Meet Liam — the new Apple robot. He is designed to take apart old iPhones and harvest from them valuable, reusable materials.
Liam was unveiled in response to heavy criticism that Apple products are too difficult to recycle. The prototype will be used to deconstruct the iPhone 6, recovering materials like aluminum, copper, tin, tungsten, cobalt, gold, and silver. Apple has expressed plans to modify and expand the system to process other devices.
Liam is actually 29 separate robotic modules, working together at a single site near Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. He started to operate at full capacity last month and is able to take apart one iPhone 6 every 11 seconds.
Although Liam could deconstruct a couple million iPhones each year, that is only a small fraction of the number of iPhones in use. In 2015 alone, Apple sold more than 231 million iPhones.
When it comes to waste disposal, new innovations in technology tend to change the name of the game. For instance, cured-in-place-pipe (CIPP), a non invasive sewer rehabilitation technology, has the same lifespan as that of a brand new pipe. Liam, however, serves as a vital new addition to the field of electronic waste recycling.
Electronics recycling has been a long neglected issue. Millions of electronics are produced every year, and yet less than a sixth of global e-waste is properly recycled or made available for reuse, according to a United Nations University report.
Gary Cook, a Greenpeace IT analyst, told Reuters, “If it’s easy for a robot, that’s great. But making it easier for a human, who will be doing most of this, is part of the solution.”
While Apple may be ahead of the game when it comes to green initiatives — the company received a perfect scorecard in Greenpeace’s Clean Energy Bill Index report last May — the accessibility and actual application of innovative technology like Liam is still unclear.