By 2027, the city of Helsingborg aims to become one of the world’s best cities to live and work in. Recently, the city received a grant from Sweden’s Innovation Agency, Vinnova, to test autonomous robots in garbage collection.
Traditionally, garbage collection has involved loud trucks blocking the streets and interrupting early mornings. In collaboration with Robot Minds AB and the regional waste management company Nordvästra Skånes Renhållnings AB (NSR), the City of Helsingborg aims to implement a project where service robots collect the garbage instead.
In mid-June, it was decided that the project would receive funding of SEK 2.8 million from Vinnova, Sweden’s innovation agency, through the strategic innovation program Drive Sweden.
“It will be extremely exciting to explore the possibilities of robotic contributions”, says Dennis Kerkhof, project manager for the H+ Urban Renewal Project.
The funds will be used to develop a robot with related software and conduct rigorous testing in the Oceanhamnen district. The project is scheduled to run for two years, starting after the summer.
The trial in Helsingborg is unique on a global scale. Whilst there are related projects that involve robots picking up rubbish from the street or the beach, mobile robotic rubbish bins, and AI-powered garbage sorting robots at recycling facilities, there are no projects specifically focused on garbage collection.
The coexistence of robots and humans in urban spaces
The concept involves robots collecting garbage from waste rooms in commercial and residential buildings and transporting it to a collection point. From there, conventional garbage trucks transport it to a recycling facility.
A robotic collection system offers several advantages. It eliminates the disturbance caused by noisy garbage trucks that can block traffic. Additionally, it reduces emissions and minimises the risk of accidents. With increased urbanisation, the volume of waste in our cities has been rising and is expected to continue growing.
“The project gives us the opportunity to develop new technology, create solutions where robots can be part of the smart city, contribute to its sustainability and test interaction between robots and people in daily life”, says Elena Sjödin, Founder and CEO of Robot Minds AB.
The project aims to explore several aspects. Firstly, it seeks to determine the practical feasibility of garbage collection, considering the necessary technology and infrastructure. Secondly, it assesses whether current laws permit implementation or require legal updates. Thirdly, it examines the benefits for residents and the project’s economic viability.
Furthermore, since using service robots in urban environments is relatively new, there needs to be more experience in this field as knowledge is limited. People are not accustomed to interacting with robots in urban spaces; this is an additional aspect to be explored.
Following this round of testing, the next step involves optimising garbage collection using sensors in the garbage cans and a smart waste management platform. This setup would enable robots to know when it’s time to empty a container.
In conjunction with the robot testing, the project also aims to explore other potential applications for service robots in the city. For example, how they could be utilised in schools or healthcare facilities when they are not occupied with garbage collection.