Coming soon to Singapore: A high-tech bin that costs a whopping US$40,000
August 3, 2012 by Terence LEE
If you’re in London for the Olympics, you might have seen an army of these intriguing devices inhabiting the streets of the city central.
These are high-tech recycling bins that put their dull ancestors to shame: They’re bomb-proof, Internet-enabled, and environmentally friendly. And they come with two digital screens that broadcasts news, stock updates, and anything you can dream of.
The only catch? They cost a wholesome US$40,000 (S$50,000) each: 23 grand to manufacture, and another US$16,000 to install, since each unit requires a telecoms and electrical line, as well as a cement platform.
It’s also coming to Singapore. One of these sleek garbage bins will be installed in the city-state as a trial run, reveals Chris O’Connor, the CFO of Renew Solution, the company behind the ambitious idea.
He won’t say where the device will be placed, but he hints that it’ll be somewhere near the Central Business District. Instagrammers will want to know that it’ll be in place by 1st September.
“It’s a fairly high profile location that every Singaporean would know,” he says. The exact features of the unit isn’t confirmed yet, so it might or might not be bomb-proof.
To be sure, ‘blast mitigation’ garbage bins are not new. According to Chris, the European Union, believe it or not, has established standards for these kinds of receptacles. So Renew went out of its way to get certification from a United States Department of Defense-certified bomb center. The company had to ensure five bomb tests before it was declared safe. That meant five trashed bins (pardon the pun), a costly endeavor.
What’s new though is that is that the device also serves as a media channel, broadcasting finance news, public service announcements, and any quality content that might interest bankers, lawyers, and professionals that the company targets. It is hooked up to the Internet via a broadband cable or a 3G connection.
A test unit has been placed on Wall Street, and the company is seeing strong interest from Japan and South Korea as well.
But Renew’s biggest coup to date has been a contract with the City of London, which essentially gives the company the right to set up 200 units in the area until 2032. This is noteworthy considering that rubbish bins have been removed from busy areas, as well as London Underground and British railway stations in the 80s after a spate of bombing incidents by the Irish Republican Army.
The company only added the bomb mitigation feature as a precondition to seeking approval from city officials to have the bins installed on the streets. But the inclusion of the emergency messaging system sealed the deal. Chris says that the bin can display announcements within 30 seconds of the company receiving the information. This feature is not only useful in emergencies, but also to announce train closures, congested traffic, and bad weather.
Already, about 90 units have been installed just in time for the London Olympics, which gives the high-tech sentinels plenty of publicity and an estimated traffic of 3 million visitors a day.
Bomb-proofing and information display are not its only capabilities. A unit can be configured to detect dangerous gases and earthquakes; these are features that have been requested by the Japanese. A CCTV device can be installed on the bin as well.
A big question that naturally arises is one of cost. Two hundred of these smart bins would have a price tag of about US$8 million, and that’s a conservative estimate. To give the public sector more incentive to bite and avoid burning taxpayer’s money, Renew bears the entire cost and risk of building and setting up these devices.
In exchange, Renew gets to keep whatever revenue it generates from the bins, which comes through advertising and content distribution. It is also experimenting with a rental model for those who can afford it. It hopes to eventually engage airports, large malls, and subway networks.
Renew has been able to raise seed funding from about 40 investors, most of whom are high net worth city bankers in London who would like a place to recycle their newspapers. The company also has some investors in Singapore and New York, and raised debt capital from a Qatari Islamic bank.
Being such a cost-intensive project, it might be years before the company achieves self-sustainability. But we cannot underestimate the benefits of innovating on a taken-for-granted feature of the cityscape to bring to reality an Internet of Things.
Consider for a moment a city with a network of smart bins that give city planners a glimpse of their geolocation and how fast they’re filling up. Think of how this might optimize bin placement and trash collection, leading to efficiency and potential cost savings.
“The traditional bin hasn’t been upgraded for 800 years. It’s always been a circle with a hole in it,” says Chris.
Photos: Renew Solution
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About The Author
Terence LEE - Editor
Terence writes mainly about technology trends and startups in Asia. He believes in crafting smart content: Not just a regurgitation of text, but well thought-out pieces that serve the reader using a combination of data, design, narratives, analysis, and visual impact. His articles have been published on Venturebeat, Yahoo!, Straits Times, Today, and The Online Citizen. He also co-founded NewNation.sg, a satirical news site covering Singapore affairs. Engage him on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Terence LEE