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Amy L. Murphy: Hello and welcome to our podcast. This podcast is part of the IoT Rapid-Proto Labs, which is an Erasmus Plus funded program creating new IoT talents in Europe. In the program, students from different European universities have the opportunity to contribute to real-life business cases with IoT. 

Today we’re going to talk about garbage. Actually, we’re going to talk about something called a smart bin. Here for the conversation, we have two people from Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, Italy. 

First, there’s myself. My name is Amy Murphy and I’m a researcher here and Elizabeth Elisabetta Farella. She’s the head of a group called Energy Efficient Embedded Digital. 

Elisabetta Farella: Hello. 

Amy L. Murphy: As I said, today we’re going to talk about garbage, but it’s not just any kind of garbage, it’s special garbage called E-waste. 

Elisabetta, can you tell us what E-waste is? 

Elisabetta Farella: E-waste is also called the WEE because it stays for waste of electrical and electronic equipment, which is everything that has some electronics inside.  

Like a computer or TV or something related to your everyday appliances at home. From the small one for the kitchen to the big one, like the bridge and everything. So, there are several categories of E-waste. 

Uh, and that’s all.  I mean, everything is equipped with electronics. That in this period of our life is growing in terms of the amount of objects that have these.  

So, consider that, uh, as far as I know from in the last 10 years, they’ve grown from 5,000,000 stones to 12 million stones of E-waste in general.  At least in Italy or in Europe.  

So, this is becoming a problem because it’s important to handle these in a proper way. 

Amy L. Murphy: So, what’s the proper way to handle it? What should be done with all these things that we’re throwing away? 

Elisabetta Farella: Well, first of all, they are not a usual waste, so you cannot just throw them in the typical bin that you have for food waste or other kinds of waste.  

It’s important to bring them, at least in Europe, to the appropriate place, where this kind of electronic object are dismantled and properly treated.  

Or if they still work and are still operative, they can be donated to charities or to repair places, where they know how to take value from them. 

So, those are typically the three roads that E-waste can have. 

Amy L. Murphy: Okay, so I know that you learned a lot about E-waste as part of the project. Can you talk a little bit about that project and who else is involved? 

Elisabetta Farella: Okay, this is a project that has been funded by the European Union under the program of the key climate, the ATA IT climate.  The project involves several partners from companies and research centers to universities. 

Amy L. Murphy: Okay, so what’s the project doing with E-waste? 

Elisabetta Farella: The project has three piloting experiences where we aim to help people to change their behavior towards waste. Learning how to handle it properly, knowing the different possibilities they have.. 

Amy L. Murphy: So, what are people doing right now with E-waste is wrong? They’re just throwing it in the garbage bin and throwing it out with the regular garbage? 

Elisabetta Farella: It depends on the pilot. So, in Trentino, we are working with the school children of the primary school. We implemented the Fix campaign, where they have to bring each week at school a certain kind of waste. We of course are working only with small E-waste, when it comes to them, because of the motivation. 

Amy L. Murphy: So, they can’t bring the washing machine to school? 

Elisabetta Farella: No, no they have to bring, for example, I don’t know, the kettle or something like this. Something small. But also the smartphones. All the smartphones don’t work anymore. 

They also gain credits and have tasks at home with the family. So, the families are also involved. We hope to change also the behavior of the adults, not only of the children. They have to classify the objects because the objects can have three possible paths.  

They can be recycled in E-waste centers, or they can go to charities or to the repair facility. So, depending on this, they have to answers some questions in a mobile app on the smartphone of the family. They go to school where the teacher calls everyone that has brought an object and puts all the data in a web app at school. 

Amy L. Murphy: So, the idea is that you’re trying to convince the families to take all the E-waste that they’ve been collecting in their house and didn’t really know what to do with it, and instead to take it to a place where it can be recycled properly and learn what they can do when the project ends so that they can recycle it, right? 

Elisabetta Farella: Perfect and at school, they also can verify how many different materials they have collected. So, it’s not only a game, it’s also an educational game because they can see directly how many materials they are collecting and saving for hands-on… 

Amy L. Murphy: That’s cool. How old are the kids that are doing it? 

Elisabetta Farella: Well, they are in primary school, so the smallest ones are 6 years old, maybe five, and they go up to 10 years old. 

Amy L. Murphy: Okay, so this is all really cool, but this podcast is about IoT. Can you say where IoT comes into this project? 

Elisabetta Farella: Yes. All the objects are collected in smart bins. So, we have three smart bins in Trento. While, for example, in the other pilots they have kind of smart bins.  They are electronically augmented to communicate directly with the cloud.. 

Amy L. Murphy: So, the bin itself becomes a thing and part of the Internet of Things? 

Elisabetta Farella: Yes. Exactly. 

Amy L. Murphy: Okay. Wait, why is it smart? Sorry, I interrupted you. 

Elisabetta Farella: It is smart because it enables to take some characteristic of the object, like the weight. Of the object that is thrown out, and for example, the time. 

In our case, we want also to track perfectly from the object from the House of the children up to the center where it will be even dismantled or repaired. So, we have a code for each object. 

This code is transmitted and follows the object for all the chain up to when all the objects are collected by the operator, which can be the dismantling center. After that, the object is again checked and verified, so we know exactly the path that the object does from the beginning to the end. 

And this is collected also from the database that is in the cloud, so we can perfectly, somehow, see the statistics, where there are errors, and all this information can be useful for the end-user.  

For example, to prepare the dismantling center to do a certain job, because it’s not easy to extract the materials from these electronic boards that arrive at the center. 

Amy L. Murphy: Okay, so that’s what you did in the project. You came up with this kind of bin that’s able to collect the information that the kids collect in the school and follow all of these devices.  

But my understanding is that the smart bin has also been proposed as a kind of a pilot or a project inside the IoT Proto Labs, so to allow the different students from IoT Proto Labs to use this as experimentation. 

Can you talk about why that’s a good idea or what are the different elements that are from design or hardware or the software cloud side that IoT Proto Labs actually can use or can exploit from this smart bin idea? 

Elisabetta Farella: Yes. This is a case study that involves a lot the interaction with the citizens and with the individuals. So, it’s really important to consider the human factors, when you think about this kind of collection.  

So, there is a need to look out how the smart bins should look like. If it is for an adult or children. So, from the basic and understandable things like should it be colored for children or maybe more boring for an adult. 

But more than this, how the smart being can interact with the children. What is all directed should be around these to enable citizens or children to be motivated to bring things appropriately. 

Amy L. Murphy: So, there’s lots more that maybe could be done from the design perspective than you were able to do in the project, and that’s something that the students in IoT Proto Labs can explore? 

Elisabetta Farella: Yes, so the other thing is probably that the tracking part can be greatly improved. Of course, the project was a three years project with many other tasks to do, so we couldn’t address every aspect, but for sure the team who was following the objects understand better how to manage better the change after that the object is disposed of. 

It’s really, I mean another topic that where IoT hardware and software can help a lot. 

Amy L. Murphy: Hardware, because you’re talking about tracking the bin and software because you want the data to go into the cloud? 

Elisabetta Farella: Yes. for example. You can do many nice experiments of the fact that some GPS devices were put not in all objects, but for example on the being or on some objects to follow exactly what happens. 

Because unfortunately there are also delinquency events when we talk about E-waste because they have precious metals inside them.  

So, there is another domain of things that could be prevented at least.  

So, this is an example, another example, providing a service to the citizens they can have, I don’t know, a dashboard to understand, if there is a point of collection nearby their house. Or if the bin is full. 

If it’s so, for the public administration to go and free a certain being if it’s full, etc. So, some logistics things can be done and then appropriately by an IoT complete stack. 

Amy L. Murphy: Yeah, that’s neat, because it’s all about the things and the way the things that are independent fit into a whole. So, if there’s this bin and then there’s a company that goes to collect it. And then there’s the company that tests to take it apart and making sure all of these parts and pieces work together. That’s a hard IoT problem. 

Elisabetta Farella: Yeah, there are many, many stakeholders with different requirements. So, I mean, the more we can capture through technology, the more information can help the public administration and the other stakeholder to do the proper job. 

Amy L. Murphy: So, one thing is to let the students of IoT Proto Labs explore and go crazy with the idea because they don’t have the constraints of the project, they just have the idea to make something better, but did you give any feedback from the teachers and the students about what could be made better or what would be a useful feature for them to have? 

Elisabetta Farella: Well, we proposed this small experiment, this pilot recently with Haaga-Helia, one of the partners, and they implemented a very nice example of gamification through an app, where children could go around and collect score points and credits doing a good job of disposing of waste. 

Amy L. Murphy: Okay, I don’t think I have any other questions. Is there anything else you want to say, either about IoT Proto Labs or about the smart bins? 

Elisabetta Farella: No, nothing really. There’s plenty of room for innovating here because there’s still, this is something that is growing and yeah, I invite everyone everybody to have a look at our activities.  But also in all the other projects that keep climate is funding on this theme and contribute. 

Amy L. Murphy: And at the very least, you can help us empty our closets of all these, we waste that we’ve been collecting over time. Okay, thank you Elisabetta for talking with me about this smart bin, about garbage. And about all these things and thanks also to the team of the Rapid-Proto Labs for listening and for facilitating this podcast. 

Remember to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter if you found our podcast interesting.  

Thank you. 

Elisabetta Farella: Thank you.