Increasing fire safety by scanning waste for gas bottles in recycling facilities

 

Carelessly tossed gas bottles are a huge explosion hazard

If you ever visit one of Renewi’s waste-to-product plants, you’ll be asked to park facing the exit. Why? Because every once in a while, a gas canister that ended up in the wrong heap of trash explodes and sets the waste ablaze. All waste sorting directives aside, aerosol bottles, spray cans and mindlessly discarded propane tanks still end up in the shredder, injuring Renewi’s workers and damaging its infrastructure. In total, these incidents add up to millions of euros to cover claims, pay for insurance and repair the damage done.

Countering variety with accuracy

First off, we tweaked Renewi’s company process. Whereas crane operators would pick up waste from a large pile and drop it directly into the shredder, they now first spread the waste out in front of them as a way to increase gas bottle detection possibilities. To automate this check, our partner Viu More added smart hi-res cameras trained to spot gas bottles no matter the circumstances. This way, man and machine combine forces to combat fire risks.

Feeding our AI model over 4000 images of hard-to-spot gas bottles, we at Robovision taught it to see what even experienced waste plant operators would miss. Quite the challenge, keeping into account changing weather conditions and the fact that waste is, well, dirty, and taints everything the same shade of brown. To boot, both gas bottles and the surrounding rubbish are extremely diverse in shape, size and texture. From the dataset, we extrapolated an additional set of imagery so the cameras now recognise culprits and let operators flag anything suspicious through Viu More’s user-friendly app on their crane-mounted tablets.

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One of our operators was really surprised: the AI system spotted a gas bottle he had missed.

— Philip Heylen, Director Materials Renewi

ENHANCED SAFETY

Fewer accidents mean safer surroundings for operators as well as close neighbours.

GETTING MORE OUT OF DATA

Out of a basic data set, we generated new imagery by adding random backgrounds to gas canisters.

MORE ACCURATE THAN HUMANS

Despite the endless variations of waste and conditions, our algorithms has a +95% hit rate.

ROLLED OUT IN 10 SITES

With many more to follow, we are outfitting every single Renewi facility with our setup.

Creating a better, safer workplace

In a context where manual labour is a challenge—the weather, the dirt, the physical strain—it’s paramount for companies like Renewi to make working conditions as agreeable as possible. Ensuring safety is at the very top of the list. But there are other ways to attract hard-to-find workers. Thanks to AI, operators are rewarded for their extensive knowledge with a new responsibility: they keep training their tool with new examples, making it more and more accurate, thus reducing the risks for themselves and their colleagues. In other words: they’re part of making Renewi a better, safer working environment.

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