Smart Cities

Rubicon gives garbage trucks a side hustle: data collection

The smart waste management company plans to SPAC at a ~$2 billion valuation.
article cover

Srdjanns74/Getty Images

3 min read

Smart traffic lights. Smart roads. Smart buildings. Smart...waste management?

Rubicon, a Lexington, Kentucky-based software company that was founded in 2008 and plans to go public via SPAC later this quarter at a projected $1.7 billion valuation, is one such company aiming to digitize dirty work. The company estimated $577 million in revenue for last year, and has raised $222.7 million in funding since its founding, including investment from…Leonardo DiCaprio.

Rubicon works with over 70 city governments, from Montgomery, Alabama, to Baltimore, Maryland—to optimize recycling and waste-management practices. It also has commercial customers like Walmart, Best Buy, and Starbucks, through a network of thousands of independent haulers.

Using AI, machine learning, and sensors to help cities and large corporations take out the trash could be a lucrative market: The US waste-collection services market in 2022 will be worth $59 billion, per IBISWorld estimates.

Michael Allegretti, chief strategy officer at Rubicon, told Emerging Tech Brew that Rubicon collects data through a combination of garbage truck-mounted telematics devices, which track metrics like braking, turning, and engine health, an iPhone or iPad app that drivers use to report issues on the road, like trash cans placed incorrectly, and truck-mounted cameras trained to identify potholes and overflowing trash cans in real-time, using image-recognition AI. The outward facing cameras have been deployed on garbage trucks in “around a dozen cities,” Allegretti said, including Washington, DC, Kansas City, Missouri, Fort Collins, Colorado, and Roseville, California.

Cities that participate get all of this data in a software dashboard that city officials can access, “from the mayor to 311 operators.” This sort of waste-management data can allow cities to plan better garbage-collection routes, helping to avoid inefficiencies like “go-backs,” the literal act of circling a route to pick up trash that was missed on the first go-around. And, as a bonus to the waste-management aspect, Rubicon provides cities with information about road health, with the aim of helping governments more quickly identify potholes and improve road conditions.

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.

“Think of a garbage truck. It goes up and down every street of every city at least once a week. As a byproduct of going up and down the street to pick up the trash, what else can it look for?” Allegretti said. “It can look for a pothole. It can look for an overflowing garbage pail. It can look for graffiti. It could look for those very things that lead to a deteriorating quality of life…And it could feed those issues back to the various departments of the city that are charged with fixing them.”

Rubicon offers cities free three-month pilots, per Allegretti, but expects at least 75% engagement from haulers (i.e., city workers actually using its apps) before it commits to deploying its product city-wide. After the trial, Rubicon offers services on a per-vehicle monthly rate of $190.

Last month, Rubicon partnered on a three-year contract with Houston, Texas, and its 2.3 million residents to optimize the operations of its fleet of 391 vehicles.

Looking ahead…Rubicon has also expanded beyond recycling, trash monitoring, and pick up, with forays into snow plowing and street sweepers using the same technology.

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.