Striving to create smart cities through solar-powered waste compacting bins, Los Angeles-based Ecube Labs Co. also uses data analytics and a resource management platform to optimize the efficiency of the waste collection value chain.
Available as both a web-based and smart device solution (iOS and Android), Ecube’s Clean City Networks (CCN) provides a collection of historical data and analytics reports, and enables operators to monitor their assets in real-time.
At the core of Ecube’s CCN are the CleanCUBE and CleanCAP. The CleanCUBE is a solar-powered waste compacting bin and the CleanCAP is an ultrasonic sensor that measures fill-level information in real-time.
Ecube labs emerged on the scene in 2015 and has expanded its reach in the two years since.
The product is similar what Newton, Mass.-based BigBelly offers. BigBelly’s cloud-connected systems serve more than 1,500 customers in 50 countries.
Waste360 recently sat down with Michael Son, CFO of Ecube Labs Co., to discuss Ecube’s products and the impact they hope to make on the U.S. solid waste industry.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Waste360: What makes Ecube Labs unique from other solar bin offerings?
Michael Son: Ecube Labs is known for its flexibility with clients in terms of technology customizations and pricing structure due to the fact that we own our vertical chain, meaning that we do pretty much everything in-house from manufacturing, hardware, software, design and sales. It is important to us to really understand our clients’ problems including their needs and requirements even before discussing any product selection.
Even though our products are mainly [business-to-business or business-to-government], the main benefit resides with the residents. Our goal is to maximize waste collection operations while reducing the unsightliness of public trash and simultaneously reducing the costs involved for everyday people, whether that [is] taxes or collection services from waste management [companies]. At the end of the day, everyone is a resident of a community and wants the best for their environment.
Waste360: How is this technology beneficial to municipal waste collectors?
Michael Son: By providing fill-level data, collectors can know which bins to collect and, with the help of CCN, be directed through an optimized route that not only goes to full bins but nearby soon-to-be full bins, calculated with our predictive algorithms.
Our CleanCUBEs really help further reduce costs because of their ability to increase capacity by up to eight times, truly maximizing personnel responsibility and collection trips and, as a result, all relevant resources—like costs, fuel. Our software creates transparency in an area that has been traditional conservative with new technologies.
Waste360: What is the future of this type of technology?
Michael Son: The trend in smart waste compacting bins in consideration to the greater scheme of smart cities initiatives is that it is now turning into a technology hub of a sort. Although the core functionality is the compaction and data transmission, it also can be equipped with various peripheral technologies to capture and analyze data of surrounding environments including air quality, noise pollution, foot traffic and beacon technologies for both marketing and monitoring of waste operations.
That said, many organizations are still trying to figure out ways for interoperability among their smart solutions. With this mind, we have been partnering with several companies to stay ahead of network solutions so that clients can easily come to us with system integration requests. Some of our recent partnerships include Washington, D.C., Hermosa Beach, Calif. and Universal Studios.
Waste360: How does the solar CleanCUBE work?
Michael Son: The CleanCUBE is powered by solar energy, and not only compacts trash, but also notifies users of container fill-levels, battery levels, fire detection and service notifications like if a door has been opened or if a collection has been performed.
At its core functionality, there are sensors that detect when trash is full and immediately initiates an automatic compaction. This data is then sent to our cloud-based software (CCN) for real-time assessment of fill levels and collection points.
Waste360: Explain the technology behind the compact feature.
Michael Son: Based on the compaction interval set by the user, the CleanCUBE will compact, for example, every hour. But it really is a plug and play type of product, where it is programmed to automatically compact once the trash container hits sensor threshold indicating that the bin s full. Once, a compaction cycle is triggered, the CleanCUBE utilizes a mechanical process to move the unique X-framed compaction module down and back up.
Waste360: How does the bin communicate that it is full?
Michael Son: Through a photo sensor, the CleanCUBE recognizes how full it is and, once full, notifies the user through Ecube Labs’ Clean City Networks—not to mention, there are LED indicators on the exterior for waste collector to quickly identify the status of the bin.
Waste360: What is the CleanCAP product? How does it work?
Michael Son: The CleanCAP uses ultrasonic technology to recognize a bin’s fill-level and GPS trackers to provide its location. This information is communicated to our servers through a telecommunications technology, like 2G, 3G or 4G, whereby it is given to users in a visually intuitive and easy to access format.
Because the CleanCAP can detect both liquids and solids, it offers wider range of applications both inside the waste management industry as well as other industries. It is most useful when utilized as a consultative resource for maximization of existing assets and labor.
Waste360: What type of data is collected by the bin?
Michael Son: Both the CleanCUBE and CleanCAP collects data on its locations, collections points, fill-levels and battery levels. Using this aggregate data, our software provides information on analytics regarding overflow frequency, collection efficiency and waste generation.
Waste360: Is the data collected in real time?
Michael Son: Yes, our data is collected in real time and as well as historical data for predictive analytics. Simply put, it is capable of machine learning, meaning that when customers install our products for more than three months, it can start to predict fill levels in advance for planning and scheduling.
The biggest drawback in real-time data is that it can only identify flaws in the waste collection operation. For example, if the standard weekly collections trips are 10 times but because we were able to identify the flaws, now the customer must go out there more frequently to cover the inefficiencies. Usually, with these smart bins, customers are only informed to collect thresholds greater than 80 percent.
By the time the trip is completed, additional bins will be filled or overflowing. For this reason, we have gone an additional step further to apply predictive analytics to understand the waste pattern generations in each location so that our software can recommend collection points at even 40 percent real-time fill levels. The logic is that by the time the route is completed, the bins that have been discounted due to their low fill levels can quickly fill and/or overflow. With these layers of analytics, we can truly reduce the number of trips.