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Max - the robot recycler who outperforms humans

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A picture taken on October 10, 2018 shows a new autonomous Max-AI sorting robot waste during its presentation to the press at a factory of the French waste management company Veolia in Amiens. AFP

In the kitchen, if you often wonder if the yogurt pot should go in the organic or non-organic bin, Max AI can help.


Max is a robot working at a recycling centre at the French city of Amiens.

He surveys a conveyor belt on which the rubbish passes by.

Then, with his large mechanical arm, Max takes out recyclable items and separates them from organic waste.

"We installed him on a depot for fibrous waste [paper, cardboard] and we asked him to remove what we don't want, for example yogurt cups and tin cans", explained Anne Thevenot, Veolia's Technical Director during a press visit.

A picture taken on October 10, 2018 shows a new autonomous Max-AI sorting robot waste during its presentation to the press at a factory of the French waste management company Veolia in Amiens. AFP

A Franco-American venture

Max is a Franco-American project. The robot was manufactured in the US, while French company Veolia gave him 'life'.

Veolia R&D's Artificial Intelligence department, which employs over 200 scientists in liaison with 800 specialists, developed Max AI's algorithm.

Veolia employees sort waste before being treated by a waste sorting robot on October 10, 2018 during a press visit held to present the new autonomous Max-AI sorting robot to be used at a factory of the French waste management company Veolia in Amiens. AFP

Outperforming humans

Max is more productive than a human.

A human working at the recycling centre makes a maximum of 2,200 movements per hour.

Max can make over 3,600 movements.

The robot is however, still 'in training'.

He is learning to distinguish objects that pass by on the conveyor belt.

At present, a human has to validate Max's final work.

But engineers say it is just a matter of time before Max becomes fully autonomous.

Concerns about future job cuts

Ademe, French agency for environment and energy, issued a report in 2004 saying up to 5000 jobs in recycling centres in France may be cut because of increasing automation.

But a Veolia spokesman said that robots like Max AI would only be used for complicated and unhygienic tasks.

According to the company, the volume of waste in the future would increase, and consequently, more human jobs would be required, keeping employment figures stable,

100 per cent of plastic to be recycled in France by 2025

France wants to bring its plastic recycling rate to 100 per cent by 2025.

It is currently at 26 percent.

The implementation of robots like Max AI are in line with these objectives that stem from the 2015 Paris Climate conference.