realized through investors and seasoned mentors, that it’s an uphill battle to go that way just because if you’re going into a facility, nobody’s going to get 50 bins and you’re also completely taking out the education piece from it,” Vyas said. “Because now, you’re actually telling people to be blind and just put it in.”

With Oscar, Vyas said he and Murad wanted to create something that was modular can be added on to existing bins and be interactive so people feel engaged. As for engagement, Intuitive AI already has “Oscars” at 20 locations between Surrey, Toronto, Calgary and San Francisco. One of the “Oscars” is at Vancouver International Airport.

Murad said at YVR, almost 82 per cent of the time, people will follow what Oscar is telling them to do. “It’s an AI to change human behaviour that almost everybody has been scared to do,” he said.

On the front end, Murad said Oscar is “really helping to recycle and make it more engaging. He said if a person shows Oscar their phone, it will tell them to put it back in their pocket. If someone at the airport shows Oscar their passport, it will tell them, “safe travels.”

As for unveiling it at SFU, Vyas said he and Murad are “really excited” to see the levels of engagement because this is their first university location.

“Every location we go into, has different demographics in terms of recycling habits,” he said. “Already, we’re seeing a lot more proactive recycling here, so they want to do the right thing coming to the bins.”

Vyas said he feels there will be “much higher” engagement at SFU than at a location such as the airport.

“The big thing with places like the airport is you have people filtering in and out, not necessarily coming back every day. Here, once you teach somebody something, hopefully, they remember it and replicate it elsewhere.”

For more information on Intuitive AI, visit intuitiveai.ca.

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