The recycling industry is seeing a boom in demand for paper products at the same time that the coronavirus pandemic has made it critical for workers to maintain social distance. Now some cities and municipalities are debating whether recycling should be considered an essential service amid the outbreak. 
This presents an opportunity for robotics to help fill in the gaps left — literally — between human workers, Matanya Horowitz, founder AMP Robotics, told Cheddar. 
"It gives the facilities different options for what they want to automate and what they want to keep manual," Horowitz said. "What a lot of facilities are doing right now is they are using robots to basically space out their workers."
Recycling plants are not easily adapted to meet social distancing guidelines, due to the highly manual nature of sorting and cleaning recycled materials. 
"They have to worry a lot about worker safety in these facilities," Horowitz said. "The way a lot of these facilities are designed, a lot of the workers work pretty closely together, so social distancing isn't always easy to maintain."
AMP Robotics is making the case that robots can fill in the space between human workers who are tasked with weeding out trash from recycling materials. The robots use artificial intelligence to determine which products can be recycled and which should head to the landfill.
"There is a huge demand for all this recycled cardboard and paper and newspaper in the industry, essentially to supply things like toilet paper and new boxes due to everyone staying home and ordering all these things online," Horowitz said. 
"Anywhere else that there may be an elevated risk to the sorters, we could potentially deploy a robot," he added.