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Recycling robots prove winning isn’t everything

Robots are put through their paces as they gear up for competition Keystone Archive

As Swiss cities celebrate a week-long festival of science, robots have been converging on Lausanne for a waste disposal competition.

Fourteen rubbish-collecting robots battled it out for the recycling crown at the Federal Institute of Technology. Their task was to pick up 10 plastic bottles and 10 aluminium cans, scattered around a huge hall and deposit them in the appropriate bins

The competition’s organiser, Roland Siegwart, from Lausanne’s Institute of Robotics said the biggest difficulty the robots faced was perception.

“They have to see their environment, they have to make a link between their position and the environment and it is very difficult to interpret the sensor’s signal in the right way.”

While some of the robots proved adept at picking up the bottles and cans, they were unable to distinguish between the objects when it came to dumping them. Others had tremendous difficulty finding their way to the bright lights of the recycling areas.

The audience clearly enjoyed the spectacle – applauding, groaning and laughing as the robots tackled the clean-up operation.

“It was fascinating to see how each of the robots was designed differently to pick up the bottles and cans,” said Robert McLaren from Geneva.

While the competition demonstrated the robots’ ability to do simple tasks, the organisers said it would be a long time before human beings are replaced by machines.

“It’s very difficult for robots to carry out more difficult tasks like deliver letters,” said Siegwart. “If it’s a very dedicated task, it’s feasible but if it’s an open environment, it’s just too complicated.”

Watching some of the more unsuccessful robots compete, it seemed that winning the competition was less important than taking part.

by Vincent Landon

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR