Retreeva and AICA receive an Innogrant

© 2021 EPFL

© 2021 EPFL

Two EPFL startup projects receive an Innogrant each: Retreeva and AICA. Retreeva has developed a high-tech sponge to find and recover gold fragments in the waste from the refining process, while AICA has developed AI-based software that makes industrial robots easier to program and more capable of adapting.

Retreeva finds and recovers gold fragments from waste

The Innogrant committee has awarded a CHF100,000 grant to Retreeva – a new project led by Olga Trukhina and Professor Wendy Queen of EPFL’s Functional Inorganic Materials Laboratory.

Gold is big business. The metal is used across industry – in our cars, medicines, electronics and to fill our teeth. But all that gold comes at a cost. The mining industry is one the world’s largest source of carbon emissions and is responsible for consuming 10% of the world’s energy, mostly through the burning of fossil fuels. 

Most of the world’s gold supply comes through Switzerland at some point. In 2017, over 2,400 tonnes of gold (70% of the world’s supply) were imported into Switzerland, refined, and then exported. Amazingly, during the refining process, up to 2.6% of the gold is lost – that’s about 58 tonnes a year. With gold costing around CHF53 a gram, these little losses add up to big money very quickly.

Retreeva have come up with high-tech sponge which able to find and recover gold fragments from waste run off created through refining. They believe by recouping and recycling gold from existing production, they can save over 3.7 tonnes of carbon emissions each year – creating a win win for both mining companies and the environment.

AICA makes industrial robots smarter and more versatile

A CHF100,000 grant has been awarded to AICA led by Lukas Huber and Baptiste Busch. The startup project from the EPFL's Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory uses artificial intelligence to simplify and improves the way robots can be used.

The global robotic market is currently worth around US$1.2b but is expected to grow 6-fold in the next 5 years. In Switzerland alone, over 2,000 new robots are installed every year. Robots are used across manufacturing, taking on tasks from welding to product packing. But this technology takes investment. Aside from the cost of the robot itself, each time you need the robot to do something new, it needs to be reprogrammed. This can cost anything up to CHF80,000 and cause a week’s downtime.

For businesses who specialise in small batches of product or complex tasks (such as watch-making), automation just isn’t worth the cost. This may be about to change. AICA has developed a new software which simplifies robot programming. By using simple drag and drop modules alongside artificial intelligence, they’re making robotics as simple as using an app on your phone.