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

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 …

  1. MondoMan

    not so hazardous IMHO

    Is there any actual evidence that "disassemblers" are being exposed to dangerous levels of substances through their activities? Just about all of it should be harmless unless you breath it in as fumes, use it to flavor your happy hour beverage, or ingest it as part of snack time.

    1. Eddy Ito

      Re: not so hazardous IMHO

      I think it's because the typical image of people doing this job is children in developing countries where sanitation is a non-priority and any chemicals used are likely left on the hands and ingested with the next meal or drink or inhaled while boards are burned or dissolved to salvage the metal traces. Fortunately these robots will put these kids out of a job and they will know a deeper level of poverty, not that I've got a solution to either problem much less both.

      1. MondoMan

        Re: not so hazardous IMHO

        Again, mythic images wouldn't seem to be evidence. I didn't see any chemicals or burning used by the robots here; in any case, hanging out over a smoky old tire fire is likely to be by far worse for third world child recyclers than the small amounts of not-so-toxic stuff in the electronic components. Do you have any evidence that the electronic components themselves are causing any health problems (as opposed to the tire/dung fires and so forth)?

        1. Eddy Ito

          Re: not so hazardous IMHO

          It comes down to using the technology you've got. For all I know the kids are using mercury to salvage the metallic traces and are finding out the hard way that mercury and aluminum really don't like each other or are becoming as mad as hatters. The robot has all the tech advantages and a consistent supply of electricity that the kids likely do not. The robot is also immune to the minute particles of lead, cadmium, etc. that come flying off with the little buzz saw. We do know that children in Guiyu have a higher level of lead in their blood. Then there is also Agbogbloshie which is one of the larger dumps for electronic waste and has several stories about the problems.

          I don't know that burning dung is all that hazardous however there is one study that seems to indicate the greatest danger from it is the airborne particulates and that it is either on par with or exceeds that of diesel or gasoline which puts it in the same realm of wood, straw or other typically available biomass. Since a good deal of the burning is done indoors in an open stove for cooking it compounds the issue presented for respiratory ailments including cancer. I would posit that proper ventilation and well designed stoves would reduce that problem greatly but again we're limited by the technology and affordability of the solution as compared to a fire pit dug in the middle of the room. Still, people have been burning wood and dung for several millennia with little ill effect but burning plastics, foam and rubber we know releases toxins like dioxin, furans and other carcinogens that have profound health risks.

  2. YetAnotherLocksmith


    If a trained human took 20 minutes (that video is sped up and has odd jumps such as at 2:40) to chop up one old monitor, you'd likely fire him.

    Yet spend years and millions getting a robot to do just that, & it is progress.

    1. as2003

      Re: Eh?

      Were you reading another article?

      > 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.

      Furthermore where are you getting "spend years and millions" from? It's not mentioned in the article or the press release how long they have been working on this, nor how much it cost. More to the point, who cares? It's their money and time to do do with as they wish.

      And yes, it's progress. Do you honestly expect the first iteration of an autonomous machine-learning disassembly robot is going to be perfect?

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Eh?

        No, I think YAL is onto something. Granted I didn't watch the video, but let's look at the quote from the article you are so proud of:

        professor Kara also reckons once a robot's learned its way around a screen

        which translated into plain English means Kara hasn't managed to get a robot to disassemble an LCD in a couple of minutes. So yes, he's flogging marketing PR to generate more money in hopes that with improvements to his learning system the robots will eventually be able to do the task in a reasonable amount of time.

        Maybe the "millions" is hyperbole, maybe not. If you look at the field of AI they've certainly spent billions on it and decades as well. You'd think with that kind of investment we'd have something to show for it instead of just getting more promises that something useful is just around the corner.

    2. TheProf Silver badge

      Re: Eh?

      Another boring YouTube video. Why don't these boffins* learn to edit before they post? Do we really need to see the robot make half a dozen attempts to take the back off a monitor? Show it cutting once and move on.

      (I only watched the first 2 minutes so please don't tell me if helicopters arrive and Hellfire the monitor into oblivion in the third reel.)

      *Not just boffins. A twenty minute video of unboxing a phone/camera/Batman statuette? AGGH!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Eh?

        "Show it cutting once and move on"

        The point was to show the robot making shallow cuts so as to remove just the relevant parts without cutting right through whatever is below it. ie, demonstrating that it is "learning" by making a cut then checking to see if the cut was deep enough.

        The disappointing part was not seeing it demonstrating the learned behaviour by showing that it can recognise another identical model and then chopping it up fast without error.

  3. Gene Cash Silver badge

    So who has the job of precision mounting the e-waste on the flipper table? Probably some poor Indian kid...

  4. Orange Skydiver

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

    If you can't recycle the display and printed circuit board, why does it matter whether you break them or not?

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Number Five is alive!

    No disassemble!

  6. saif

    The universal tool

    We used to say an orthopaedic surgeon's screw driver is a hammer, and for this robot a circular saw is it. I always struggle to find the right screw driver...but now my entire box of dozens of tools is going to be replaced with just one...

  7. Crisp

    First it's LCD displays...

    Next we'll be seeing whole swarms of these things tearing apart ship hulks for scrap.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    if they can get it to disassemble.. ipad air 2 then i would be very impressed.

  9. Osgard Leach

    Taking delicate things apart with a circular saw is just the sort of thing I used to get criticized for as a child. If only I'd known there was a career in it.

    I like to think there's another robot under the table putting all the bits back together for the OEM market.

  10. mr.K


    I am not all that convinced true AI is anywhere close, and I am glad. I do believe though that AI robots will be the next big, like paradigm big, move in technology and that it might not be all that far off. We have had robot assembly for a while now, but robots that we start to see that manages to act outside a confined strictly regulated environment is new.

    Resource harvesting, cultivation, waste management, recycling, transport etc can all be automated. Industrialization shifted us from labour intensive to energy intensive. This might actually shift it back to labour intensive ways, but done by robots. Yes, robots do need energy, but there is no reason that they can be cheaper in that regard to run than humans. And it is quite clear that manual labour in many areas is less energy consuming that using industrial tools.

    I am not sure though that mankind will benefit from it, but that is another story.

    You heard it here first people, now that it is predicted it won't happen.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I for one welcome

    Our clanking replicator Overlords.

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