TrashBot x Thrival // Lessons from the Public // 25 Oct 2017

TrashBot x Thrival // Lessons from the Public

25 Oct 2017

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to participate in the Innovation Marquee event at Thrival, a quintessential Pittsburgh experience that melds together lectures and exhibits on AI, tech, and art, followed by a weekend-long music festival. The Innovation Marquee, which took place at the Carnegie Museum of Art, event brought together Pittsburgh tech companies and the public, allowing people to witness local products in action in a fun and interactive environment. 2017 marked the fifth year that Thrival’s been hosted, and we were honored to have been invited to participate.

In attendance was our TrashBot, the smart waste receptacle that automatically sorts landfill waste from recyclables. TrashBot was featured in a foyer lit with bright green lights and filled with other tech companies (plus drummers and an aerial silks display!). Given the free candy and cheap booze being sold, trash and recyclables (in the form of candy wrappers, napkins, cups, cans, and bottles) abounded, which provided users with the means to put our TrashBot to the test.


During a recent design lecture at our accelerator space, AlphaLab Gear, a professor of design from CMU told us about the importance of user feedback, particularly through open-ended, unguided interactions. Therefore, while many of the folks who stopped by were asked to fill out a survey (just for basic feedback), others were invited to tell us their freely-formed thoughts and opinions on the TrashBot. We’re going to share a few of them here.

Top Three Most Common

1. I wish the TrashBot would provide feedback about whether an item was recyclable or not.

We’re actually working on this as a capability. As proud of our product as we are, we know that it’s not going to be adopted everywhere all at once (although it really should be!), and so we want to make sure that interacting with our TrashBot allows users to learn about proper recycling and be able to apply that knowledge at other waste stations. Our next iteration will have LEDs that will indicate to users whether an item is recyclable or not. We are also considering putting such feedback on the monitor, since users tend to place an item in the TrashBot and then look expectantly at the screen.

2. I wish that I could see what was going on in the TrashBot when it sorts.

This is related to #1, in that allowing users to see what’s going on will help them understand both how the TrashBot works and how to categorize the item (recycling/landfill). This may be a potential add in the future, but for now, you can go on believing that the TrashBot sorts using robot magic!

3. Can the TrashBot sort compostable materials?

The answer to this is currently no, but it is likely in the cards for future versions. We will keep you posted!

Most Unique Feedback: The TrashBot technology could be augmented to sort clothing (e.g. at donation centers). Kudos to this user for being so creative! We don’t, however, foresee working on this problem any time soon, as our focus is on improving the waste stream. Besides, robotics and fabrics don’t have a good history together, as it’s difficult for robots to handle fabric. In fact, a sewing robot was only developed very recently. Interesting thought, though!

Tell us what you think about these, and check out Thrival’s write-up about us here!