Creating a Circular Economy for Lumber using Machines and AI
Eric Law is the founder of Urban Machine, a company that focuses on addressing the problem of wood waste in construction and demolition. Eric's journey into the field of reclaiming and repurposing wood began during his time working as Senior Director of Innovation at Swinerton, one of the largest construction companies in the U.S. His involvement in the company's sustainability initiatives led to a deep dive into the waste streams coming off construction job sites.
Reclaiming Lumber with Robots
Eric discovered that massive amounts of wood, approximately 37 million tons of dimensional lumber, is discarded each year in the United States. This wood, which could be reused or repurposed, is often sent to landfills or incinerated due to the difficulty and cost of removing metal fasteners like nails and staples. Eric recognized the potential for robotics to automate the process of removing these fasteners, making it more efficient and cost-effective.
Urban Machine's technology uses specialized cameras and computer vision to identify the type and orientation of fasteners, making the process more efficient. The World Economic Forum, describes it thus:
“The robot separates nails with an AI pincer, cleans the wood surface with wire brushes, and checks its suitability for reuse. By facilitating the reuse of wood in construction Urban Machine is enabling more low carbon new construction and reducing pressure on forests to supply new wood.”
The company's machines are designed to be deployed in various scenarios, including on construction job sites and at material recovery facilities (MRFs) where waste is collected. Urban Machine collaborates with demolition contractors and works to divert wood from landfills by processing it into a reusable resource.
How Eric is Building a Movement
Eric's vision for Urban Machine goes beyond waste reduction; it also involves promoting a circular economy by reintroducing reclaimed wood into construction, thereby reducing the demand for virgin lumber. The company educates architects, engineers, and builders about the benefits of using reclaimed wood and how it can be incorporated into their projects. Eric and his team are on a mission to mainstream the use of reclaimed wood, making it easy to source and easy to integrate into new projects.
Together, with sustainable solutions like rapidly regenerative structural materials and replacements for carbon-intensive materials like concrete, Urban Machine is helping to build a bright future for new materials with low-embodied carbon.
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