An Interview with the Environmental Super-Hero Company, TerraCycle
What is Terracycle and what is its main mission?
TerraCycle makes products entirely from collected waste. TerraCycle aims to eliminate waste by creating collection and solution systems for anything that today must be sent to a landfill. With more than 20 million people collecting waste in over 20 countries TerraCycle has diverted almost two and a half billion units of waste and used them to create over 250 different products, some of which are available at major retailers. Since its start in 2001, TerraCycle is now one of the world’s fastest-growing green companies which works with the world’s largest CPG companies like Kraft Food, Nestle, Frito-Lay, Mars, L’Oreal and Kimberly-Clark.
How can regular people get involved with Terracycle to help the environment?
The best feature of TerraCycle is that anyone can get involved! By signing up for free at www.TerraCycle.com, individuals are given the opportunity to join a Brigade. TerraCycle uses these Brigades to determine the type of waste one will be collecting. For example, any company or individual can get involved by joining one of the nine electronics Brigades, which include cellphones, keyboards, calculators, and even used laptops. These products would then be sent in to TerraCycle and transformed into new, innovative products.
What role do you see TerraCycle playing in 5 years? 15 years?
While it already plays a huge role in environmental efforts, TerraCycle will continue to flourish around the world over the next several years. Having recently opened more than 30 new waste collection programs in 2011 alone, more international partners will allow for TerraCycle to establish new Brigades and make new products. In addition to new locations, as the volume of collections increase, TerraCycle will be able to make more contributions to various charities. Additionally, on a more personal level, TerraCycle will be introducing home-based collections that allow individuals and families to help further reduce landfill waste.
What kinds of materials are recyclable and how much energy does it cost to break down these materials both in environmental terms as well as monetarily? Is it carbon neutral? If not when do you think it would be?
Well the answer to this question is very ephemeral. Material is only “recyclable” if there is a system to collect and recycle it on a large scale. In the US for example, some municipalities accept plastics #1 and #2 (PET and HDPE) and others except all plastics #1 – #7. Whereas the materials TerraCycle focuses our collection around (aluminized pouches, flexible film packaging and mixed-waste products like a pen) are considerable non-recyclable, but only because they are not collected in that iconic “blue box” they are very much recyclable in reality. As for the fiscal and environmentally sustainable of the recycling process, TerraCycle is living proof it is sustainable in both aspects. Countless 3rd party groups have performed lifecycle analysis on our process and products and show they are 40% – 80% more carbon efficient and our company’s growth is a testament to the fiscal opportunity it presents. That said, some recycling processes, or the recycling of some materials, has been shown to be less environmentally beneficial that originally thought.
Does the government help subsidize TerraCycle?
The only ‘subsidies’ TerraCycle receives are from the State of New Jersey. Because we are located in an economically depressed city, we are in an Urban Enterprise Zone and in return for job creation we do not pay NJ state sales tax or payroll taxes.
Is Terracycle a privately held company?
Yes currently TerraCycle is privately held with about a 1/3 of the company owned my employees and the rest by angel investors.
Do you ever plan to make Terracycle a publicly held company?
That is a potential “end game”. Right now we are very focused on growing the company in the US and internationally and expanding the number of waste streams we can collect and recycle. Where we go from there, only the future will tell!
Thank you for taking the time for this interview and thanks for helping the Earth!
An Interview with Jorgen Pedersen of the Robotics Company re2, Inc.
Peter: I see on your site that re2, Inc. is a leading developer of Autonomous Robotic Manipulation and Intelligent Modular Manipulation Technologies could you explain to my readers exactly what these are?
Jorgen: re2 is a leading developer of robotic manipulation technologies — or robotic arms. We call our arms “modular” because many of them include a variety of “plug-n-play” end-effectors or tools that go on the end of the arm – such as grippers, digging tools, door-opening tools, wire cutters, etc. These tools allow the robotic arms and the platforms that they are mounted on to be used for a variety of applications – thus extending the capabilities of the robotic platforms. They are also modular because they can be mounted on to a variety of robotic platforms from different robotic platform manufacturers. Robotic manipulators can also perform autonomous behaviors – meaning they can manipulate objects without the need for tele-operation. The autonomous behaviors can be
programmed into the robot. An example of this is the DARPA ARM program, which we are currently working on in a system integration and software development capacity. Robots that we created for this program were displayed in the Smithsonian museum last year.
Peter: re2’s expertise is in modular manipulation robotics and is in the process of commercializing the Small Robot Toolkit which was developed under a US Army SBIR Commercialization Pilot Program (CPP). Can you explain in more detail what the Small Robot Toolkit is and if or when it will be available to the public?
Jorgen: The Small Robot Toolkit was the company’s first robotic manipulator arm technology that was developed under a Small Business Innovation Research contract first awarded in 2006. The robotic manipulator arm includes several manually interchangeable end-effectors. The primary markets for this technology are military EOD units and domestic bomb squads. re does not currently develop consumer robotic technologies. Therefore, we are not planning to make this technology available to consumers.
Peter: Where do you see re2, Inc. in 5 years and what kind of products will you have?
Jorgen: It’s hard to predict where we will be in five years. But, I can tell you where I hope we’ll be. If we continue on our current path of hiring top-notch engineering talent, developing critical robotic technologies that improve the capabilities of existing robotic platforms and fielding systems that help save the lives of robot operators who perform dangerous duties – I expect the future will be bright. I hope to have a hardened line of plug-n-play robotic manipulator arms integrated onto EOD robots and deployed with EOD units both at home and abroad. We would like the name re to be synonymous with quality user-friendly robotic manipulation and end-effector technologies.
Peter: Do you ever see re2, Inc. having fully automated humanoid robots for the mainstream public? If so how long away are we from this?
Jorgen: We do not plan to develop humanoid consumer robots and don’t foresee that fully automated humanoid robots will be available for the mainstream public anytime soon. But we agree that it would be incredibly cool to have humanoid robots for consumer applications someday.
Peter: Thank you for the interview and enlightening our readers about your business and the DARPA ARM Program.
BIO: Jorgen Pedersen, President and CEO, founded re2, Inc. in July of 2001. Mr. Pedersen is responsible for the strategic direction of the Company, developing partnerships and alliances, and overseeing the Company’s business development efforts.
Mr. Pedersen is a leader in the unmanned systems standards community. He is the Chairman of the Standards Committee under the NDIA Robotics Division and has served under both the JAUS and SAE AS-4 committees. Mr. Pedersen sits on the Board of Directors and the Senior Steering Committee for the Robotics Technology Consortium.
Mr. Pedersen started his robotics career at Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), where he was responsible for handling multimillion dollar budgets and managing teams of engineers. After leaving the NREC, he joined Servus Robots, LLC as the Director of Robotics Engineering.
Mr. Pedersen was presented with the 2008 Army SBIR Achievement Award for the development of the Small Robot Toolkit for unmanned ground vehicles.
Mr. Pedersen holds a B.S. degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a M.S. degree in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. He currently holds two patents related to robotics.
An Interview with Dr. Eugene Ch’ng about Multitouch User Interfaces
Dr. Eugene Ch’ng is Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s Heritage and Cultural Learning Hub and the Visual and Spatial Technology Centre. He has formal education in a wide variety of fields (Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Interior Architecture, Information Technology and Computer Engineering). Eugene specializes in interactive digital media, interactive 3D, Virtual Environments, Agent-based Modelling for marine and terrestrial ecology that requires large computing clusters for processing of agent-interaction and computer graphics rendering. The fusion of 3D visualisation and artificial intelligence is a unique strength that is applicable to a wide variety of research. He has in the past worked on a number of interactive 3D projects related to the reconstruction of terrestrial landscapes (Individual-Based Modelling and Ecology), paleoenvironments, archaeological sites and heritage artifacts as well as various professional consultations in software, interactive digital media and web applications development. Some of his works can be seen at: http://opennature.org.
Peter: How did you get interested in Multiuser-Multitouch Surface Computing?
Dr. Ch’ng: I first saw the potentials of multitouch-multiuser surface computing on video five years ago and thought about the advantages of this new human-computer interface paradigm on both leisure and learning and how it will revolutionise the way we interact with computers and with each other. We have been working in a rather ‘selfish’ environment since the advent of computing where we worked individually and independently of each other. Even when a task requires collaboration, it is accomplished sequentially – I do a bit of work, I pass it to you, you do your bit, and vice versa until the task at hand is accomplished. This is due to the old paradigm where a mouse and a keyboard is the sole input device for the computer. Revolutionising the user interface to involving multitouch is a good thing for it opens up computing to a wider audience and makes true collaboration possible.
What path do you think a student or anyone interested in Surface Computing should follow to get involved?
The best way is the hands-on approach. The price for a multitouch LCD screen is becoming cheaper and Windows 7 onwards and various programming APIs and libraries are making it possible to develop applications. For the less technical audience, visit some of our partnering museums in the UK where Multitouch applications are being developed and experience it for yourselves. Also, the multimillion pound Library of Birmingham which are due to be opened in 2013.
Peter: Will gaming be the first place we see Surface Computing happening?
Dr. Ch’ng:Gaming will not be the first place to see surface computing happening. It will be heritage and cultural learning applications, or information kiosks in public places. Due to the current pricing of displays supporting multitouch, the general public are not able to afford them for home use, but pricing is projected to drop dramatically in the next few years. The gaming industry will need expert advice on human behaviour around multitouch interfaces for people have not interacted digitally in such a way before. Applications will need to be redeveloped based on user studies. The University of Birmingham’s Human-Computer Interface research group are working with us on these aspects with PhD students and research fellows working full-time around different issues.
Peter: What’s the latest project you’ve been working on?
Dr. Ch’ng: We have a number of projects on-going at the moment, from studies related to how users can collaboratively work together on tasks around a touch table, to learning behaviour in multiuser/multitouch interfaces. I’ve developed an interactive 3D object viewer where users can manipulate 3D objects as they would a physical object complete with realistic looking textures, shadows, gravity and general physics of objects. I’ve also developed a ‘feed the trilobites’ application where users can drop virtual food pellets onto a touch screen and see the creatures compete for the pellets. With active-stereo glasses, they looked like they are physically on top of the display!
Peter: When do you think Surface Computing will be available for the main stream?
Dr. Ch’ng: I project In about 5-8 years, it takes time for hardware to become cheaper, and it takes time for software developers to adapt to the new programming paradigm – multiuser AND multitouch.
What products/services do you currently see utilizing this technology what’s on the horizon for 5years / 10 years?
These devices will be in restaurants, public places, and as table tops in the homes. They may replace your mirror so that whilst brushing your teeth, you’ll be able to browse the latest news and check your calendar for the day. Perhaps even do some shopping for the day and heat up the living room.
Peter: Thank you for your time Dr. Ch’ng
Infographic of Google by the numbers:
John Underkoffler showcasing spatial operating environments (SOE) at TED.