Belgian-British duo receives first Young Inventors prize

Belgian-British duo receives first Young Inventors prize
Victor Dewulf and Peter Hedley. Credit: European Patent Office

Belgian-born Victor Dewulf and his British business partner Peter Hedley won the 2022 Young Inventors prize awarded by European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich, Germany. The duo won with their waste recognition and automatic sorting system driven by artificial intelligence.

The Young Inventors prize 2022 is the first of its kind and is intended for young inventors aged 30 and under who contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Dewulf (25) and Hedley (27) share first place with Erin Smith, an American inventor who has created an application for the early detection of Parkinson's disease. As winners, they will receive a prize of €20,000.

Dewulf and Hedley’s invention, named Recycleye, uses a cellphone-quality camera mounted above waste conveyor belts to take 60 photos of the passing waste per second and send them to an algorithm, which ranks them for picking priority. Instructions are then sent to a robotic sorting arm, telling it where to pick up and place the waste. The entire solution can make 55 successful picks from a conveyor belt every minute.

"The use of computer vision and new technologies like robotics means that we can start to accelerate the automation of the (waste) industry," Dewulf told RTBF. "Ultimately, this means accelerating our economy's transition to a circular economy, until our disposal chains can be reintegrated into our supply chains."

The two came up with the idea in 2018 and began to work on a prototype using a treadmill in 2019. Dewulf realised how labour-intensive the waste sorting process was while visiting a waste-sorting facility as part of his Master’s in environmental engineering at Imperial College London. Hedley, working on a Master’s in computer science, jumped on board to work on the AI sorting system.

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"By increasing the possibility of recycling waste, their innovation contributes to a cleaner world for all of us,” President of the European Patent Office, Antonio Caminos, said.

Their company, Recycleye, was formally founded in 2019 and has since raised funds to further develop and spread the system in multiple countries across the world, including France and the UK.

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