Imagine that big dustbin in the street is half empty but the lorry has to pick it up only because it’s Wednesday – rubbish day. It’s waste of time and petrol. But if the driver can see how full the container is, he could avoid picking up half empty ones and focus just on the full ones.
Slovak entrepreneurs from the start-up Sensoneo looked at this inefficiency in waste collection and solved it. They developed smart sensors that can monitor the level of waste in containers in real-time. The solution can save money for municipalities and waste companies because it enables them to optimize waste collection routes, frequencies and vehicle loads.
”The idea to start with this project came to my mind in a pub. We were chatting with friends who work in waste management. They mentioned there was a lack of something that can monitor how full dustbins are, mainly the big ones“ Martin Basila, cofounder of Sensoneo, says for InnovateCEE. Especially in the bins for glass with a small open hole, it’s almost impossible to see how full they are.
At the time, four years ago, ”smart waste“ was something new in Slovakia so it was challenge for the Slovak businessman with an IT background. Basila´s uncle began work on the hardware and another colleague was developing the software. Within two months they had prototype of a sensor that looked like a shoebox.
Sensor from Sensoneo: how it works
Smart sensors measure the content levels in bins via ultrasonic beams. They emit ultrasonic waves and measure the time for the wave to reach the rubbish and return. The gadget then calculates the distance and measures how full the bin is.
Once the data from measurement are collected they are loaded in the company´s cloud and analysed by software.
Waste managers can access these data and make data-driven decisions to improve their waste collection. The solution saves time and money for waste companies and for the cities. If they see that the rubbish bin is not full enough or the frequency of filling is lower, they can wait to empty it. Moreover, it can reduce carbon emissions as garbage trucks can more effectively plan their routes.
Finally the solution helps to optimize the capacity of bins and to encourage people to separate their rubbish. With sufficient capacity, there is always enough space for people’s trash, and the municipality can avoid having ugly, overfilled containers in the streets.
Small and smart
Of course there are competitors in the market in this sector. Companies from Turkey, Spain and South Korea are very active in waste monitoring. However, they are focused mainly on big special containers. Compared to these rivals, the Slovak sensors have several advantages. First of all, they are very small. The larger ones are the size of a cigarette packet, and the smallest micro sensor is in the process of being patented. “It has a rotating head and can be focused on all sides,” said Basila. Compared to the competitors, the Slovak sensors can be used in small garbage bins in the city centre and prevent tourists from seeing overflowing bins. Sensoneo also produces sensors with two ultrasonic beams. Moreover, installation is cheap and usage is universal.
”Our sensors can monitor any type of waste such as paper, plastics, glass, or metal,“ Basila explains.
Another advantage of the sensors is that they do not need to be connected to the classic internet. The data are transferred via wireless IoT networks such as Sigfox or LoRaWAN. These networks utilize a wide-reaching radio signal that passes freely through solid objects, called “ultra-narrowband” and they require little energy, so they are cheap to operate.
“Whenever the containers are out of these networks we can connect our sensors to the global system for mobile communication (GSM), although this is a more expensive solution,“ Basila explains.
However, if the customers want to see the analysed data they need to be on the internet. Ordinary people can get access to the data via a mobile app. It can navigate them where to go with a large empty TV box if the rubbish bin near their house is full.
Smart cities save with sensors
The Slovak startup has already sold products to real customers. The sensors have been initially installed in some Slovak cities, such as Trenčín and Nitra. In Nitra waste managers managed to reduce waste collection costs by 30% with active use of the sensors. “For us the first customers were a very important step as we found out that our product really works,“ Basila says.
Now the sensors are installed in 53 cities across 18 countries, mostly in Europe and the Middle East. The gadgets are suitable for cities, municipalities and companies who want to optimize their waste management. The demand has been rising in recent years. While two years ago the start-up sold 200 sensors, it now has installed more than 4,000 all over the world.
Now the company is focused on searching for more qualified people, and looking for investors. They want also to enhance the sensors with additional functionalities. “The waste economy is anticipating big challenges and changes and we want to be part of it,” Basila claims.
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“Slovak scientists are working on NanoScreen, a portable sensing device that could monitor water and food pollution. It is an innovation based on combination of nanotechnology, fotonics and organic chemistry. It can be useful as well in sports for detecting a doping or in security sector for detection of toxins or explosives”