How AI can help you at the trash bins

AI trash bot

You might not expect a laptop to be hanging around a bunch of lunchroom trash bins, but that's exactly where the magic of AI and recycling happens at Overlake's Campus Center during lunch! Introducing Overlake Waste Localizer (OWL for short). It's the brainchild of 10th grader Aditya S. with the help of science teacher Gerald Blycker. "I came up with the idea for OWL after noticing the increasing confusion among students regarding waste disposal," explains Aditya. "This problem has existed for many years with people not knowing which bin to toss their waste in and a significant amount of it was being misplaced." 

Aditya says throwing something into the wrong bin also leads to environmental concerns. "Putting trash or compost in the recycle bin contaminates the recycling stream, making it harder to process and often invalidating recycled materials."

So enter a digital solution. OWL is a custom-trained Convolutional Neural Network for waste detection and classification that runs (using Python code) on the webcam feed of a laptop situated near the waste bins. Aditya created OWL as part of an independent project started in his Linear Algebra class. "Gerald, my advisor, was able to help me find some sample waste objects which I used to train my model. I recorded videos of me holding and rotating the different objects in trash, recycle, and compost, and then I manually annotated the data with the bounding boxes to train the detection model."

So far the response in the Campus Center has been positive. Aditya is getting feedback from users to improve OWL with added features in the future. "Depending on the outcomes and the level of adoption, I intend to make OWLv2 with more features and a finer-tuned model with more data. I am planning on expanding using more cameras and adding sounds/voices to dictate the detections and better integrate into the campus infrastructure permanently." 
And like all good inventions, mass appeal is the goal. "The success of OWL at Overlake could serve as a model for broader implementation in other educational institutions, facilities, and businesses," says Aditya. "We have already received requests from students at other schools like EPS for adoption. By refining the technology and adapting it to different settings, OWL could potentially revolutionize waste management practices on a larger scale."
Aditya leads the Overlake AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) Club where he teaches students how to train models like this. He is also launching a TED Speaker Series in this club where students can learn more about AI models and how they work from industry experts. With such clubs and classes available to our students, who knows where else we'll find new technology assisting us on campus!