Insights Blog Get to Know an IoT Device: Trash Talk


Get to Know an IoT Device: Trash Talk

Gartner, Inc. estimates that there will be nearly 20.8 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020.  This is the third in our recent series about IoT devices, diving into the surprisingly high-tech world of urban waste.

Gartner, Inc. estimates that there will be nearly 20.8 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020.  We recently started a new column where we talk to Internet of Things (IoT) device vendors about their products, especially in regards to security testing, in-the-wild testing, and load/performance/stress testing.  Today we present the third article in our IoT series, about waste management devices by BigBelly.

Q: What problem does your device solve?

A: There is a lot of waste in waste stream management.  I’m not talking about what gets dumped, I’m talking about the way it gets handled.  Problems happen from overflow, climate issues or wasted trips to empty something that does not need emptying.  Our unit is a sealed, self-contained closed system.  This eliminates problems with wildlife pests, pilfering, and weather/climate.  Through solar power (no need for an outlet, so they can be in a park), the contents can be crushed to around 20% of their original size, so the frequency of emptying is reduced to five times less often.  Through cellular connection, these smart devices can report when they need to be emptied.  The units can report on their status (capacity percentage, low battery, “Door Open” (collector’s service door), “Hopper Open” (deposit door)) so that servicing needs can be determined remotely.

Q: How is it connected?  Are there any network/device/connectivity limitations?

A: Communication is by cellular connection.  At the user’s preference, email or SMS can be sent by each unit for any kind of service request, or statuses can be queried system-wide by app.  Users have the ability to set a threshold percentage capacity to trigger an “I need to be emptied!” alert.  Through the app, you can analyze trends over time or region or service route.  You can even determine worker speed, route completion, or match inconsistently closing the units to a particular service route.  Also, if a campus or municipality has a recycling percentage target, that can be easily measured.

Q: How long is the battery life?

A: There are units that can be plugged in, but most units are simply solar powered.  Shorter battery lives tend to be in the 2.5-3 year range, but often go much longer.  The solar power charge is designed to be able to go 3 weeks without sunlight – and we’ve had no reports of any of our units not getting enough sun to stay active.

Q: How do you do test?

A: We do a lot of hard, physical real world testing, which is how you hit all the scenarios out there, and with 15 years of experience, we’ve seen what’s out there.  This includes but is not limited to temperature extremes, humidity, salt water, and whacking it with a hard object many times.  Testing also requires heavy usage, which in the real world for us includes our units in Times Square.

Q: Is the user forced to alter the default password/any interesting security?

A: Everything is password protected with login credentials and permissions set up with the customer.

Q: Does it only do outbound messages, or does it receive as well?

A: Communication is two-way, although outbound tends to only be for software updates.  The inbound commands involve ping, “Empty me”, “Get me a new battery”, “I’m at X% full”, “Close my service door” and “Clear my deposit door”.

Q: What future advancements can we look forward to seeing, and are there any new product areas of growth?

A: Expanding on our cellular connection, we can create provide wifi hotspots, in places that may not have electrical outlets.  In Louisville, Kentucky, there’s public housing that now has wifi access so that the kids who live there can access their schoolwork.  This has been released nationwide and will soon be released internationally.  Future advancements may involve sensors and beacons, to alert authorities about pollution, footfall traffic, etc.

Thank you, BigBelly, for telling us about IoT with your devices.


Want to know more about trash and recycling?  Here are some statistics from the web:

  • On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill, and around $70 to incinerate it.
  • On average, Americans recycle about 34% of our waste. That’s twice as good as it was 2 decades ago.  However, Americans also generate 41% more waste than the planetary average.
  • The recyclable materials in the U.S. waste stream would generate over $7 billion if they were recycled.
  • About one-third of an average dump consists of packaging material.
  • The diversion rate is defined as the percentage of waste materials diverted from traditional disposal such as landfilling or incineration to be recycled, composted, or re-used.  Several college campuses and communities are on the path to becoming 100% recycling.