Danu Robotics is developing a revolutionary robotic waste sorting system to help the waste management industry significantly increase their productivity, prevent valuable resources going into landfill, boost the circular economy and clean up the environment.
The world generates 3 billion tonnes of domestic solid waste annually, less than 10% of it is recycled. Worldwide, recycling sites require human intervention to pick out contaminants, which can pose health risks and is extremely inefficient.
Xiaoyan Ma founder of Edinburgh-based, clean tech company Danu Robotics, has combined her expertise in high performance computing (HPC) with her passion for the environment to revolutionise the efficiency of the recycling sector by developing an AI-powered, robotic sorting system.
She explained: “I have been a committed environmentalist since I was a teenager and always recycled my household waste, but I’d never thought about where it ended up. So, a couple of years ago, while I was studying, I decided to look into the whole process, and I was shocked at how inefficient it was.”
As a team of one, Xiaoyan needed help in identifying additional resources to support the development of the robotic solution. She required both experts in robotics and hardware development. She also called for help with software development and computer vision expertise. Experts in advanced data analytics and image recognition capability, would help develop a more accurate machine learning algorithm and object classification to enable the robotic system to differentiate between recyclable materials and general waste.
Following an introduction from John Hill, her student enterprise advisor at Edinburgh Innovations, Interface made several connections to different academic teams to support Danu Robotics on their journey of development.
Interface connected Danu Robotics into the Design Manufacturing & Engineering Management (DMEM) department, at the University of Strathclyde. The DMEM students undertook a six-month project researching and developing the robotic picker equipped with a camera to identify objects and an appropriate algorithm to instruct the picker to pick out the recyclables and place them in a designated area. The robotic picker needed to meet predefined performance requirements, and in addition, the solution had to be durable, recyclable/sustainable, affordable, portable and re-programmable. Several options were considered to design robotic pickers that were fit for purpose ranging from, a custom solution where the robotic picker uses a suction and release mechanism rather than grab and release, to the modification of an off-the-shelf robot arm/picker to the combination of hard robot and soft robot.
In conjunction to this project, Interface also connected Danu Robotics into EPCC at the University of Edinburgh to develop software for identification and classification of objects and to define suitable hardware, including sensors and cameras, for the robotic picker.
The software development phase required development of a machine learning algorithm that takes image data and sensor data to differentiate recyclables from the general waste. The company had to build up a waste image database to help the system identify contaminants, the collection of the image data was supported by Glasgow City Council. Each item in this visual database was then labelled by a specialist data processing company and the updated database used to ‘train’ the machine learning algorithm to identify what can and cannot be recycled.
With initial system training complete, the software required further development to direct the robotic sorting system to remove contaminants from a moving conveyor belt as efficiently and effectively as possible. Working with EPCC’s Cirrus supercomputer resources, accelerated the development of the project, with two months of lab tests to integrate the software with the robotic hardware, followed by a three-month trial of the prototype system at Glasgow City Council’s recycling centre.
The initial collaboration with EPCC was funded by a SFC Innovation Voucher, then EU Horizon 2020 (H2020) funding which in turn helped leverage £70K in a SMART Scotland grant. They have recently secured SFC Advanced Innovation Voucher funding to continue development work with EPCC.
Other opportunities which Interface have been instrumental in assisting Danu Robotics with include:
- An MSc project for a design engineering student from Heriot Watt University interested in robotic design and kinematics to design a robotic arm that can sort waste items quickly and lift loads of up to 20kg while the entire arm assembly is moving at high speeds. An optimal design needed to consider the harsh dirty and dusty operating environment and the high speeds that the assembly needed to work in. The project provided an opportunity to produce an innovative and challenging piece of academic research, but also engagement in industrial research and product development.
- Another MSc opportunity with DMEM students at the University of Strathclyde involved the development of a control system for the waste sorting robot. Students interested in control systems, kinematics, and industrial design worked to identify a closed loop control system best suited for application in a heavy industrial robotic waste sorting system.
- A further project is underway with Design Engineering students at Heriot Watt University looking at the design and development of prototype of a new emergency stop system which needs to be designed to bring the mass to a stop in a safe manner. The robotic system uses a belt drive system driven by an industrial servo motor with no service break and currently relies on the frictional losses present to come to a stop in case of an emergency or loss of motor torque.
- The development of a revolutionary robotic system for the recycling and waste management industry to significantly increase recycling efficiency;
- Danu Robotics’ prototype can work at 40 picks per minute versus trained human operators that work around 10-20 picks per minute.
- It can reduce the contamination rate from current level of 50%, to 10% to below 1% while saving on operating costs ranging from 30% to 100%.
- The technology can be used by any recycling facility worldwide regardless of its size, its current technology or location. It can support recycling activities in both developed countries and developing nations.
- Danu Robotics’ efforts are paying off with several large European recycling companies showing interest in the product.
- Since inception in 2020 Danu Robotics has grown from 1 to 10 employees and has raised £275K from Sustainable Ventures and Old College Capital, £160K Smart funding, £75K EDGE Funding, £43K in support from Higgs Business Incubation Centre and £20K from SFC innovation voucher scheme.
- In September 2023, Danu Robotics joined the prestigious Octopus Ventures Springboard programme and CEO Xiaoyan Ma gave a keynote at the Carbon13 conference.
On 31st August at the GRID at Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh an event is taking place to signpost some of the support available locally within Edinburgh to help businesses to unlock growth and success. Discover how the National Library of Scotland, Interface, Edinburgh College and Universities (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Queen Margaret University and Heriot-Watt University) can help, from upskilling, to collaborative funding.
This event is a one-of-a-kind platform where businesses of all shapes and sizes can come together with representatives from renowned universities and stakeholders within the city. This event aims to showcase the valuable resources and expertise available in Edinburgh to businesses, enabling them to thrive in an ever-evolving market landscape.
During this event attendees will also be able to enjoy refreshments and a light breakfast, with ample time dedicated to networking.
9.00 Registration & breakfast (tea, coffee, pastries)
9.30 Welcome (HWU) and (ECC)
9.42 Second presentation (National Library)
9.49 Third presentation (University Representative)
9.56 Fourth presentation (Edinburgh College)
10.03 Fifth presentation (Interface)
10.10 Closing Remarks
Louise Arnold of our Business Engagement Team will be presenting on the day on how Interface can help businesses innovate and collaborate.
Family-owned Arbikie Distilling Ltd is aiming to be one of the world’s most sustainable distillers.
The Arbikie Highland Estate distillery is a genuine field-to-bottle operation – the ingredients for all their spirits are planted, sown, grown and harvested on the farm within a stone’s throw of the distillery. Records show distilling on this site dating back to 1794 – it is the field-to-bottle culture used by these ancient distillers that inspired Arbikie’s distilling ethos. Premium spirits can only come from the highest quality ingredients and drawing from decades of farming experience, they grow all the raw materials to make their award-winning range of whisky, vodka and gin.
The Arbikie Highland Estate has always been farmed with absolute respect for the land. The addition of a distillery has not changed their commitment to minimising any environmental impact.
The soon-to-be hydrogen-powered distillery at their Angus farm has always had a focus on sustainability. Production began in 2014 with the goal to add value to the potatoes which were deemed to be too ‘wonky’ for the farm’s bigger customers. Tattie Bogle Potato Vodka was born and from there they have gone on to release a range of award-winning gins, vodka and whisky including their climate positive Nàdar spirits made from peas.
The Scotch Whisky Association has set an ambitious target for the Scotch Whisky industry to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. In order for the industry to reach this goal it is vital that sustainability is improved across the supply chain, including both agricultural practices and malting.
To reach these sustainability goals Arbikie needed to look beyond the distilleries four walls and consider both upstream and downstream emission sources. A major contributor to the carbon footprint of barley-based alcoholic beverages such as Scotch Whisky is tied within agricultural practices (e.g., the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers) and in the processing of raw barley into malt. Conservation barley varieties have been introduced into the farm rotation as they are known to have the potential to reduce emissions, whilst utilising low input agricultural regimes. The challenge addressed here was to look further down the production chain and producing malt from these varieties in a more sustainable way.
Funding through The Scottish Food & Drink Net Zero Challenge Fund, from Scotland Food and Drink, administered by Interface allowed the collaboration between Arbikie Distilling Ltd and Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD), to take place.
The project focused on characterising the behaviour of conservation barleys upon exposure to industry-typical malting regimes and sought to exploit some of the known resilience present in such barley to reduce water and energy input into malt production. Within its scope, the project successfully identified conservation barley varieties that could be used to produce malt of favourable quality. Further, the results indicated that malt quality was similar between the typical and low input regime, highlighting potential for reduced input malt production.
Bringing together Arbikie’s knowledge of agriculture with Heriot-Watt’s malting expertise has resulted in the inherent qualities of older barley varieties being applied to the malting process to successfully develop lower input regimes.
- The project successfully identified conservation barley varieties that could be used to produce malt of favourable quality. In addition, the results indicated that malt quality was similar between the typical and low input regime, highlighting potential for reduced input malt production.
- Bringing together Arbikie’s knowledge of agriculture with Heriot-Watts malting expertise has resulted in the inherent qualities of older barley varieties being applied to the malting process to successfully develop lower input regimes.
- The project has allowed for continued development of expertise in conservation/heritage barley variety processing at HWU. This has led to a demonstrable benefit for teaching and research at Heriot-Watt University’s International Centre for Brewing and Distilling (ICBD).
- From a research perspective the work has allowed for development of additional research projects in the area that are anticipated to lead to publication of peer-reviewed journal articles. With regards to teaching, the project has contributed to on-going efforts to grow research-led teaching and is benefitting development of student laboratory skills through multiple undergraduate and postgraduate student thesis projects that continue to explore the theme.
The Scottish Food and Drink Net Zero Challenge Fund
This project benefitted from The Scottish Food & Drink Net Zero Challenge Fund, a key initiative of the Scottish Government’s Industry Recovery Plan, first launched by Scotland Food & Drink Partnership and Interface in October 2021, with the aim of encouraging businesses to take action on their environmental impacts through collaborative projects with Scottish universities in order to accelerate their journey to net zero. The fund supported 17 projects across a range of sustainability themes and companies.
This one-day event will showcase impact success stories, offer you a chance to find a partner from another Scottish university, and give you the opportunity to access funds for impact collaborations. Inspirational sessions include a keynote speech from Mark Miodownik and skills development and networking facilitated by Skillfluence.
The IAA Impact Festival is organised by the five Scottish universities with EPSRC Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAAs): University of Edinburgh, University of Strathclyde, University of Glasgow, Heriot-Watt University and University of St Andrews.
Our keynote speaker is Mark Miodownik, Professor of Materials and Society at UCL. He champions materials science research that links to the arts and humanities, medicine and society. Mark established the Institute of Making, where he is a director and runs the research programme. He also recently set up the Plastic Waste Innovation Hub to carry out research into solving the environmental catastrophe of plastic waste. Mark is a broadcaster and writer on science and engineering issues, and believes passionately that to engineer is human. In 2018 he was awarded an MBE for services to materials science, engineering and broadcasting.
The keynote will be followed by lightning talks from impact leaders from the five leading Scottish universities in science and engineering. The speakers will share their experiences of creating different types of impact from social and policy impact to industry collaboration, commercialisation and company creation. Learn how our speakers have leveraged the support available to them to further their career and translate their research into impact. The speakers are:
- Larissa Naylor, University of Glasgow
- Dan Hodgson, University of Edinburgh, The Physics of Goo: Impact from soft matter and complex fluids
- Laura Wicks, Heriot-Watt University, Lothian Lugs – flipped the model of university engagement
- Charles McLeod, University of Strathclyde, Innovation to impact: Enhancing through-life asset management, from cradle to grave
- Ross Gillanders, University of St Andrews
- Networking sessions
- Skillfluence will facilitate structured networking that will allow you to meet other researchers from across Scotland and creatively explore opportunities to collaborate.
Interface will be exhibiting at this event so come and join us.
The rECOver group focuses on identifying and developing robotics as a sustainable technology and their potential contribution to a more sustainable world while identifying and working to overcome the social and economic implications associated with their integration by closing the gap between domestic and international policymakers and industrial partners.
The rECOver group comprises of a unique combination of cross discipline researchers including scientists, lawyers, sociologists and engineers.
This ‘Collider Event’ at the National Robotarium in Edinburgh, will bring together these sectors into a multidisciplinary group of experts to engage in discussions that will identify and draw out key principles and issues that should be addressed when using robotics for sustainability and focus on questions such as:
•Robotics in a sustainable world: are they accelerating or hindering the objectives?
•Can the increased use of robotics for sustainable mining affect the critical material supply?
•How does the contribution of robotic technology affect the transition to a circular economy?
•How can potential negative socio-economic or political impacts of robotics use be mitigated?
Robotic technology is increasingly being used to drive us to a more sustainable world, for example, in the offshore wind sector. However, whether and how robotics themselves can be made more sustainable – socially and environmentally – is emerging as an issue of debate. The development and use of these robots require coherent interdisciplinary analysis suitable to understanding their potential socioeconomic and environmental downsides and to create better regulatory approaches to incentivize innovation while avoiding negative externalities.
Initially, rECOver is seeking to initiate conversation and collaboration among scientists, engineers, policymakers and social scientists to analyse the use of robotics in mineral acquisition for and recycling of sustainable or ‘green’ technologies by combining both techno-economic and socio-political analysis.
The Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC) is hosting its 2nd Annual Conference which will bring together industry, NHS and academia to discuss the latest services offered by stakeholders in the life sciences and healthcare sector.
This conference is unique in its breadth and offers the opportunity for delegates to find out more about initiatives set by the NHS and government, as well as learn about the latest advances by companies in the sector.
It will provide invaluable networking opportunities and companies will be offered free exhibition space on a first come, first served basis. Academia will have the opportunity to present their research work through a posters exhibition.
If you are interested in the latest MedTech news and tips, or seek further insight into growing your business, come along and be a part of this invaluable opportunity to network with like-minded individuals, companies and stakeholders in the Scottish life sciences and healthcare sector.
The morning session focus is on the services that SMEs can access to accelerate innovation.
The afternoon session will explore the activities and services in health and care offered by organisations such as Scottish Enterprise, the Centre for Process Innovations (CPI), and the Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre (DHI-Scotland).
The mission of the MDMC is to provide expert advice on manufacturing engineering, regulatory issues and funding, coupled with technically supported access to manufacturing facilities, to assist small- and medium-sized companies in the translation of medical device concepts through to small batch commercial prototypes. Services provided by the MDMC are free of charge to SMEs, with priority to Scottish SMEs at all times.
A consortium of 4 universities led by Heriot-Watt and funded from the Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund (AMCF) and the Edinburgh City Deal, the MDMC offers medical device development and manufacture in Scotland, providing companies with an enabling step towards first-in-patient-studies.
The Crover – the world’s first robotic device that ‘swims’ through grains to monitor their condition.
Crover Ltd https://www.crover.tech has developed the world’s first small robotic device, known as a ‘CROVER’, that monitors cereal grains stored in bulk inside grain bins or storage sheds. The CROVER device can “swim” within the grains and uses on-board sensors to measure local parameters, such as temperature and moisture, to build a full map of the conditions within the grains. Unlike current grain monitoring solutions that measure only one variable and have limited reach, the CROVER’s remote monitoring capabilities provide real-time data across a range of measurements allowing grain storekeepers to identify critical conditions, like hotspots early and maintain quality of the grains through proactive management.
Crover Ltd were a start-up when they initially approached Interface in 2019, they have since grown from two co-founders to 20 employees.
Since 2019 they have secured significant investment, raising over £600k in innovation prizes and grants (including Scottish Enterprise and Innovate UK). They then opened a seed funding round for investors and hit their £150k target.
The Challenges / Solutions
“When we initially met Interface, we didn’t have a specific R&D challenge as we were focused on developing our product inhouse. An obvious area for support would have been in the areas of design and engineering, however, through discussions with Louise, she assessed how our business worked and proposed that we undertake a project with the Scottish Financial Risk Academy (SFRA). The project with the SFRA helped us determine precise financial estimates of the value of Crover data to grain storekeepers and its impact on the grain storage economics. Understanding the financial impacts of Crover’s monitoring capabilities, had wider implications such as being able to quantify monetary value to grain insurers, and the potential to reduce insurance premiums for farmers and grain merchants.” Lorenzo Conti, Co-founder Crover Ltd
Following on from this initial project, one of the main technical challenges Crover Ltd faced related to the precise location tracking of the device within the grain bulk. Conventional signals, such as GPS and WiFi, did not work due to their inability to penetrate the solid grain bulk so a novel approach was required. Crover Ltd had undertaken some initial testing of different solutions, however they needed to tap into academic expertise in ultrasonic waves, positioning systems, electromagnetic signals, wireless sensor network (WSN) and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM), to help improve the accuracy of the device location. Interface connected them to the University of Glasgow who undertook an initial feasibility into a means of measuring and identifying the location of the robotic device in bulk grain storage. This was initially funded by an Impact Accelerator Account fund of £10k, which then led onto a further project where University of Glasgow and Crover Ltd secured a further £27K to continue the project to a successful conclusion.
Since the initial collaboration Interface has assisted Crover Ltd embark on several other successful collaborations focusing more on the future enhancement and performance improvement of the robotic device, by tapping into design and engineering expertise from several Scottish Academic Institutions. These involved:
- Heriot-Watt University (HWU) design engineering students looking at designs for a remote charging station for the Crover to allow re-charging when out on location.
- HWU design engineering students helping to develop an easily deployable, suspended cable system that provides cable above the Crover to facilitate its movement within grain sheds.
- University of Strathclyde’s design engineering students designing a water-tight sealing system for the Crover.
- University of Strathclyde’s Department of Design, Manufacturing and Engineering Management (DMEM), investigating suitability of design for manufacture.
The benefits resulting from the numerous collaborations which Interface have helped broker have undoubtedly helped Crover Ltd in both product development and business growth terms. Interface has helped open doors for Crover Ltd and helped Lorenzo and his team to establish strong links with academia resulting in some innovative and exciting developments.
Since its inception in 2019 Crover Ltd has grown from 2 employees to over 20 employees, has raised significant investment and secured over £600K in innovation prizes and funding.
Every year our planet uses more than 27 million tonnes of natural and synthetic rubber, making more than a billion tyres and more than 50,000 other rubber products that we use every day. Much rubber is simply burned after use and the rest scattered far and wide as a filler in other products. The scale of the waste is vast. However, as demand for rubber grows each year, we continue to plant more rubber trees and use more oil to make more rubber, wasting our planet’s valuable resources, causing deforestation and unnecessary damage around the world.
Edinburgh based Recircle, has created a breakthrough technology that allows rubber to be effectively recycled into high-quality applications. It’s a world first, which combines patented innovation, protection of our environment and economic viability. The Recircle technology relies on effective surface devulcanisation of rubber powders (the breaking of cross-linking sulphur bonds) derived from waste rubber.
Recircle were looking to develop rapid testing techniques suitable for high throughput screening in industrial application for the vulcanised and devulcanised rubber powders in order to assess the effectiveness of the devulcanisation process. The company was seeking universities with appropriate facilities to do this, with the aim of conducting long-term research on the optimisation of a biotechnological devulcanization process.
This would be essential for improving the company’s quality control procedures, as well as for application testing with new waste feedstocks provided by customers. The new standards would help the company provide higher levels of quality assurance to all customers, regardless of the materials being processed for them, and further cement its reputation as the provider of the highest quality materials in the market.
Louise Arnold from Interface successfully partnered Professor Nick Christofi, Chief Scientific Officer at Recircle, with Professor David Bucknall, Chair in Materials Chemistry at Heriot-Watt University. Together, they successfully applied to Innovate UK for KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) funding and were subsequently awarded £125k to fund a two-year project utilising the services of a post-graduate associate to develop rapid testing methods for the assessment of surface chemistry on polymer surfaces.
By providing the company with an innovative quality control process, the KTP will underpin the professionalisation and worldwide expansion of its current process capabilities; opening up a large opportunity for growth for the business in terms of materials they can process and global expansion of the customer base.
This collaboration has directly resulted in an increase in turnover as well as additional employment within the company.
An additional project to come out of the partnership was a consultancy with Zero Waste Scotland under a Circular Economy programme that aims to stimulate innovation amongst Scottish businesses to help them adopt more circular business practices, which treat all resources as assets – keeping them in use for as long as possible to extract the maximum value from them. Making available European Regional Development Funds, Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) is aiming to stimulate new business activity to identify, develop and bring to market new circular economy products and services. Through Professor Bucknall, Recircle received consultancy funding to examine the recycling of waste water from the Recircle devulcanization process and to generate new products from its waste streams.
If you would like to find out more about partnering with a university or college, please contact us.
Floco (formerly Lilypads Group Ltd) is a mission driven company that manufactures and sells reusable sanitary pads and provides menstrual health education. Founder and CEO of Floco, Alison Wood, strives to end period poverty and stigma by providing affordable reusable sanitary pads and education to communities around the world. They currently work in Malaysia and Kenya, with preparations to start working in Cambodia and Nigeria.
There is a growing market opportunity for natural, sustainable, durable, and reusable sanitary products in the UK and current reusable sanitary pads are limited by several factors including leakage, lack of absorbency and the very high price point.
The company aim to develop a product suitable for the UK market, with the long-term aim that profit from this product can subsidise the cost of their international pads, ensuring they are affordable to all.
During the product development phase, Floco trialled their product and learnt that the consumers found it more comfortable than their conventional sanitary pad. However, for these women the pad’s thickness was imperative; ideally the women could wear the pad all day and it be no thicker than standard disposable pads. With the current materials available on the market this looked unlikely and therefore the pad would need to be much thicker, limiting its attractiveness.
The company were also keen to look at ways to make reusable pads more affordable and environmentally friendly. They recognise that absorbent textiles are key to this development along with being able to ensure the current attributes of pads are maintained.
Floco approached Interface in the hope of undertaking a feasibility study with a research team to establish initial options and the key design principles for absorbent textiles that would offer the following attributes:
- High level of absorbency / not leak / keeping the user feeling dry / fast drying
- Do not need to be treated with chemicals
- Ability to be washed at 60⁰C for many cycles
- Compatible with body fluids
- Lifespan of two years
Following a search of Interface’s academic partners, Dr Danmei Sun, Associate Professor of Textile Materials & Engineering at Heriot-Watt University was introduced to Floco and undertook the initial feasibility project funded by a Scottish Funding Council Innovation Voucher. The results identified two materials – a quick drying fabric that was soft and felt like underwear and an absorbent middle layer than holds the moisture so even when pressure is applied it does not leak. The constructed pad is discrete, easy to use and wash and fits the user needs perfectly.
Floco tested the product and identified a manufacturer. The pad was launched to the market in July 2020 by Crowdfunder with sales in the UK subsidising Floco’s work internationally to ensure no one is limited by their period.
Following this initial project Floco returned to Interface to undertake a consultancy project around Strategy and Business growth. Working with a student at the University of Stirling, Floco have explored: the potential of targeting the pads at a specific demographic, behavioural attitudes towards buying sustainable products, analysing the sustainability of the whole business, not just the product, and optimising supply chain opportunities.
To learn more about Floco, please visit their website.