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Silke von Gemmingen

Innovation

Disposal by Type?

Smart management of bio waste increases recycling rates and minimizes residual volumes

Published: Monday, January 29, 2024 - 12:02

Smart waste management is one of the core tasks within smart cities, i.e., those urban areas in which innovative technologies and data-driven solutions are used. They aim to improve residents’ quality of life, minimize environmental impact, and use resources more efficiently. Conserving resources isn’t just about recycling, but also about innovative approaches to collecting waste and then disposing of or processing it in the best possible way. One of the most important components of smart cities is therefore the introduction of efficient waste collection systems. In addition, by May 1, 2025, at the latest, waste from organic waste bins delivered for composting or fermentation in Germany may only contain a maximum of 3% (by weight) of foreign matter when delivered.

The German company c-trace GmbH meets this challenge with its AI solution, c-detect. This industry specialist in IT solutions for all aspects of waste disposal logistics specializes in telematics solutions for the trouble-free collection of organic waste from households. The purer the biowaste delivered, the lower the effort and costs of removing foreign matter. In addition, the quantity and quality of compostable biowaste is increasing, and with it, the marketable end product, which has developed into an important raw material over time. The company has developed the first artificial intelligence-based system for detecting impurities during organic waste collection to ensure the purest possible organic waste for further processing.

IDS cameras, the reliable eyes of refuse-collection vehicles

“Contaminants in biowaste, especially plastics, cause high costs and make recycling time-consuming or even impossible,” explains c-trace sales engineer Jan Birkhold. The c-detect computer vision system combines intelligent software with robust, powerful uEye FA industrial cameras from IDS to view the contents of the organic waste bin using either “TopView” or “InsideView.”

With the help of two cameras per system variant, c-trace can use object detection to identify all relevant types of materials and objects that have no place in biowaste. It detects contaminants such as plastic bags or metals and will also be able to distinguish between normal and biodegradable plastic bags in the future. Both static image recordings (TopView) and dynamic image recordings in the pouring process (InsideView) are recognized, processed, and documented via image verification. The content is immediately evaluated in the vehicle using trained artificial intelligence. The analysis of the detection can be tracked in real time, directly in the vehicle, via a powerful AI onboard computer and the associated c-ident touch board. In the event of detection, an evidence photo is saved and automatically forwarded for analysis.


TopView cameras look at the open waste bin from above.

InsideView cameras look into the pouring chamber.



The TopView variant uses the view from above into each organic waste bin. For this purpose, two cameras are installed at the rear of the collection vehicle, above the bulk material. As soon as the system recognizes impurities on the surface of the open organic waste container, the waste collection vehicle’s dumping process is automatically stopped.

“Thanks to the configurability of the system, it’s possible to set the impurities for which the system should respond, depending on the degree of contamination,” says Birkhold. “As soon as impurities are detected in the container, it’s left unemptied so that the impurities do not enter the collection process.”


Detected waste, TopView

The InsideView variant, on the other hand, uses two cameras in the pouring chamber. They are directed at the side of the bins and record images of the waste with high resolution and frame rate during the emptying process. If there are any foreign substances under the surface, these also are detected and documented when the container is emptied. The system also triggers an optical signal on the InsideView directly on the waste collection vehicle so the refuse collector can provide the citizen with a sorting notice for the contaminated container. In addition, the recorded image evidence offers the possibility of repeatedly contaminated and emptied containers being billed to citizens for the more expensive residual waste emptying costs. A combination of both variants is also possible. In this case, up to four IDS cameras on the collection vehicle take over the automatic control.


Detected waste, InsideView

The vehicle data record is transferred with the corresponding image, GPS coordinates, and transponder number in real time to the waste disposal company and the client (district or city) in the c-ware AIR software for evaluation or direct complaint processing. “Fast image processing is particularly important here. We were looking for a network-compatible, high-resolution camera that could be programmed independently,” says Birkhold, explaining the choice of camera model. Other decisive criteria included size, automatic exposure setting, protection class, robustness, and stability in camera operation.

The GigE Vision IDS camera that c-trace uses is equipped with the compact 2/3 in. global shutter CMOS sensor IMX264 from Sony and ensures outstanding image quality, light sensitivity, and an exceptionally high dynamic range. It has an internal 120 MB image memory and delivers virtually noise-free, high-contrast 5 MP images in 5:4 format at 22 fps, making it ideal for applications such as these with fluctuating lighting conditions. The IP65/67 protection class protects against dirt, dust, and splash water—a must for use on refuse collection vehicles.

Another advantage of the integrated IDS cameras is their easy integration, thanks to IDS peak. “Our developers benefit from the network compatibility, support for the C++ programming language, and a large number of features within the programming environment,” says Birkhold. The data collected enable the biowaste to be reliably allocated to the respective bin or waste producer. Corresponding heat maps can be generated using the GPS coordinates. “Our customers use RFID transponders, which guarantee extremely high read rates and make the bins unmistakable, enabling direct allocation of the emptied bins to the citizen,” says Birkhold.


TopView interference-detection heat map c-ware

All data can be viewed in real time and subsequently analyzed. Inspecting and evaluating organic waste not only serves to sensitize the population to the need to dispose of unmixed organic waste, but also as a basis for decisions on material flow management. The separate processing of heavily soiled batches is controlled in a targeted manner, which reduces the processing technology and operating costs of disposal.

“The uEye FA cameras become the unwavering eyes of refuse collection vehicles and support c-trace customers in improving the quality of biowaste,” says IDS managing director Jan Hartmann, describing the resource-saving use of the IDS cameras. The AI-based software from c-trace learns continuously and thus constantly improves sorting purity and recycling rates. Together, the two components ensure the minimization of residual waste, targeted material flow management, fewer microplastics in compost, and last but not least, greater recycling awareness among the population.

“The use of c-detect enables local authorities to document and analyze contaminants in biowaste sustainably and cost-effectively to take appropriate measures to meet the increasing requirements of the biowaste ordinance,” says Birkhold.

“For cities and municipalities, it is increasingly about improving material cycles and flows at regional and local level,” says Hartmann. “This optimization of regional material cycles can lead to considerable resource conservation, and image processing technology can make an important contribution to this.”

Outlook

For greater efficiency and sustainability, future camera systems will take event-related, data protection-compliant video recordings of unprovided waste containers in a defined radius of the expected container location on the collection vehicle. The c-gap vehicle system only records video footage if a transponder on a collection day’s order route is not read by the identification system. It is then assumed that a container has not been provided. This allows for specific proof to be provided as to whether a complaint or subsequent journey for a container that hasn’t been emptied is justified. The c-gap solution can save many kilometers and associated costs for waste disposal companies.

This shows the promising approaches that AI already offers to smart cities for developing waste management and how it can support the necessary change. Districts, cities, municipalities, and waste management companies must increasingly address this issue to meet the challenges of the future and work even more efficiently in a way that conserves resources.


The uEye FA industrial camera, model GV-5280FA-C-HQ. More at http://www.ids-imaging.us.

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About The Author

Silke von Gemmingen’s picture

Silke von Gemmingen

Silke von Gemmingen manages corporate communications for German camera manufacturer IDS Imaging Development Systems.