CleanRobotics cofounder and VP of Engineering Tanner Cook told Technical.ly you can expect to see the recycling technology company use the funding secured last year to build and sell more of its signature TrashBots, follow through with existing partnerships, and grow its team.
In 2022, the company also received a $400,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, a year after it was named a top-10 semifinalist in the IBM Watson AI XPrize competition. Prior to that, the 2015-founded CleanRobotics participated in the AlphaLab Gear accelerator and in a PGH Lab cohort.
The new seed funding is “a big, big deal [because] it helps us progress a lot of our efforts towards making a lot of TrashBots for a variety of different customers, as well as particularly in the Pittsburgh area,” Cook said.
The TrashBot is described as a smart recycling bin: When its owner throws away trash, the product uses AI, robotics and machine learning technology to separate recyclable materials from items destined for the landfill. Additionally, it provides the user with fullness alerts, waste data and feedback about their environmental impact. Cook said the company has a goal of manufacturing hundreds to thousands of TrashBots by the end of 2023 to meet the increasing demand of its customers.
“A lot of our customers are looking for not one or two TrashBots [but for] tens to dozens and beyond,” Cook said. So far its customers include the likes of The Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
To keep up with growth the company is seeking to bring on a robotics engineer and or electrical engineer who will be based in the Pittsburgh area. While CleanRobotics has what Cook describes as a “distributed” team, with only four people based in the Steel City and the manufacturing happening in Boston, Cook insists the company still has and takes advantage of its Pittsburgh roots. (Cook relocated from Pittsburgh to California a few months ago.) One example of this is its partnership with the National Aviary, based in Pittsburgh, to host a Food Reduction Education Program thanks to a grant the Aviary received from the Posner Foundation.
“We’ve got one of our units there at the Aviary just to demonstrate the Aviary’s long-term goals towards being a fully sustainable facility, and to do it in conjunction with CleanRobotics,” Cook said.
This is one part of the educational programming Cook said CleanRobotics would be engaging in this year. Another includes the company updating the content on its TrashBot screens to include more data.
“We’ll be able to update the content on the screen directly, based upon what people are throwing away at any given time,” Cook said. “So they’re learning stuff, and they can take home good habits that apply to recycling and or composting.”
Is the exec concerned about the possibility of a recession? Cook told Technical.ly that the market indicators are no longer there, therefore the company and its investors were moving forward as it had previously. So long as people are still willing to give TrashBots a try, Cook feels that CleanRobotics is in good shape for 2023.
“I think there’s a little bit of a consolidation, but it’s certainly not a recession,” Cook said. “From everything we’ve seen, all of our customers are still buying our TrashBots as much as they were before and, and we’re making just as much progress.”Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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