Making It Work: Dublin start-up’s reverse vending machine uses AI to reward recycling

Sensi has created a device which recognises common recyclables and provides a digital bonus to those who use it

18th April, 2021
Making It Work: Dublin start-up’s reverse vending machine uses AI to reward recycling
Nathan Misischi, co-founder, Sensi: ‘Most of the RVMs on the market recognise items based on their barcode. Ours is the only one I know of that does it based on how they look’

Tech start-up Sensi has launched an intelligent machine that rewards people for recycling common items such as plastic bottles, aluminium cans and paper cups.

The Dublin company is run by Nathan Misischi and Dexmont Peña, who have built Sensi’s Reverse Vending Machine (RVM) using a type of artificial intelligence (AI) called visual recognition.

Misischi, Sensi’s sales director, said the “smart” machine was one of the first RVMs on the market globally to use this type of AI.

“We’ve spent a lot of time building up our data set, so our machine can recognise thousands of common recyclable items sold all the time in shops, cafés, forecourts, pretty much anywhere you can think of,” he said.

“Most of the RVMs already on the market recognise these items based on their barcode. Ours is the only one I know of that can identify items based on how they look.

“Once the RVM sees, recognises and accepts an item – a plastic bottle or a can, for example – you get a reward in the form of a digital voucher.”

Misischi co-founded Sensi in April 2019 with Peña, the start-up’s chief technology officer.

“Dexmont was working at Intel Movidius as a deep learning data scientist. We met through a mutual friend and found we had a lot in common,” Misischi said.

“We’re both entrepreneurial. We each wanted to run our own business. We decided to do it together. Dexmont’s experience in AI and machine learning was the obvious starting point.”

The pair plan to work with partners and distributors to get their RVMs to market in Ireland, Britain and North America initially. The machines cost from €5,000 to €10,000 and Sensi has already signed up its first partner in the US.

“We’re working with SBM, a facilities management company in California that has corporate customers all over America,” Misischi said.

“They work with Apple, Nike and Microsoft, and a lot of big pharmaceutical companies. They want to be at the forefront of sustainability.

“We started talking to them last August and they’ve agreed to use our RVMs at a number of client sites. We’ll be sending our first machines over to them within the next six months.”

Closer to home, Sensi is working on a number of pilot projects ahead of the planned introduction of state-run deposit return schemes for single-use containers in both Ireland and Scotland.

“The Scottish government is launching their scheme next summer and Ireland will follow in 2022,” Misischi said.

“Every time someone buys a drink in a single-use plastic bottle or aluminium can, they’ll have to pay a small deposit. They’ll get it back when they present the bottle or can at a designated recycling station. The idea is to encourage more consumer recycling outside the home.”

He and Peña are in talks with retailers in the Spar franchise network in Scotland and also with Circle K, the forecourt retailer, in Ireland.

“The idea is that we’ll have pilot sites up and running before the government schemes go live, which will prove our technology on the ground in both markets,” Misischi said.

Sensi employs four people in Dublin. Entrepreneur Séamus Devitt joined the start-up just over a year ago as chief executive.

Devitt has launched and sold three tech companies since 1992. He established Smartbin in 2010.

A developer of remote monitoring systems for the waste and recycling sectors, the Dublin company was acquired five years ago by OnePlus in the US.

“We see huge potential in the US and Séamus has gained a lot of experience in that market through Smartbin,” Misischi said.

“Having the right team in place is really critical to the success of any start-up. Having Séamus on board is incredibly important for us, because he has so much proven commercial and market experience.”

Sensi is a client company of Enterprise Ireland, the state agency. “They’ve supported us from the very start,” Misischi said.

“We took part in New Frontiers, their entrepreneur development programme, and we then got investment from their Competitive Start Fund.

“They’ve also given us access to mentors and we’ve used their Market Research Centre. They’ve made some really valuable introductions for us through their global network.”

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