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Press Articles

Managing Waste; It’s Virtually Reality

We are seeing a technical revolution with the convergence of mapping and 3D visualisation that is moving us all into a virtual world. Robert Peel, Technology Writer, looks at the impact on the world of waste and recycling.

It does not seen too long ago that we were amazed with those demonstrations showing someone wearing weird goggles looking at a screen and moving around a make believe computer generated room. Well, here we are in 2014 and future has well and truly caught up with us. Not only has mapping really moved into virtual reality with real life aerial photography replacing road maps but increasingly the world can be viewed in 3D. And you can literally visit virtually any street in the country, or world for that matter. Just go onto Google Earth and drag that little man icon onto the map and it will open up Google Street View.

So what is the big deal for those us involved in waste and recycling? Firstly, mapping technology has been playing an increasingly important part in planning and managing operations. By using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with street maps, routing software and address data, rounds and routes can be planned and optimised, and the best locations for recycling centres can be assessed. Used in conjunction with virtual reality, planners can calculate catchment areas, predict population movement and model the proposed location, before, during and after development.


Aerial mapping companies are meanwhile employing laser mapping technology to provide highly accurate data for 3D computer modelling of buildings and entire cities. This technology was used by Viridor Waste Management to support the planning of a proposed waste facility near Cardiff. Supplied by Bluesky, the imagery and height data was used to create a virtual reality model of the site and surrounding area in support of Viridor’s planning application. The 3D visualisation transformed the interactive model from a standalone illustration of the site to a real world visual representation of the entire locality.

These sophisticated systems are being joined by a new breed of web based mapping systems based on the popular platforms such as like Google Maps. The first to be adopted widely is a system called Horizons from Yotta, a company involved in highways surveying and asset management technology that last year acquired a provider of waste management software, Mayrise Systems. Known as ‘visualised asset management’ Horizons provides a very easy to use map-based solution for operational staff.


For those dealing with calls about missed bins, spillages, graffiti or fly tipping, mapping and street view systems can be a real asset. Customer service staff can quickly pinpoint the caller and literally ‘visit’ the location on their computer screen. That really helps when dealing with the call online but it is also crucial for reporting.

Coordinating the correct response relies on accurate reporting and maps and street views, combined with map overlays with operational data such as refuse round routes and schedules, ensure all information is immediately on hand.

Horizons is very intuitive and provide information visually in a very familiar environment; after all we increasingly use mapping platforms like Google Maps for locating places and navigating. Other systems use traditional Ordnance Survey (OS) digital maps which are provided as embedded systems like Mayrise MapNow or as a corporate resource from suppliers such as GGP Systems who now offer instant links from their GIS to Google Maps and Street View.

Vehicle tracking is also becoming the norm on refuse and cleansing vehicles, giving staff a live view of vehicle movements and offering turn-by-turn navigation to provide accurate reports of ‘roads swept’ for example. It is another piece on map-based information that helps to empower managers so services levels can be optimised.


Mapping is also being extended beyond the office and used to support refuse and cleansing operations on the ground. Newham Council for example has introduced in-cab touchscreen computers to report illegally dumped rubbish. This allows frontline staff to report flytips while on the road, using GPS to pinpoint the exact locations for those tasked to clean up the waste.

Developed by Yotta, the Mayrise fly-tipping software module is directly integrated with council’s CRM system including links from the council’s website and call centres. This allows for reports from the public to be efficiently recorded by staff dealing directly with customers, rather than those on frontline cleansing duty.

So, with the world moving to 3D mapping and virtual reality, the next big thing is likely to be augmented reality. It is a technology that will soon become commonplace on your smartphone as the commercial benefits are far reaching. A ‘smart’ camera that camera could also be on goggles or glasses as seen in the recent launch of ‘Google Glass’, is able to automatically identify an item.

The item could be a can of drink, a vehicle, a CD cover, even an insect or a person (digital cameras already offer face recognition). Almost instantaneously an application on the device opens up a stream of data presented as text, images, videos and computer generated graphics such as animations.

It is early days for this technology in waste and recycling but already developers are playing with the technology especially as an educational tool. Examples are an app for children where pointing a camera phone at a product identifies if it can be recycled and in which recycling bin it should be deposited.

Along similar lines McDonald’s Germany has created an augmented reality application that educates consumers about the company’s commitment to sustainability through interactive games. Called McMission it provides four interactive mini-games that use augmented reality technology to mesh the in-store experience with virtual information about sustainability. An ‘Eco-spinning’ section teaches consumers about renewable energy, and ‘Waste-dunking’ focuses on proper waste disposal. The other two games are ‘Origin Puzzle’ and ‘Recycling Crash Course’.

For those involved in waste management augmented reality could be applied in a number of areas. Vehicle manufacturers are developing applications as seen in the new Land Rover Discovery where a visualisation of the ground under vehicle is projected into a head up display. Elsewhere apps show the internal parts of engines and other mechanics identifying components and connections to help identify and fix faults. There are also obvious uses with hazardous materials and spillages where handling precaution and treatment information can be provided instantly onsite.

It might all sound a little pie in the sky talking about augmented reality in waste and recycling but just watch this space. ‘Tomorrow’ arrives very quickly these days when it comes to new technology and anything that has a wide appeal to consumers will drive the market and industrial applications are sure to follow.

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