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Bigbelly uses Taoglas antennas to create "Smart Trash Cans"

Technological innovation and waste and recycling management are opposing concepts for most people, but Massachusetts-based Bigbelly links the two with the help of advanced antennas from Taoglas.

Recognizing the opportunities to transform one of the least efficient and most resource-intensive industries on the planet — waste and recycling management — Bigbelly launched in 2003 with the introduction of the first smart waste and recycling system.

In the following years, the company evolved to offer a unique solution for the public space by leveraging renewable solar energy and information technology. The smart, cloud-connected system beautifies public spaces and supercharges operations.

It features unique compaction technology driven by solar power to deliver increased capacity and total waste containment.

The cloud connection provides real-time actionable data on capacity for each type of waste – trash; single-stream, bottle/can and paper recycling; and organics — to ensure maximized operational efficiency.
With the efficiency gains its customers realize, Bigbelly has been instrumental in the implementation of the first widespread public space recycling programs in cities such as New York, Chicago, and Boston, and is now pioneering public space compostable collection as well. Bigbelly is a key infrastructure solution for waste management in the evolution toward Smart Cities powered by data and cloud computing.

Reinventing waste and recycling collection

Bigbelly was addressing a real need with its new smart waste and recycling management solution. Cities were either: collecting too often and wasting fuel and labor while creating CO2 emissions, or they were unable to keep up with the demand, leading to overflowing trash cans, creating litter, health, and safety issues. As Taoglas Vice President of North American Sales Tim Dolan noted,

“Bigbelly took a modern approach by developing a system that would send information back to a Bigbelly customer’s department of public works or facilities management group. Armed with real-time data, customers can easily optimize the waste and recycling collection process by scheduling pickups as needed, which in turn reduces the need for trucks to drive around every day.”


Bigbelly needed GPS and cellular communication as part of PA.25A-1its solution. The company required an antenna solution that provided reliable, efficient connectivity, even in urban canyons or locations with many buildings, trees and other obstructions. Back when it was a startup, Bigbelly learned about Taoglas from the leading M2M module manufacturers. According to Dolan, “The only problem was that trash cans are typically constructed from metal, which completely blocks RF signals. Having worked with many product types to incorporate cellular and GPS, we knew we could handle this issue.”

In addition, with its circuit board already designed, Bigbelly needed an efficient antenna that would easily retrofit into its system. Taoglas was up to the challenge.

Though the Bigbelly units are made of metal, the middle of the solar panel located on top of the unit and covered with a plastic window houses the PCB board. This allowed for the reliable transmission of RF signals from the bin, which reported location, fill levels, and collection status. Dermot O’Shea, president of Taoglas USA, remembers the project,

“It was a bizarre and exciting project to work on. Can you imagine waste and recycling actually connecting and delivering information through 2G/3G technology? A few years ago, we would not have imagined this was possible, but that’s the amazing aspect of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine (M2M) technology.”

Needing quick, easy integration

Needing to work with an already-designed PCB, Taoglas Engineering chose its FXP14 antenna for the project. Made from a flexible polymer, this hepta-band cellular antenna is an ultra-low-profile antenna that can directly adhere to the housing of a product — even a curved housing. Connection with the Bigbelly station was made by mechanical contact with the main board. The FXP14 antenna delivers efficiency of over 50% on all cellular bands of 850, 900, 1700, 1800, 1900, 2100 MHz and covers GPS for GSM, CDMA, DCS, PCS, WCDMA, UMTS, HSPA, GPRS, and EDGE.

Bigbelly was delighted with the antenna choice. “The off-the-shelf FXP14 needed no customization. Our connectivity was pre-tested in Taoglas’ anechoic chamber in San Diego, and once Taoglas gave us the all clear, we submitted the device to PTCRB for testing and approval. Taoglas recommended the right solution, and we passed first time,” said Kevin Menice, VP of Engineering at Bigbelly.

According to O’Shea, “We work a lot with IoT/M2M devices, and we find the FXP14 delivers higher performance, resulting in a better connection to the network.

It will improve sensitivity, particularly in low signal areas, and result in higher data throughput rates. This made it perfect for the Bigbelly units, which need to work just as well in rural low-signal areas as they do in urban settings. Network approvals are easier to pass with the FXP14 because the probability of radiated spurious emissions is lessened, allowing for a quicker and more cost-efficient route to market.”


Moving on to the next generation

The Bigbelly waste and recycling units needed an efficient cellular and GPS signal in order to communicate when each can was full so Bigbelly’s customers could plan an optimized collection route and thus maximize their profits. The initial system employing the Taoglas FXP14 was extremely effective, but in late 2009, Bigbelly realized it was time to consider a new design. According to Menice, “Because of the possibility of vandalism or accident (being struck by a car), we had to design a more robust system with added stability.”

This is where the Taoglas PA.25A Anam came in, explained O’Shea. “It’s an SMD antenna so it’s directly soldered on the main board.” Collaborating with Taoglas, the new design incorporated the PA.25A into the design of the updated board. The PA.25A delivers efficiency of over 51% on all bands including 850, 900, 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2100 Mhz for GSM, CDMA, DCS, PCS, WCDMA, UMTS, HSDPA, GPRS and EDGE.

“This new antenna called Anam — which means ‘soul’ — is the heart and soul of our antenna line,” said O’Shea. “It’s our best-selling and best-performing embedded cellular antenna.

It is the result of years of intensive research and development into high-grade ceramic formulas and is a significant achievement in getting all the lower cellular bands designed into one small form factor. Its efficiency of more than 51% on all bands is unheard of in the market. Moreover, it is extremely robust and durable for use in extreme environments such as the automotive industry. It can be integrated off the shelf without the need for customization.”

“The PA.25A is an internal SMD ceramic antenna that we use when more robustness is demanded. It is the highest-performing solution of all antenna types,” O’Shea continued. “It consists of a specially formulated dielectric ceramic. A trace is printed using high-grade silver ink, combining a spatial geometry of monopole-PIFA topologies and delivered in tape and reel.”

The PA.25A antenna can be mounted on any PCB using existing SMD processes.
GPS connectivity was also needed for this new generation so the SGP.25C SMD antenna was also incorporated into the new design directly, making the overall product more robust and reliable. “The SGP.25C is a surface mount solution also, which meets the environmental conditions required of the new design, with regards to their reliability vis-à-vis shock and vibration.” Dermot O’Shea explains ““the GPS functionality can be used for location of the solar trash compactors”.

These antennas were installed in the Bigbelly waste and recycling units and the solution was a perfect match. “We had a strong solution for our customers. Taoglas helped us navigate the approvals and are well versed in delivering connectivity to IoT/M2M devices,” noted Menice.

Looking toward the future

During the years of collaboration with Taoglas, Bigbelly has seen ongoing success as it has grown to a world leader in smart waste and recycling systems. The company now has solutions deployed in every state and more than 47 countries, and has won numerous awards. Giving its customers – municipalities, college campuses, corporate offices and retail locations, healthcare facilities – the ability to right-size waste and recycling management for each location helps shrink collection frequency by 70 to 80 percent in a fiscally responsible way, explained Menice.

According to Dolan, Bigbelly is in line with today’s mindset. “Customers love this smart waste and recycling system for its myriad benefits — beautifying public space with total containment and reduced litter overflows and pest eradication, operational efficiencies, including reduced collection frequency, cost reductions, and reallocation of people resources to more impactful projects, etc. It’s no wonder the company is such a success.”
An issue on the horizon is the inevitable march of technology. In 2016, certain main carriers will no longer service 2G networks, instead focusing on 3G and 4G.

The result is that while IoT/M2M devices in the market may work a little longer, most providers are moving toward incorporating technology that will function in 4G markets. Fortunately, the PA.25A works with 3G, and given the level of data transfer, it will serve Bigbelly’s needs well for many years.

“Nevertheless, we’re in the process of defining 4G MIMO solutions with Bigbelly,” explained Dolan.
In a market with constantly changing technology, the company can rely on Taoglas to help keep them abreast of 5G capabilities when they appear.

“We will continue to evaluate using Taoglas when it comes to adding new capabilities to our waste and recycling system. We are confident that they can provide a cost effective solution that also delivers high connectivity,” commented Menice.


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