The European Patent Office (EPO) has selected engineers Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley for its new Young Inventors Award for their artificial intelligence (AI) based robotic waste recognition and sorting technologies.
Launched with only a treadmill, a camera and a pile of trash scavenged from a dumpster, the two entrepreneurs turned their smart waste sorting system into a thriving business raising millions of dollars in funding. Two parts make up their invention, which recycling facilities can use together or separately: a computer recognition system, which uses AI to precisely identify different types of waste, and a robotic arm moving on six axes to select from autonomously the valuable materials on a recycling conveyor belt comprising various low-value waste. The aim is to increase the purity, and therefore the value, of the bales of recycled waste, thereby strengthening the financial incentive to recycle.
“With their twin waste recognition and sorting solutions, Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley are making a vital contribution to reducing waste worldwide and to moving towards a circular economy,” said EPO President António Campinos. during the announcement of the 2022 Young Inventors Award finalists. The Belgian-British duo of inventors are among the three finalists for the new prize created by the EPO to encourage the future generation of inventors. This prize recognizes young inventors, aged 30 or younger, who develop solutions to global problems and contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The winners of the Young Inventors prize 2022 will be announced during the virtual European Inventor Prize ceremony to be held on June 21.
A vision for smart waste management
According to the World Bank, the world generates two billion tons of household waste each year, the disposal or incineration of which can have a negative impact on the environment. Unfortunately, sorting waste for recycling is very demanding, with one of the main hurdles being to separate plastics and other valuable waste from mixed low-value waste, which is done largely by hand and can be prohibitively expensive. dear. By automating the process using AI, Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley aim to increase the proportion of recycled waste. “Our optical recognition system can run on the fastest conveyor belts in a waste plant, which our competitors cannot,” explains Peter Hedley. “AI prioritization of waste sorting is helping us improve our performance by around 300% – and a 300% increase in the bottom line for our facilities benefits them and improves their margins. “. The ‘Recycleye Vision’ computer vision system uses a cellphone-grade camera, mounted above waste conveyor belts, to take 60 photos per second of passing trash and send it to an algorithm that ranks them according to pick-up priority. Instructions are then sent to the Recycleye Robotics sorting arm, telling it where to pick up and where to put the waste. This process can perform 55 samples per minute on a treadmill.
The genesis of the invention dates back to 2018, when Victor Dewulf visited a recycling facility as part of his Masters course in environmental engineering. He was then shocked to discover how laborious the waste sorting process was. Inspired by this observation and by his friend Peter Hedley’s Master’s course in computer science, Victor Dewulf wrote his thesis on the automation of waste sorting using computer vision. After graduation, Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley followed different paths, but Victor Dewulf’s thesis had already begun to attract attention. In 2019, Victor Dewulf commissioned Peter Hedley to develop a prototype waste recognition system using computer vision. After testing their initial computer vision system in Peter Hedley’s parents’ garage using a trash-covered treadmill to simulate a recycling treadmill, Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley founded their company Recycleye in 2019. The year Next, Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley raised €935,000 (£800,000) in seed investment and began work on developing their robotic sorting arm in partnership with robotics company FANUC. At the end of 2020, they had implemented their Recycleye Vision system in France but also locally for the British waste management companies Biffa and Re-Gen, obtaining good results. They have deployed 17 vision systems and five robotic arms, with more on the way. The global smart waste management market was worth €1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) in 2020 and is expected to reach €5.4 billion ($6.5 billion) by 2026.
About the inventors
Victor Dewulf, 25, was born in Belgium and moved to the UK to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Bath in 2017, followed by a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering and Business Management at Imperial College London where he also started a PhD on computer vision applied to waste. He joined Goldman Sachs in 2018-2019. In 2019, he founded Recycleye with Peter Hedley, of which he is currently the CEO. Victor Dewulf has already won awards, such as the BP Centurion Award or the Letitia Chitty Centenary Memorial Prize and was selected in the Forbes 30 under 30 of 2021 ranking in the Social Impact category. Peter Hedley, 27, from the UK, graduated with a Bachelors in Civil Engineering from the University of Bath in 2017 and went on to a Masters in Computer Science at Imperial College London. During his years studying civil engineering, he worked as a design engineer for Apex Circuit Design Ltd, leading and training a team to modify motor racing circuit simulation software. After his Masters, Peter Hedley worked on the application of computer vision to art galleries. He founded Recycleye in 2019 with Victor Dewulf, where he is now CTO. Find the video and visuals on Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley
About the “Young Inventors prize”
The European Patent Office has created the Young Inventors prize in 2021 to inspire the next generation of inventors. Aimed at innovators around the world aged 30 or younger, it recognizes initiatives that leverage technology to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The winner will be rewarded with 20,000 euros, the finalists arriving in second and third position will receive 10,000 and 5,000 euros respectively. An independent jury made up of former European Inventor Award finalists selects the finalists and the winner. The EPO will award this prize for the very first time during the virtual European Inventor Award ceremony on 21 June. Unlike traditional European Inventor Award categories, Young Inventors prize finalists do not need to hold a European patent to be eligible for the Award. Learn more about the eligibility and selection criteria for the Young Inventors prize.
About the European Patent Office
With nearly 6,400 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of Europe’s largest public institutions. Its headquarters are in Munich and it has offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna. The EPO was created with the aim of strengthening patent cooperation in Europe. Through its centralized patent granting process, inventors can obtain high-quality patent protection in no less than 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also a global authority on patent information and patent searches.
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Victor DEWULF and Peter HEDLEY, finalists for the Young Inventors Prize 2022 » PACA’s economic and political letter
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