Shanghai plans to have 2000 AI-powered smart trash bins by the end of the year according to a Weibo post from China Daily. Several AI trash bins have already been deployed to AIsland, an AI innovation hub of 66,000 square meters in the city's Zhangjiang High-Tech Park.
The smart trash bins are supplied by Alpheus (阿尔飞思), an AIoT (AI + IoT) startup founded in May 2018 that specializes in waste management. Based on computer vision, deep learning, IoT and robotics technology, the company has developed a series of trash management products and services.
Shanghai's compulsory trash sorting regulation came into force on July 1, requiring household waste to be divided into wet garbage, dry garbage, recyclable waste, and hazardous waste. The new rule immediately generated heated discussions as citizens crack vitriolic jokes about how stern it can be.
Tech companies soon seized the opportunity. Leveraging AI and AR technologies, Alipay soon rolled out a mini-program in July to help classify the waste through snapshots taken on smartphones. On July 30, Huawei Cloud initiated a national competition on the design of AI algorithm to assist with waste classification.
China is lagged behind in using technology in waste management. The US startup AMP Robotics has developed robotic systems to sort recyclable waste to reduce the cost of recycling facilities. "Waste sorting is still a labor-intensive industry in China as the labor cost is cheaper," said Gao Tianyao, partner at Legend Star.
More cities are following Shanghai's lead in mandating waste sorting for the sake of sustainable development. According to officials from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, it plans to invest CNY 21.3 billion (USD 3.02 billion) in waste management by the end of the year. Besides, 46 Chinese cities are building waste management systems. With policy encouragement, we expect AI to be increasingly adopted in this field.