SFU installs non-grouchy trash-sorting robot assistant named Oscar at Surrey Campus

Tests showed that correct waste bin usage went up nearly 50% with Oscar

By: Gurpreet Kambo, News Team Member

Oscar has little to say when you hold up a copy of The Peak to him. He just points to the appropriate waste bin.

“That’s your phone! Put it in your pocket,” says Oscar, if you hold up your phone to him.

Is Oscar a disgruntled former SFSS exec that got criticized by The Peak? Is he weighing in on the Old Media versus New Media debate?

Actually Oscar is a new robot that has been installed in the Mezzanine at SFU’s Surrey campus. His flaming hot take on SFU’s student newspaper isn’t as hot as it initially seems — he’s a tool meant to help students put their garbage in the appropriate disposal bins.

Oscar looks like a television screen attached to the top of SFU’s familiar four-bin disposal units, with a discreet camera at the bottom of the screen. Many students are familiar with the inability to figure out where to throw their garbage. 

“Hey! Hey you!” Oscar enthusiastically says, when you approach. “Got trash? Show me.” 

When you hold up your waste, the camera tries to identify the type of garbage, and points to the appropriate bin to throw it in. The Peak had a chance to talk to Vivek Vyas, SFU alumnus and co-founder of Intuitive A.I., the company that designed Oscar. He stated that while Oscar does use some words, he communicates mainly in pictograms and is “language-agnostic” (which is why The Peak could only get the above few words out of him upon follow-up).

Oscar had his grand unveiling on Tuesday, July 23, at SFU Surrey. 

“Not everybody gets excited about waste, or zero-waste rather. We do. [Oscar is] fully part of our zero waste program,” said Kayla Blok of SFU’s Sustainability Office. “We want to give individuals tools to lead sustainable lifestyles, we want to give them the literacy capacity so they understand [sustainability].” 

According to Vyas, initial tests of Oscar at the Vancouver campus were very effective. “Compliance went up to almost 82%,” he said, where the earlier data for SFU’s bins were “close to 30 or 35%.” 

Blok is aware, however, that SFU community members may have privacy concerns related to an always active camera recording them as they go about campus. According to Blok, SFU has given much consideration to privacy issues when it comes to Oscar’s implementation.

We have that baked right into the contract. The technology doesn’t actually capture any personal data from anyone. It wipes out all faces and that’s designed right into the artificial intelligence itself. The only information we’re collecting is on the articles that it’s telling you to sort, and the contamination rates. When we know those products coming in, we can think about better design decisions, and the placement of bins [etc].”

Though currently SFU Surrey campus just has one Oscar, in the coming months SFU is looking to implement more ‘Oscars’ across all of the campuses.

“The climate crisis is a global problem and so we need to think big, and be really bold in the actions that we’re taking as an institution,” says Blok. “We only have less than twelve years before we’re into a bit of a catastrophic situation [ . . . ] our upcoming 5 year plan is focused on those kind of bold actions to move that agenda.”

Oscar, though, is laser-focused on his single responsibility. “Good job,” he says, when you throw an item in the correct bin, while showering the screen with delightful confetti. Unlike his namesake, Oscar is non-grouchy and downright cheerful about the prospect of living one’s life in a trash bin.

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