Lyft, General Motors and the future of driverless waste management and recycling

The recent news about General Motors' 500 million dollars investment in Lyftlaid out GM's plans to develop an on-demand network of self-driving cars with the ride-sharing service. "We think our business and personal mobility will change more in the next five years than the last 50," GM President Dan Ammann said in an interview with Reuters. The announcement came as Toyota Motor Corp and Ford Motor Co said they would adopt the same software to link smartphone apps to vehicle dashboard screens. Toyota and Ford, two of the world's biggest automakers, invited rival car companies to join them to counter the push by Apple, Alphabet, Tesla Motors Inc and others into self-driving cars, or what the industry calls autonomous vehicles. So, it is time to warm up the discussion about driverless cars' use in waste management and recycling issues. And as you probably imagine, driverless cars fit perfectLy with robotics and artificial intelligence. 

Robots are already here. More than 22 millions of them are in use in several industrial applications, continuously working and connected to the Web. Although they have been proved both much more difficult and expensive than it was initially expected, the combination of robots with the new sensors and the advances of artificial intelligence have set the scene for an exponential growth of robotics within next 5-10 years.

Robots are already in use in the waste management industry. Back to 2010, Mitsubishi and Osaka University researchers presented a robot that identifies different plastic materials among rubbish and sorts them into piles. SADAKO in Spain has created a commercial model (Wall-B) able to sort mixed household waste, equipped with a suction system adapted to small, light and very heterogeneous target objects. The Finnish company Zen Robotics is focused in C&D waste, with its robot capable of replacing up to 15 human waste sorters.  VOLVO is currently working on a joint venture to develop a robot that interacts with the refuse truck and its driver to accomplish the work.

The potential benefits of using robots are countless but it seems that their use will be controversial: robots will replace hundreds of thousands or even millions of workers in recycling and waste management, creating a huge negative social impact and intense conflicts.

Artificial Intelligence, driverless cars and drones

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already reshaping our lives. Either it is the rapid response of Google to any search we made or the speech recognition, AI has become a business as usual element of the daily lives of billions. Driverless cars and drones are equipped with advanced AI systems that are working in combination with powerful sensors. Their evolution goes really fast.

It is no surprise that many car manufacturers are beginning to think about cars that take the driving out of your hands altogether. These cars will be safer, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient than their manual counterparts. Yet, there are several issues to be resolved, but it seems that we are on the way to resolve them. If the experts are right, the most important problems will be managed before 2020.
Google recently announced that by 2017 they would start to deliver packages with drones, on a massive scale. Amazon has already published its first efforts to use drones for delivering its products. The US Federal Aviation Agency is working hard to complete a drones traffic management system until the end of 2016 and the first US database with legally licensed drones will be completed next month.

Driverless collection of recyclables will not be that difficult in certain parts of the world. And if you imagine a drone delivering your supermarket supplies to your window and taking back your recyclables, you probably are close to a reality that’s on the way. 
The consequences to traditional waste management will be tremendous. On demand hybrid collection services will become mainstream and the road towards a completely automatic and auto-optimized collection system will open. Important cost reduction is expected by the use of drones and driverless cars, but first there must be substantial investments. But, there is a high risk of more or less jobless collection and recycling systems, especially in the most technologically advanced places of the world. 

However, there is a very interesting comment on the future of driverless cars. Dave King, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University, in a recent interview at Washington Post mentions that the future of driverless cars is not going to be like we think. Well, let's continue the debate...