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Intelligent waste bins

Sensors keep things tidy

01/2017 - Rubbish has never really been a topic for small talk. Yet that could soon change with the advent of the intelligent waste bin. Because thanks to digitalisation and the Internet of Things, we can now keep a closer eye on rubbish – and that means cleaner stations.

Sometimes extraordinary ideas are developed for quite normal subjects. Refuse, for example, is certainly not a basis for small talk – unless you take a closer look. We are all familiar with the phrase “where there’s muck there’s brass”. All well and good, but the intelligent waste bins are not about “brass”, or money, in the literal sense, rather in terms of improved quality of service, time-saving and conservation of resources.

As a service provider concerned with every aspect of Facility Management, DB Services takes trouble to ensure that station platforms are kept clean. At first glance, certainly not an area where digitalisation plays a major role. Yet a perfect opportunity for DB Systel to surprise its long-term partner with the concept of an intelligent waste bin. During a tour of the Skydeck, colleagues from DB Services were presented with the idea of equipping a waste bin with sensors. These were to automatically determine when the bin was full and transmit this information to the new cloud-based IoT solution operated by DB Systel. By means of a “DB Waste Management” web portal, it is then possible to monitor how full the waste bins are. This not only prevents them overflowing, but also avoids unnecessary emptying.

The fact that the idea was spawned in the Skydeck was no coincidence. The Skydeck is where the topics of “Big Data“, “Internet of Things (IoT)” or “Predictive Maintenance” are dealt with. The attention here is always focussed on one thought: what benefit does digitalisation bring to our customers? The intelligent waste bin is one example of how these technological terms can be brought to life. For André Obiora at DB Services, the potential of such a solution was immediately apparent:

We can use it to improve quality, while at the same time enjoying the positive economic effects.

André Obiora, CIO DB Services

Previously, waste bins were emptied according to static routine schedules – regardless of how full they were. This often meant that some were already overflowing while others had been hardly used. The consequences of overflowing waste are litter, vermin, unpleasant smells and inefficiency of waste collection. On the one hand, the digital solution would eliminate unnecessary trips to bins that did not require emptying. On the other hand, staff would be promptly informed if the bin had reached a specific level. This would avoid staff being caught unawares by overflowing waste bins. A further step toward improving the value promise to customers in the field of cleaning services. With a proof-of-concept, this nice idea is to be put to the test.

Test at two stations

Together with DB Station&Service, the station operator, tests are currently under way to determine how this idea can be realised in practice. To this end, in early 2017, the existing waste bins at two trial stations (Berlin Central and Berlin Oberspree) are to be equipped with the corresponding technology. The two selected stations embody very different characteristics. One station is extremely busy with a correspondingly large volume of waste, while hardly any passengers use the other station. “To us it was important that we run pilot projects at both extremes so that the test results would be meaningful”, says Obiora.

DB Systel is providing the solution, while the sensors are being installed on site by DB Services.

The challenge is to find suitable and economical level sensors which can be fitted to the waste bins and have an energy efficient transmission link to the IoT cloud

Jörn Petereit, Head of IoT/M2M DB Systel

For the proof-of-concept, a level sensor is used which has a lithium battery with a life of seven years as its power source and uses an in-built SIM card for transmitting the recorded data to DB Systel’s IoT cloud. In future, sensors are to be installed with low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) support, as soon as this transmission technology is universally available. This could then considerably reduce the cost per sensor, as well as the costs of data transmission.

History plays its part

Once the sensors and transmission technology have been installed, the intelligent waste bin detects the level at all times – regardless of whether liquid or solid contents are involved. In addition, the sensors send alarms if there are unusual fluctuations in the level or if there are changes to the location. This real-time data is linked to historic level data which can indicate, on the basis of experience, on which days a particularly high volume of waste is to be expected. Thus the system knows, for example, how waste bin levels will be affected after concerts, festivals or football matches.

In the “DB Waste Management” portal the location of the respective container is indicated, along with its current level. If a waste bin contains hardly anything, there is no need to make the trip to empty it, which saves a lot of time. “I have made some quite conservative calculations of this for our largest stations. If I save half an hour per day at each station, I have in effect saved time worth 100,000 euros over the whole year, which can be used for further quality improvement measures”, claims Obiora. In addition, this cuts travel expenses such as fuel and the wear and tear on vehicles, while CO2 emissions are also reduced. And more trivially: fewer bin liner bags are required. At the end of the day, therefore, an intelligent waste bin would even create less waste. “Of course, the project should in some way pay for itself, yet for us the possible quality improvement is the focus of this trial.”

The trial will be completed in February 2017, but it is already clear that there would be many more possibilities for recording levels intelligently. One thing is quite clear: rubbish is not the end of the story.

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A multi-sensor prototyping platform, in this case a sensor from BOSCH. This measures the acceleration, the position in the room, magnetic fields, humidity, pressure, temperature, acoustic and light conditions and transmits this information via WLAN and Bluetooth.
@ Bosch Connected Devices and Solutions GmbH

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