Higher Education
8:32 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

Robot Will Encourage Recycling At 49ers Football Stadium

Since it first opened, UNC Charlotte's football stadium has had a zero-waste initiative. That means almost no trash. Everything that can be … is recycled or composted.

Part of that initiative is a three and a half feet-tall robot called RecycleBot. Ten engineering students worked on the robot this spring.  


If you go to a Charlotte 49ers football game this fall, you may hear this voice:

"Hello! I'm RecycleBot. I was developed by Charlotte Green Initiative and a bunch of amazing engineers. Please help me keep your city clean."

Amogh Gokhale works on RecycleBot's voice and speaker system.
Credit Tasnim Shamma

And there are a few other options on the table, like Yoda ("Recycle you must! Protect the environment we must!") and Arnold Schwarzenegger ("I am Arnold. I want to make sure you recycle!"). 

Engineering professor Jim Conrad is supervising the project and the robot is moving in his direction.

"Minus 10 points for almost killing me!" Conrad yells out. "Do you smell smoke? That's a good sign."

Electrical engineering student Akshay Deshpande is one of ten engineering students who worked on the robot. He demonstrates how it works: 

"I'm just putting a soda can on the platform – and it will detect whether it is a recyclable or not. OK, so it says recyclable can and the green LED here glows for five seconds," Deshpande says. "In this time, display will tilt one way, which will go to the recycle bin. If it is a trash, now the red LED should glow." 

A small Raspberry Pi camera and and ultrasonic distant sensor detects the object and then determines whether the object is recyclable or for composting. If the LED light turns green, the cardboard tilts and the object falls into the recycle bin inside the robot. If the light is red, the object slides into the compost bin. 

The robot moves on its own in the research lab and there are two sensors on the front of the robot so that it stops if something is in front of it.

RecycleBot has two bins -- one for recycling and one for composting.
Credit Tasnim Shamma

When it's complete, it will move through the tailgating area following pre-programmed GPS coordinates.

Sam Shue is one of two PhD students who came up with the idea for Recyclebot and he helped a land a $5,000 grant to build it. He says it's good P.R. for the college of engineering.

"While everybody's over here thinking about sports, they also see that UNCC has a lot more going on," Shue says. 

There will still be recycle and compost bins at the stadium. Shue encourages you to use those too.

"I can't say it's going to be terribly more efficient than going to a recycling bin yourself, but it's there for show, not efficiency," he says. "It's supposed to be a show-stopper."

The students are still working on making sure the robot doesn't fall down steps. And there will still be someone walking with the robot to make sure there's a kill switch … in the event of something like a robot apocalypse.