Boffins train robots to pull apart LCD screens – without breaking them

WELCOME, our robot overlords

Computer scientists at the University of New South Wales are teaching robots to rip apart computers for recycling.

Of course, while it's easy to use a machine to disassemble something, their trick is to do it while preserving key components. Which isn't quite as easy as it sounds.

The group, comprising researchers from UNSW's School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and School of Computer Science and Engineering, started with LCD screens. The idea is to program self-learning routines into the robots, so that they can learn from their errors.

As project leader Professor Sami Kara says in the university's release, the robots “break one or two, but then they learn and they don't make the same mistake again”.

Not only that, but professor Kara also reckons once a robot's learned its way around a screen, it only needs a couple of minutes to disassemble it.

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“The idea is to remove the display and printed circuit board without damaging them because the rest can be recycled.”

The university hopes to attract participation in industry trials, which – given the amount of e-waste out there – Vulture South hopes isn't too hard to find.

The university says getting robots to handle e-waste has two aims: first, to deal with the build-up of products that laws say have to be recycled, but the recycling mechanisms can't keep up; and second, to reduce peoples' exposure to the often-hazardous chemicals in electronic products. ®

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