UW MSTI students Chun-An Ku, Yun Liu, and Joey Wang recently competed in both the Microsoft Imagine Cup Regional and Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge where they pitched their project, SnapSort! They have created an AI trash sorting assistant that uses computer vision and machine learning to help people sort compost, recyclables, and trash in real time. Waste generation in the U.S. is three times higher than global averages, and despite recycling campaigns, recycling rates haven’t improved in over 20 years. In initial testing at GIX, SnapSort! improved recycling accuracy from 45% to 82%.
“Competing was intense and rewarding,” said Yun Liu. “The two competitions actually have a different emphasis (Imagine Cup stresses more on the tech part, and EIC is more about the business plan), which kind of ‘force’ us to think harder and deeper on every aspect compared to other school projects.”
“We spent the whole winter break working on this project and kept improving it this quarter,” said Yun. “This is a rewarding experience for all of us. We greatly appreciate the support we got from GIX in the process, especially constructive advice from faculty and peer students, hardware prototyping resources from the makerspace, and flexible meeting spaces in the building.”
The team had a varied set of skills that allowed them to create such a successful project. Yun has previously worked as a professional in landscape architecture and brings expert knowledge of UX design and sustainability. Joey has a background in Electrical and Computer Engineering and specialized in the hardware/software components. Chun-An brought his years of business experiences in consumer electronic sales and production. “Under the pressure of a tight schedule, we learned how to scope, frame, and present a project in a short time,” said Yun.
The Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge at the University of Washington taps into the passion, smarts, and motivation that university students have for solving environmental/clean technology problems.
The Microsoft Imagine Cup specifically searches for innovative tech solutions that tackle some of the world’s biggest problems, including social, environmental, and health challenges.