April 19, 2022
Glacier, which is developing artificial intelligence-powered robotic waste technology, has announced emerging from stealth and raising $4.5 million in seed funding. The company produces a recycling robot that combines AI and robotics to sort more than 30 different item types.
The funding round was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA), with participation by Jeff Immelt (former CEO of GE), Serra Peterson (a climate investor), and Maik Gupta (former CPO of Uber).
“When people think about fighting climate change, recycling is usually not the first thing that comes to mind,” said Areeb Malik, co-founder of Glacier and a former Facebook software engineer. “But recycling is actually one of the only climate solutions that can deliver significant impact immediately, because all the necessary infrastructure either already exists or is emerging now, like our technology.”
Recycling can dramatically reduce carbon emissions by decreasing energy use in manufacturing, which still primarily is powered by fossil fuels, Glacier said. For example, recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy needed for manufacturing, and recycling steel can save 70% of energy needed.
Glacier said that half of recyclables in the U.S. still ends up in landfill, in part because recycling facilities rely heavily on human sorting, and hiring difficulties have caused persistent, large-scale labor shortages. The company aims to bridge this gap with an affordable, high-performing sortation robot. The company said its robot costs up to 60% less than other robots, while matching or exceeding their performance. The Glacier robot is also less than half the size of its peers, requiring minimal facility retrofits to install. The company added its roboto can pay pack in as little as one year.
“Almost every facility is interested in robotic sorters, but they’ve assumed robots are out of reach because of high cost and inconsistent ROI,” said Rebecca Hu, co-founder of Glacier and a former Bain & Co. consultant. “Customers are shocked when they learn what Glacier offers. We’ve been overwhelmed by all the customer enthusiasm for our product.”
Since its founding in 2019, Glacier said it has run multiple successful pilot programs, and earned widespread recognition, including a spot in Michigan’s state-run recycling accelerator. In early April, the company installed its first commercial robot at a large recycling facility in California, where it sorts eight target materials across two conveyor belts simultaneously. The company said more installations are under contract, with plans to scale rapidly to meet demand.
“Solving the recycling industry’s acute labor shortages with intelligent robotics and AI is a massive commercial opportunity but also an important step toward significantly reducing emissions and waste,” said Ann Bordetsky, partner at NEA. “We’re proud to back Glacier’s experienced and passionate team as they introduce automation and data intelligence to an essential industry that we all rely on every day.”
For more details on the Glacier robotics recycling system, visit its website here.