Start-up Akanthas – “thorns” in Greek – has developed a digital technology aimed at helping players in the waste sector better manage this currently under-exploited resource. Based on image analysis using AI systems, the solution makes it possible to measure the filling rate of containers, but also to recognize the types of waste present in order to make the best use of them. Supported by the IFP Énergies nouvelles (IFPEN), the start-up is now looking to accelerate the development of its digital solution for the management and monitoring of industrial waste.
A “Linky counter” for waste. This is, in essence, what the Toulouse start-up Akanthas, created in 2021, has developed. “Our goal was to digitize waste production. The solution we have developed allows you to monitor everything that is deposited in a recycle bin. As we could do with a connected electricity, water or gas meter, we started to capture the information, but also to transform and analyze it to allow the actors in the sector to make the best possible decisions »sums up Viviana Contreras Moreno, CEO and co-founder of Akanthas.
a connected sensor
The solution is thus based on an intelligent – and autonomous – sensor that allows operators of production, collection or waste treatment facilities to obtain information such as the filling rate of their buckets, the nature of the waste deposited or the possible presence of undesirable elements. A sensor developed by the start-up itself, as highlighted by Viviana Contreras Moreno: “When initially testing the equipment available on the market, we quickly realized that it was limiting, especially in terms of energy efficiency. So we designed our own sensor.”
Like a camera, the device developed by Akanthas produces a timelapse of the contents of the bins on which it is installed. Captured at a regular rate, the images are then analyzed using artificial intelligence algorithms. “We use various AI models. These models use images but are also based on temporal data. They therefore allow for an interpretation, but also a prediction.says Viviana Contreras Moreno.
Already high performing and constantly improving
The device achieves an accuracy of around 90% when it comes to measuring bucket fill rate. The recognition of the material is still in the calibration phase, as the company’s co-founder explains: “System performance in this area improves as the solution is deployed to different customers. The sensor already detects the main waste families, but there is still room for improvement”. The Toulouse start-up turned to IFP Énergies nouvelles (IFPEN), a major player in research in the fields of energy, transport and the environment. In fact, the former French Petroleum Institute developed very specific knowledge in the area of AI and image processing; expertise that IFPEN will therefore make available to Akanthas as part of its innovation support system for SMEs and start-ups. “This support is a real plus for us as it allows us to accelerate our developments around AI and the expansion of the types of detected materials”explains Viviana Contreras Moreno.
After wood, cardboard or even plastic, the start-up is working on detecting more specific residues such as insulation or plasterboard. Enough to expand the range of sectors for which your solution is intended. “We have a sectoral approach. We work both with professional waste producers, such as the manufacturing, agri-food, construction, etc., details Viviana Contreras Moreno. One year after its creation and implementation of its first pilots, the company already has six customers. “We hope, by the end of the year, to exceed ten customers, which should involve monitoring two to three hundred containers”reveals the CEO of Akanthas.
a subscription offer
In terms of the economic model, Akanthas has a subscription, avoiding investments in hardware for its customers. The start-up thus offers a monthly package that includes the sensor as well as the data analysis services associated with it. A subscription that also includes the maintenance operations necessary for the proper functioning of the solution, the amount of which varies depending on the number of silos or waste storage cells equipped. “We offer a turnkey solution, very customizable according to the specific needs of the client”emphasizes Viviana Contreras Moreno.
And in addition to this monthly subscription, Akanthas offers a more punctual support offer, as its co-founder details: “We are also working in diagnostic mode. This usually lasts for eight weeks, during which we install the equipment and then monitor the activity to identify what is wrong and thus issue, thanks to our system and its AI, recommendations for concrete actions. This allows advising actors on best practices, the most relevant actions to be implemented in the field”.
Convinced that waste is a resource far from being 100% exploited, the start-up leader thus intends, with her solution, to act directly at the source to make the most of it. “One in two dumpsters leaving industrial and construction sites sees some of their contents buried or incinerated while there is recoverable waste inside”says Viviana Contreras Moreno, highlighting the financial and environmental consequences that this generates. “We came to act both in the financial, operational and environmental aspects, allowing the development of more sustainable approaches, integrated in the circular economy”concludes the co-founder of Akanthas.
Enough to “take a thorn in the side” of waste actors… “Waste is often seen as such by all stakeholders. Our aim is therefore to come and remove this “thorn”, hence the company name, Akanthas, which is the Greek translation”, finally blurts out the leader of the young company whose logo is none other than an owl with a piercing gaze. Another symbol used this time as a metaphor for the performance of your sensor in terms of vision.