Viridor, a UK-wide recycling, renewable energy and waste management company, have been working closely with the University of Sheffield's robotics team for two years. Within this technological partnership's existence, various robots have been produced which may positively effect current plant safety and efficiency measures.

This combined robotics project, is hoped to produce a working robot onsite in one of Viridor's Material Recycling Facilities (MRFs) within a year. This robot will hopefully execute a 'quality control picker' role, according to Viridor's development manager and co-ordinator of technology and innovation Mr Marcus Du Pree Thomas. He has expressed his excitement for the project's future progression, and adds that the project is the first project in which a waste company has worked with academia. Du Pree Thomas adds that that the robot will not only identify an object in the waste stream, but it will identify objects in the way we receive them. For instance, a crushed metal can will be identified as such rather than just a metal can. Toxins, both inside and outside objects, must be spotted. Du Pree Thomas believes that the only way for complex challenges of waste management tasks to be fully understood by institutions like the Univeristy of Sheffield, is by their team working and hence learning from us.

According to Viridor, this project will not only have particular and practical applications, but important health and safety applications too (which the university agree with). These health and safety applications are believed to arise due to the broad range of materials in the waste stream, like gas cannisters. The project largely focuses on sensor technology, to identify single components in a complex array of materials and spot non-target materials within the feed. One precise aim of the work is to recognize non-target materials from the feed into the MRF, hence preventing harm to the facility. Both the University & Viridor examined which type of robotics or ‘cobotics’ (i.e. a combination of robotics but with human intervention) was most appropriate for the task, with Viridor stating that robotics are the preferred technological choice.

The project's future advancement is not definite, but Viridor may potentially use hive robots to find and separate a certain material from a pile of waste. In their most recent report to Viridor, Sheffield Robotics team emphasised organized separation of materials as the recycling plant's main goal. The University of Sheffield’s senior research fellow Dr Jonathan Aitken, from the automatic control and systems engineering department, believes that autonomous robotics provides a reliable way to safely prevent harmful products before they are separated, hence avoiding the risk of plant damage, which Viridor say is currently expensive to manage. Aitken believes that combining robotics and intelligent sensing would give more information at source, as the robots would be able to show potential problems and identify key markers when waste is received even when these markers are hidden deep underneath other waste.