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Apple creates iRobot to tackle unwanted phones

United States – Apple has unveiled a robotic system called Liam to take apart post-consumer iPhones and recover valuable materials like silver and tungsten for recycling, Reuters has reported. The innovation has been interpreted as an attempt to dispel criticism that the products by the electronics heavyweight are notoriously difficult to dismantle or refurbish.

Liam is the result of an elaborate research and development project, which was started over three years ago as an answer to the growing iPhone 6 waste stream. Apple has stated that the robotic system will be updated so that it can handle other phone types and devices as well.

The Liam system consists of 29 robotic modules on a single site near Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. The robot started to operate at full capacity last month and can take apart one iPhone 6 every 11 seconds. This means Liam can process only a small fraction of the more than 231 million phones Apple sold last year, industry sources have urged.

‘If dismantling is easy for a robot, that’s great,’ comments Gary Cook, senior IT analyst for Greenpeace. ‘But making it easier for a human, who will be doing most of this, is part of the solution.’

Greenpeace points out that independent electronics recyclers are the ones handling the biggest share of discarded iPhones – and they will not have access to the Apple robot. As such, the group argues it is doubtful that the innovation will have a meaningful impact on the e-cycling market.

Instead, industry groups have suggested Apple manufacture products using more recycled content, notably recycled metals.

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