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Waste & Recycling December 12, 2022 12:34:58 AM

The Urban Machine Team is Using Robotics to Reclaim Waste Construction Wood

Waste Advantage
ScrapMonster Author
That fast turnaround from prototyping just a year ago relied heavily on recent advances in technology.

The Urban Machine Team is Using Robotics to Reclaim Waste Construction Wood

SEATTLE (Waste Advantage):  “In the U.S. alone, we throw away 37 million tons of wood waste,” said Eric Law, co-founder and CEO of Urban Machine. “That’s about half of what we harvest every year.” Law saw tremendous opportunity in being able to reclaim used wood from demolition sites, and waste pieces from new construction. He and his Bay-area startup team are aiming to eliminate that waste and reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry.  Law came up with the idea for the company while working in his previous role in the construction industry.

“In my last job I was digging into how to save waste from construction sites,” he explained. “I found that steel and concrete already have recycle paths. But wood is sent to the landfill because of metal.” Specifically, metal fasteners–nails, screws, and staples–make reclaimed wood uneconomic to reuse. “I reached out to Andrew [Gillies, the company’s co-founder and CTO], who I’d worked with previously, and asked him, ‘Can we automate this?’” Andrew recruited Alex Thiele, co-founder and Lead Software Engineer, and they founded the company in late 2021 with the aim of reclaiming lumber, glulam (laminated engineered wood), and heavy timber.

Today, the company is fabricating its first production machine. That fast turnaround from prototyping just a year ago relied heavily on recent advances in technology. “There has been a lot of development in hardware the past few years that made this possible,” said Gillies. “Hardware development today is fast and low-cost, so you can learn by testing against the real world.” That was critical, since the machine itself involves a bit of a twist on existing concepts. “From a robotics perspective, it’s a reverse pick-and-place machine,” he explained. “It requires perception–‘where are all the fasteners?’–and manipulation–‘how do we get the fasteners out?’” The production machine currently being built is the company’s fourth iteration in just over a year, so fast development, testing, and iteration have been critical.

 Courtesy: www.wasteadvantagemag.com

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