Jasper native finds success with ‘smart’ trash can

Herald News Intern

JASPER — Are “smart” trash cans the future? Jasper native and recent Purdue University graduate Kyle Miller helped create an efficient, cost-effective product that could greatly improve both the maintenance industry and our everyday chores.

Photo provided

Miller, son of Tammy and Mark Humbert, found unexpected victory in an international technology and training competition recently with a “smart” trash can.

“We equipped trash cans with sensors that would detect when trash cans and recycling bins were full and whether or not they were too heavy,” Miller said.

The 22-year-old now has a degree in mechanical engineering technology, and he and his four teammates entered a competition hosted by Phoenix Contact, a German company that specializes in developing new electrotechnical products.

Miller was already familiar with the company after competing in a contest while attending Jasper High School and he also worked with the company through his teaching assistant position at Purdue for two years.

Having known Miller had previously been involved with Phoenix Contact, one of his professors encouraged him to join the competition.

“He knew I would do well, so he kind of coached me into doing it,” Miller said.

The competition is hosted every three years and is directed at learners of all ages and education levels. Teams in the competition develop automation technology solutions that are both creative and innovative, and designed for various application areas. The competition consists of four categories: Smart Factory, Environment, Urban Infrastructure and Recreation.

Competing against 154 teams from 34 different countries, Miller and his Purdue team entered the Environment category. Their team was one of 96 selected to implement their projects over a seven-month span, receiving components, systems and know-how worth up to 3,000 Euros from Phoenix Contact.


They named the project “T.R.A.S.H” — for Trash Recycling Automation Sanitation Humanity — a trash collection system consisting of an automatic trash and recycling can.

Miller and his team came up with the innovative idea thanks to the employment of a member of the team.

“One of my teammates worked for the maintenance staff at a residence hall,” Miller said. “He noticed a lot of trash cans needed to be changed more frequently. Or he would waste time going to the upper floors to replace the trash (bags), come to find they were empty and did not need replacing.”

He further explained how the team set up a local area network, which was able to communicate between the trash can and one local spot, thus giving users access to the sensors from their smartphone, laptop, or tablet.

“The plan is to equip buildings completely with smart trash cans and monitor them 24/7,” Miller said. “We want to help make the maintenance staff’s job more efficient and timely.”

The smart trash cans also have the ability to determine whether the trash cans are in appropriate locations. If one is not being used, it can be moved to an area with more traffic.

Once implemented, 24 projects from 12 different countries qualified for the final round in the international competition. The teams traveled to Bad Pyrmont, Germany, in mid-March to present their projects to a panel of judges.

A pleasant surprise, Miller’s team’s invention received first place in the Environment category. The victors in each category received the Xplore New Automation Award, with a grand prize of the opportunity to present their innovation at Hannover Messe, the world’s largest industrial trade show. The other three categories were snatched by two teams from Germany and one from China.

“I knew we could make the project work, but I didn’t expect to make it to the final round in Bad Pyrmont let alone win,” Miller said. “I knew from around the world there would be a lot of great ideas and awesome implementations. So when we won the Environmental category, I was pretty much in awe.”

His trip to Bad Pyrmont was his first time outside of the U.S. and he enjoyed meeting people from all over the world and learning their interests. Not only did he receive the opportunity to see most of Germany, but he also traveled to Switzerland and France.

In April the teams ventured to Hannover, Germany, to present their winning projects and several companies from different countries expressed interest in Miller and his team’s trash can.

“They asked if we would be willing to pick up investors or if they could take over the product and pay royalties to us,” Miller said. “These are sort of the baby stages of opening a company based off our project.”

Miller credits his success to Purdue. He is astounded by the experiences and opportunities Purdue has given him, specifically with his major.

“I just got done interviewing with one of the industry’s leading sensor production companies,” he said. “At the end of the interview I told them I am only 22 years old and am not sure where I’ll be headed. They stopped me mid-sentence and were amazed at how experienced I was at such a young age.”

Thankful also for his high school experience, he commends Seth Sickbert at Jasper High School and the Project Lead the Way program, which provides students real-world, occupational experience.

“If I had one recommendation for anyone coming into college, specifically in engineering, it would be to take all the PLW classes you can in high school,” Miller said. “That really opened up the window and door of opportunities to grow close with a few of my professors.”

Miller is currently considering job offers in the sensory technology and automation industry.

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