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Microsoft pours into AMP Robotics’ nearly $100 million round for its recycling robots

A high-speed robotics system from AMP Robotics picks out recyclables on a conveyor belt . Photo courtesy of AMP Robotics

Landfilling all of our trash doesn’t add up for the planet and it doesn’t add up mathematically either.

According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, recycling contributes nearly $117 billion to the United States economy, recovering millions to billions of dollars worth of valuable commodities. For the manufacturing sector specifically, that impact adds up to $9.8 billion, and for the infrastructure business, the impact is $4.9 billion.

As summed up in a McKinsey insights article, plastic recovery alone could represent an additional $2 to $4 billion per year of national income, if only the U.S. caught up to other industrialized nations when it comes to the recycling race.

In the U.S. recovery rates for packaging and food-service plastic are about 28%, paling in comparison to 90% in other leading industrialized countries, like Germany and Japan, both of which have nearly eliminated the landfilling of plastics.

Of course, however, the U.S. has more trash than both of those countries, producing the most municipal solid waste in the world. So the solution will take more manpower or in the eyes of Denver, Colorado-based startup, AMP Robotics… robot power.

Image Credit: zibik // Unsplash

Landfilling and incinerating our trash costs us. According to research from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, landfilling 86% of plastic, combusting 9%, and recycling only 5% in 2019 “represented significant losses to the country's economy.”

How much exactly? $7.2 billion — and that’s not even counting the cost of the fossil-fueled energy and emissions it took to produce and get rid of the now wasted material.

According to the report, a “substantial amount of landfilled plastic waste could be recovered through advanced sorting, existing, and emerging recycling processes.”

That’s where AMP Robotics comes in.

Despite the environmental and economic possibilities of recycling, it’s not a popular job. Indirectly and directly, the recycling industry generates 506,000 jobs, but it’s still not enough, according to Matanya Horowitz, CEO and founder of AMP Robotics.

As the company explains on its website, after visiting a materials recovery facility and seeing not only how demanding work conditions were, but how wasteful the processes can be, Horowitz recognized the industry both was neglected and ripe for change.

To Horowitz, machine learning represented an untapped opportunity to automate tasks that historically, were labor intensive, high cost, inconsistent, and limiting.

Now, the company has raised a $99 million Series C round for its recycling artificial intelligence technology, robotics, and infrastructure. The round, which initially closed in November at $91 million, was extended this month with a huge investment from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund.

The AI identification output of objects on a conveyor belt, as seen through the camera or "eyes" of an AMP Robotics system. Photo courtesy of AMP Robotics

The round was led by Congruent Ventures and Wellington Management, with participation from Blue Earth Capital, Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, Tao Capital Partners, XN, Sequoia Capital, GV, Range Ventures, Valor Equity Partners, and now Microsoft.

“We’ve been fortunate to attract world-class investors based on the proven viability of our AI platform as a category-defining technology application for the waste industry, and we’re grateful for the investment from Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund,” said Horowitz, founder in a statement.

“With its deep expertise and innovation in AI and broad involvement in climate, Microsoft brings an unmatched perspective to our work here at AMP. This new funding will further our efforts to improve the economics and efficiency of recycling and transform our industrialized global economy into a more circular one.”

While the company has worldwide ambitions, in the near term, it plans to grow its secondary sortation business in the U.S. across its three production facilities in the Denver, Atlanta, and Cleveland metro areas, TechCrunch reports.

Since its first round in 2016, the startup has raised a total of $178 million, all with the goal of rapidly scaling the technology to not only meet the demands of the climate crisis but the economic demands across the U.S. and the globe, from labor shortages and wasted commodities to brands’ own post-consumer recycling and sustainability commitments, both self-established and increasingly, legally-required.

In 2022, AMP says its AI platform identified nearly 75 billion objects. Its flagship product, AMP Cortex, sorts, picks, and reclaims plastics, cardboard, paper, cans, cartons, and other containers and packaging types.

According to the company, Cortex can perform 80 to 120 picks per minute. That must be why AMP’s fleet of around 275 is present in about 100 centers, with several owned by Waste Connections, one of the largest full-service providers of solid waste collection across the U.S. and Canada, and AMP’s biggest customer.

Earlier this month, just before Microsoft’s investment, AMP unveiled a new product: AMP Cortex-C, a compact version of the first Cortex, ideal for materials recovery facilities (MRFs). According to the company, the Cortex shines in tight conditions where it's hard to staff existing labor.

With nearly 300 installations, AMP says the Cortex-C was born intelligent.

“The current MRF infrastructure is insufficient to capture the billions of dollars worth of recyclables that go unrecovered annually, and its high-cost burden compounds this problem, making recycling economically unfeasible in many geographies,” stated Gale Clark, the general manager of AMP’s facility solutions group.

“Our technology can influence not only sorting processes within the current MRF infrastructure, but the design of AI-powered facilities to increase efficiency and recycling capacity, prevent loss of recyclables to landfill, and supply greater volumes of post-consumer recycled content. AMP brings creative structuring so customers experience capital efficiency in partnering with us.”

The Cortex-C was announced alongside the unveiling of AMP’s integrated, standalone facility that offers recycling infrastructure for waste management companies, further streamlining the process.

It also came on the heels of the 2022 launch of AMP Vortex, a machine made to tackle film contamination and improve the recovery of film and flexible packaging, creating what AMP calls a “first-of-its-kind” innovation to separate the film from the 95 pounds of grocery bags, storage bags, pouches, and wrappers found in the average U.S. home each year, currently hindering recycling.

“There’s an urgent need for solutions and ongoing innovation to address our critical waste crisis,” Brandon Middaugh, senior director of the Climate Innovation Fund said in a statement. “AMP provides a powerful and scalable application of AI-enabled automation to help meet the world's imperative climate objectives by extending the circular economy.”

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