A team of five U of T graduate students named Paramount AI won first place in KPMG’s 2019 Ideation Challenge, a worldwide competition to develop solutions to problems facing businesses using artificial intelligence (AI). KPMG is one of the world’s top four accounting firms.
The U of T students faced off against 600 participants from top universities across nine countries, including Canada, Australia, China, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
The final round was held from May 10–12 in Amsterdam, where the students — Maharshi Trivedi, Nikunj Viramgama, Aakash Iyer, Vaibhav Gupta, and Ganesh Vedula — won the top prize for their innovation, which used AI to automate waste segregation.
Paramount AI’s innovative solution
The winning innovation is a sorting system able to distinguish between three different categories of waste: recycling, organic, and garbage.
Iyer, who is specializing in data analytics and financial engineering, explained that the initial prototype of the system used LED light bulbs and basic circuits to classify the waste.
The five students worked continuously, with little breaks and limited sleep during the three days of the competition, which came at the expense of exploring Amsterdam.
The reward for their efforts came in the confirmation of the practicality of using the system in real-life situations. The device completed both a financial and market analysis by the end of the competition.
The importance of waste segregation
Viramgama, who is specializing in data analytics and data science, explained that the team chose to focus on the issue of waste segregation because they were concerned about improper sorting in Toronto.
He noted that about one in three residents in Toronto contaminate the waste they place in recycling bins, and that 20 per cent of waste placed in blue recycling bins ends up in a landfill.
Since there is limited landfill space, this has motivated government spending on improved waste management. An increase in spending may lead to a raise in taxes,which makes the emergence of automation in waste segregation something that can greatly benefit our waste management.
The U of T team tackled this issue by creating a system that accurately sorts waste about 94 per cent of the time. Current waste systems have an accuracy of only up to 74 per cent, and each percentage of accuracy translates to significant savings for spending on waste management.
The pressing need for a solution to this environmental problem, which has economic consequences, could be a reason why Paramount AI won the competition.
The other reason, explained Vedula, was that the team was “not only thinking about saving the environment, but… also trying to help businesses [maximize] profits.”
The future of Paramount AI
The next step for Paramount AI is to present their prototype to experts at KPMG’s annual AI summit in October. By then, the team hopes to further develop their model, aiming to continue increasing the accuracy of their system, while likely adding new features to increase the value of the product for potential clients.
The students currently have the intellectual property rights of their invention. With the support of KPMG, the team is interested in looking to commercialize their product.
They are also optimistic about the future of AI in positively shaping the lives of Torontonians, as a whole. “We completely believe that in the next few years, we will see AI being integrated in every part of our lives, because there is a huge potential,” said Vedula.
“[AI] is already involved in making our lives easier.”