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A device that can recognize, sort and compress wastes

Road To Forest Valley Podcast

Published on 2022-04-29

Listen the full podcast or read the article below!

Luca Medeghini, co-founder at AIRA, explains their device designed to sort rubbish during events - identifying it through a recognition system - helping in this way to reduce pollution.

 

AIRA was born from a relevant issue in the events world: there is an important problem in sorting and managing high quantities of waste. Every person during an event - of a medium-size event - produces a 2.5 litre of waste and of these just 30% are correctly sorted and recycled. 

This involves some issues bound on additional costs for event promoters because the cost of cleaning a venue or a location for an event can be up to 3000 euros for medium-sized events. This cost can be reduced with less garbage on the ground and also leads to having a cleaner and more liveable event.

Is also important to engage in rubbish collection for a branding question because nowadays it is a really relevant topic for the clients of an event - young people, mostly - and the sustainable event can be also a really strong brand point for an event. 


 

How AIRA device works

 

AIRA is a hardware device and it functions as a normal bin, but it works in three phases. In the first phase, when you insert an object inside it - a waste - AIRA, through a camera, recognizes the object and thanks to its software he sorts in the correct section for that object, like glass, plastic, organics and so on.

After the sorting, there is a compression system that compresses the object saving space till it has one-third of the section volume. 

Saving space is probably the most important point for the events, festivals or manifestations, to ensure that waste does not take the place of people in the space.

AIRA also has a sensor that can tell when the device is about to fill up, so it can be emptied in advance. 

One of our hardest challenges in the prototype development was the size because in our first attempt the device was huge. And now, after a lot of effort, we have a prototype that is smaller: it is 1 meter tall, 30 centimetres deep and 70 centimetres large. 

Now we are working on adapting the measures to events: so maybe we're gonna make it a little bigger just to have a much more volume on the collection and to sustain the flux of people. 

Compare AIRA with a normal bin of the same size or the same volume, our device we'll take three times more than it to fill its capacity completely. 


 

AIRA different services 

 

We offer an entire service for organizers or promoters of events. 

Our service is divided into three steps: we do a preliminary analysis, so a first meeting with the organization or the promoter to estimate the flux of people and the quantitative ranger of the wasted production.

After that, with that information, we can create a strategic map because we noticed that in many events there isn't pre-analysis and this leads often to have fewer bins for the waste or in other situations they are not located at the right points because there are, of course, many points of an event that get more people than the others. 

In this strategic map, we report the correct number and the right collocation of the devices in order to reach all the people at the event. 

Then there is the "on-site" step where we set all the devices: we connect them, we prepare them, we test them before the event and after the event, we dismount them. 

There is also continuous supervision during the event itself: we bring up our staff to the event to take data of the consumption and check that the bins are not full and that they are working properly.

Then there is the final step: the post-event, so the analytics step. We create a final report that shows the consumption and the amount of waste to be disposed of and recycled. This is really important because uh principally you can have metrics about your events and also you can have data on recycling that you can use in many ways, also for branding and CSR, for the next event and for creating a community of sustainable people at the sustainable events. 

 

 

AIRA's prototype

 

 

The different application scenarios of AIRA

 

Events are a point of the start for us. We are developing other solutions to reach other areas as well as such for domestic, cities and municipalities. Monitoring a person's consumption is really important and that's why we are developing a household version and also trying to create a net of smaller bins for municipalities, where you can also monitor the logistics of the city. 

There are relevant differences between these three types of waste sorting because people's behaviour changes depending on the context, especially between events and households.

Italy is a virtuous country in sorting urban waste - so for the domestic one - that's because there are strong investments by municipalities for sorting correctly. The real problem is that people don't know every rule, they don't know enough and don't do enough in the household. Now we are at an average 62% per cent recycling rate of urban waste, more than double of the events. 

If we can bring also to events, the technology to do correct recycling, we can improve this rate really a lot. 

 

 

Exploiting trend topics: how sustainability can be useful for companies


On both sides from the customer and the promoters, the topic of sustainability is getting important and relevant in this period. Before they simply were not caring about it for different reasons: for organizers and promoters collecting waste - and all the sustainable practices - were just a cost and they didn't see the potential for the consumer, they just were not caring about climate change. 

We talked with some organizers to check their interest in our innovation and our technology, some of them just didn't understand the potential and the opportunity, but a lot of them - and we are so happy about that- understood us: they understood that it can be an opportunity for the environment but also for them to increase their business and how can they create a real good impact in a period where there is a lot of greenwashing in companies. So if they can make a good impact with reports, the number of people who will be affected and interested in their sustainability work will be many, and their income can only increase. 
 

 

The challenges of finding the right promoter

 

As a startup, we faced a lot of challenges. 

Our first challenge when we started this project was of course the technical challenge: we had to create a huge database of waste, with pictures and so on. The problem was to fit this huge database into a very small space, in fact at the beginning, our first prototype was quite big.

After that other challenges came to us because we had to address many actors: different stakeholders with different needs and event organizers, like I said before, not everybody understood our device and our project.

On the other hand, municipalities are not so challenging because they are smart: they understand the opportunity. Instead, the challenge of working with municipalities is the time because they are really long. There are many people that have to say something about it, so there's not just one final decision maker and this makes for a very long road ahead.

With a B2C - so with a domestic consumer - the challenge is the hardest because we have to find our target and probably there will be a high price to sustain, so not everybody can afford the product.

This research is difficult and it's why we are delaying this path on our project. We are waiting for a better situation in technology also for our cost of production and better development state of our product in domestic cases, so we are just waiting for a bit and that we are focusing on the events for now. 

 

 

The first step of a startup: find the right test scenario

 

We're starting our first test on concerts or musical events in the open air, so in locations like parks and similar. I think it's the best test to start our journey because they are the most difficult places to work with. 

In parks with a musical concert, there is always a big flux of people, that maybe they care about the environment but after one hour that they are in the concert, they don't think about it anymore and they leave waste on the ground. 

We are trying to create a recognizable device, not anonymous in its aesthetic, so that even just out of curiosity someone can try to use it and throw the rubbish in there for all the concerts and the future musical events.

 

In fact, often when you are at events you have to search for trash bins because they are almost hidden. If we create a recognisable and evident device, people will be more inclined to use it and it can recognise immediately its purpose.

There is also a strong difference between an open-air event and an indoor event because when someone is inside a building it is less likely to leave rubbish on the ground. The ironic part is that people think that it is better to throw something in a park. 


 

About the author

Luca Medeghini

CFO and co-founder at AIRA Robotics 

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